Back in 1996, fictional character Lara Croft stepped onto the video game scene and transformed the entire industry with the groundbreaking "Tomb Raider" for the PlayStation.
The franchise in which she features would go on to include not only multiple console sequels but two movies starring Angelina Jolie as well -- the first of them a box-office blockbuster.
After a perceptible drop in quality, however, the series looked tired. The necessary reboot was overdue.
In some respects, the new "Tomb Raider" (Square Enix) turns out to be a genuinely fresh and intriguing title. It takes the large chested, slightly wooden and unsympathetic Lara and turns her into a much more reasonably proportioned, vulnerable, and highly relatable character.
The revamped game surrounding her, though, comes across as just too gritty to be recommended for a wide audience.
Lara is a young archeologist, traveling on the ship "Endurance." She's hoping to find the origins of the Yamatai Kingdom on the island of the same name to the east of Japan.
After reaching Yamatai, the vessel is shipwrecked. What initially appears to be a tropical paradise, moreover, turns out to be far from friendly. Gangsters who also have been stranded on the island -- and who have turned to worshipping the ancient gods of the Yamatai people -- have unpleasant plans for their new co-inhabitants.
Lara must solve the mystery of the island, defeat the leader of the bad guys seeking to capture her, and escape with her friends.
"Tomb Raider" does a great job of connecting the player to Lara, who is permanently on the defensive as she avoids the highly trained army that's pursuing her. And at first she's armed with little more than a bow and the power of stealth.
However, as with many other examples of this genre, the traumatic horror Lara experiences when she kills her first soldier quickly dissipates -- and the body count soon soars. By the end of the game, Lara is gunning down victims with abandon. As a result, some rather gruesome death scenes are scattered throughout the 12-hour running time.
While Lara only kills in self-defense, gamers committed to peaceable values will nonetheless want to be wary of her latest outing. They should also be forewarned that the gory consequences of ritual human sacrifice are displayed outside forts and at other locales. These sights are not for the squeamish, to say the least.
Additionally, the treatment of the pagan cult that prevails on Yamatai is problematic. Although shown to be based on evil, it is also presented -- as the game progresses -- as in some sense true or real.
Granted, this is unlikely to result in any conversions -- or even in much confusion. But, taken together with the high quotient of death and destruction on hand, it marks "Tomb Raider" as acceptable fare only for the staunchest adults.
Played for review on Xbox 360. Also available on Microsoft Windows and PlayStation 3.
The game contains considerable bloody violence, numerous grisly images, pagan themes, a few uses of profanity and frequent rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, games whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Entertainment Software Rating Board rating is M -- Mature.