- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Premiere danger seeker and budding archeologist Lara Croft returned to video game realms last year to rousing acclaim by both critics and fans.

Owners of Sony’s latest entertainment console powerhouse, the PlayStation 4 can now take control of her in Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition (Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics, rated Mature, $59.99).

Players get nearly the exact same adventure from 2013 with the addition of all of the downloadable content associated with the title released over last year as well as plenty of eye-popping bonuses.

That means a harrowing journey of exploration, stealth and combat starring a 21-year old female stranded on a weather fickle island and fighting for her life against hostile terrain, grabby inhabitants, bloodthirsty pirates and the occasional mad man.

Her quest is pure Indiana Jones at his grittiest as she attempts to prove her theory on the lost kingdom of Yamatai and collect some precious relics along the way.

Wonderfully, developers have harnessed the processing power of the PS4 and massively upgraded the visuals to deliver a chillingly realistic onscreen experience.

I am now in control of a live-action movie and manipulating its beautiful star. I loved the design of the game last year, but Lara now has such a detailed and expressive face. I easily see developers blending the pouty and sultry features of Angelina Jolie with Jennifer Lawrence.

Suffice to report: Anyone passing by as I played could not believe this was possibly a video game.

Maybe it was a glean on a scratched shoulder blade, sun flares illuminating the softness of her eyes, the cloth cotton textures on a soaked T-shirt, her rosier complexion during frantic moments (was that my imagination?), dried mud with expanding cracks sitting on her cheeks, or blood stains on her chin that disappeared as she got soaked by a waterfall, but this virtual human was a living being with her exterior reacting to the environment.

Unlike its previous version of Lara, Crystal Dynamics boasts many subtle as well extensive tweaks to the living character canvas.

Lara’s arrows rattle around in her quiver as she runs. Her hair reacts like, well, hair as her ponytail gets whipped around in the wind or water with just the right amount of strands falling in front of her eyes. Her locks are almost distracting as she fights enemies.

The terrain is more alive. Subtle additions as light reflecting from raindrops, mist within a tropical forest, flames from a torch spreading out above rocks in tight spaces (taking on a life of its own) and even blades of grass that move to touch or sway with a glint of wind completely immerse a player in a location.

Just one example of a breathtaking dynamic design finds Lara scaling a very tall radio tower in the midst of a snow shower with wind swirling around her. Clouds seem as though they are within her grasp, and she is surrounded by some incredible mountain vistas. It was not only vertigo-inducing, but something I would expect to see in an IMAX movie.

The PS4’s Dualshock 4 controller can also enhance the fun. Under unnecessary but clever, turn off the lights off, have Lara grab a torch and watch the device glow red and yellow. Hook up an ear bud and mic to the controller (included with the PS4) and tell Lara what weapon to use, have her pull out a map  (“show map”) or scream “pause” to take a well-deserved break. Even shake the controller to break free from a foe.

Other additions to the Tomb Raider Definitive Edition include:

* A digital version of the one-shot, sequential-art issue of Dark Horse Comics’ Tomb Raider: The Beginning. Readers who click each panel from the 28 pages of the issue will get  some mediocre art and also a story that helps set up the game.

* A digital mini art book that really show off plenty of conceptual masterpieces over a 14-screen layout.

* Videos on the making of the game.

Although players who have already enjoyed Tomb Raider might choke on the price point of this reissue, anyone who has not appreciated Lara Croft’s exploits, and is considering buying a PlayStation 4, now has a very good reason thanks to Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition.

Parental advice: The ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) — after watching Lara nearly strangled and often covered in blood, viciously attacked by wolves and using flaming arrows to turn enemies into fireballs — decided to label this game in “M” and that stands for mature. Gamers only 17 years and older need take part in this often violent game. It’s no worse than any movie blockbuster these days, but the realism of human attacking human is just incredible.

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