- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2006

Superheroes and cartoon characters have become integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. Around the world, youngsters and guys who can’t get dates spend countless hours in front of their computers and video-game systems.

With this in mind, I salute the melding of pop-culture character and Silicon Valley with a look at some …

Comics plugged in

Star of sequential art and silver screen, Lara Croft returns to her video-game roots in a new third-person challenge for the Xbox 360. Eidos Interactive’s Tomb Raider: Legend ($59.99) takes a single player on a fantastic third-person adventure as he controls the famed archaeologist, who roams through ancient lands around the world in an action-packed quest that Indiana Jones would admire.

What’s the story? Lara Croft’s search for a South American relic changes course dramatically when she meets a dangerous figure from her past and finds herself in a race to recover one of history’s most famous artifacts.

Characters’ character: The player will feel as if he is in control of a movie as the healthy heroine’s fluid, acrobatic movements and lifelike appearance dazzle. Lara plunges into incredibly detailed environments to explore and solve puzzles.

Throughout the action, she is a shapely and mean machine with the moves of a ninja and the intelligence and style of James Bond. The wicked combination and control options make for addictive action during the eight huge missions.

Lara’s quests will take her to jungles, Himalayan Mountain ruins, military compounds and claustrophobic catacombs as she battles mercenaries, creatures, serpents and demons.

Within just the first hour of the game, the player will confront bad guys through a thrilling motorcycle chase; catapult and maneuver cages upon stone pillars to unlock an exit in a massive ancient Bolivian shrine; swim underwater in Peru; and stop back at Croft Manor to uncover secrets in her home base and talk to pals Zip, Alister and Winston the butler.

Lara has at her disposal a kinetically charged light source, magnetic grapple to swing across large gaps or grab items, binoculars that can analyze data and a pair of pistols to blast out of jams.

Additionally, a player’s ability to find hidden bronze, silver and gold relics and beat time trials on all of the missions will lead to further miniquests and unlockables such as new weapons and outfits.

How would Lt. Frank Drebin fare? The game controls are so logical that even old fumble fingers will find it easy to scale dangerous precipices, climb ropes, fling flares precisely into darkened caverns and use the target reticule system to pick off enemies while on the run.

Parental blood-pressure meter: 140/100, elevated. Miss Croft shoots first and never asks questions — be it to unload her pistols into a bloodthirsty jaguar, throw a grenade into a vehicle loaded with bad guys or fire a strategic shot to crush opponents with rocks. The player will not see the gore but will find himself embroiled in danger and cliffhanging excitement at every turn.

What if I want to read a book? Until the end of last year, Top Cow had put out a monthly comic-book series about Lara Croft since 1999. Fans will want to grab the soon-to-be published softcover trade paperback “Tomb Raider: Compendium” ($49.99), which compiles the series’ first 50 issues in 1,248 colorful pages. Folks unfamiliar with the sequential art should stop by the Top Cow Web site (www.topcow.com) to read seven issues of Tomb Raider for free.

What’s it worth? The Countess of Abbington’s status in pop culture has never looked better, thanks to Eidos Interactive’s rousing epic. Teenagers will be sucked into the Croft mythos and devour the cinematic game.

Pop bytes

A brief review of game titles that didn’t have time to get fully plugged in.

Rogue Trooper from Eidos Interactive (for Xbox, rated M, suitable for players 17 and older, $39.99). The science-fiction comics serial created by Gerry Finley-Day and Dave Gibbons for the British weekly serial 2000 AD makes its way to the entertainment console as the blue-skinned, genetically modified soldier Rogue becomes part of a third-person shooter video-game adventure.

As the war of Nu-Earth perpetually continues, the player controls Rogue and uses the memory chips from a trio of fallen comrades to enhance his powers and lead a one-clone campaign of revenge against the Norts and a traitorous Southers general and his minions.

Violent action takes place in a barren, polluted and toxic wasteland as the player wields an incredible amount of firepower, including fragment mortars, machine guns and Hell cannons to blow away nearly anything that moves. Stealth tactics and weapons management further extend the complexity of the title, and an online multiplayer option adds to its replayability.

Adding to the authenticity of the game’s comic-book roots is a story line developed by one of the writers of the comics, Gordon Rennie, and a robust encyclopedia that offers many unlockable illustrations of the original sequential art.

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