Game Daze: 'Tomb Raider'

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Reviews are out of four stars.

Tomb Raider

3 1/2 stars = Very good
Ratings explained

When gamers first met Lara Croft back in the mid-1990s, she was a battled-tested adventurer who quickly went to guns when not leaping across bottomless pits or discovering ancient artifacts.

Rather than continuing that narrative thread, Square Enix wisely takes us back to the beginning, to introduce us to Lara when she was more likely to be digging through a textbook than scrambling to stay alive.

"Tomb Raider" (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3; Square Enix; M, for Mature) creates a marvelous experience by immersing us into how Lara becomes the character Angelina Jolie plays in movies -- and becomes one of the heroines of the video-game world.

You learn in quieter moments of the game that she has a deep thirst for knowledge and discovery, and you sense her despair and conflicting emotions when she has to take a life to save her own.

The game does an admirable job of allowing you and Lara to soak in the dark moments when she kills for the first time or has to watch those closest to her sacrifice themselves so that she may live. These tropes are hardly new to adventure games, but here they are given more weight and you are less likely to just pass them by without considering their impact on the character.

Shipwrecked on an island of ancient temples and, predictably, nasty cultists, Lara sets out to rescue her fellow researchers. The island's various locations are both gorgeous and creepy. Peaceful explorations through a cave are fleeting when the ground gives way and suddenly you must guide Lara down a rushing river through World War II remnants and debris lest she gets impaled. The rise and fall of tensions work well, and you value the quiet moments to take in the scenery as much as you do the thrilling moments when armed cult members come for you.

While far from MIT graduates, the goons wisely use cover and a range of weapons to flush you from your hiding spot. Having to constantly shift positions in order to brutally take down those who would otherwise burn you at the stake makes for thrilling sequences. And, thankfully, "Tomb Raider" doesn't cram gunfights down your throat at a constant clip -- instead, it allows you opportunities for stealth takedowns or to use environmental elements to thwart foes.

You're kept constantly engaged and want to see the game through to its conclusion, even if many plot elements seem rather staid.

The throwaway online multiplayer content -- recycled from any other third-person shooter game -- is not horrible, but it's not memorable, either. Aside from that hiccup, "Tomb Raider" remains a fantastic game that the heroine's fans will instantly love.

Even if your mind wanders toward "Hey, this plays a lot like 'Uncharted' games" territory, rest comfortably in the knowledge that before there was Nathan Drake, there was Lara Croft. She paved the way, and she deserves an origin story as compelling as this.

-- Chris Campbell, Scripps Howard News Service



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