Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb
LucasArts Fall 2002--Harrison Ford won't be donning the whip and hat anytime soon, but you can get your Indy fix with this new Tomb Raider-esque adventure game. The unique plot caught our attention. Get this: Indy must beat the Nazis to a mystical artifact.
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Lots of games have you raiding tombs and digging up artifacts. And lots of games have you exterminating goose-stepping Nazi goons. But only this game has the hat. And the whip. And that famous movie music that roars in like a cavalry charge. Emperor's Tomb re-creates Indiana Jones --and his take-no-guff attitude --right down to the scar on his chinny-chin-chin.
Seeing such a well-wrought Indy brought to life in a vaguely Tomb Raider-esque adventure is probably enough for anyone jonesing for a decent Dr. Jones videogame. Lordy knows, good Indy games are as rare as pimples on an American Idol finalist. And Emperor's Tomb goes beyond whipping up mere tomb-raiding thrills. (Well, at least two of our three reviewers feel that way.) Although the game does send you on dull snag-the-artifact quests that have you backtracking across sprawling levels, it also puts an army of Nazis, monks, and Arabian troublemakers in your path, and connecting Indy's fists with these guys' jaws proves supremely satisfying.
Chalk it up to the game's pedigree. Emperor's Tomb was developed by the team that brought you Buffy the Vampire Slayer for Xbox, and thus uses the same beat-em-up science. (It even packs one of the same weapons, which smells a little like lazy game design to us.) The point, as anyone who high-kicked bloodsucker butt with Buffy will tell you, is that brawling makes for a great way to pass time during the more boring bits. Indy can clock enemies with one-two combos. He can sock both the guy behind and in front of him with a single roundhouse punch. He can deliver rib-rattling cheap kicks to Nazis knocked prone. Meanwhile, just about anything that isn't bolted to the floor--including knives, bottles, and chairs--makes for a handy weapon. And Indy can off enemies more rapidly with his pistol or the various automatic weapons he'll find in later levels-- as well as mounted machine-gun emplacements he'll man Medal of Honor-style. But we had the most fun just using our dukes. Our favorite way to take care of business: Grab a Nazi and chuck him off a cliff. Bonus points if he lands in shark-infested waters.
It's not all jaw-cracking and puzzle solving, though. Indy will stumble upon fun diversions, such as a gun battle from the back of a rumbling rickshaw and some target practice atop a moving gondola. And, toward the end of the game, after Indy has zipped from the jungles of Ceylon to the alleys of Hong Kong in his quest to find a magic tchotchke called the Heart of the Dragon, the puzzles themselves finally start to get interesting. Zombie kung-fu-ists and skeletal ghosts prowl a freaked-out underworld filled with traps that would look at home in one of Indy's flicks. It's the kind of diffhanger thrills we expect from Dr. Jones' adventures. If only the rest of the game required as much brains to go with all the bare-knuckled brawn.
If Emperor's Tomb were released as a bona fide Indiana Jones flick, it would go straight to video and star one of the lesser Baldwins instead of Harrison Ford. Nothing here is quite blockbuster material. You spend half the adventure walloping, shooting, and skewering generic bad guys (I counted less than a dozen enemy character models), and much of the rest of the game "solving" weak fetch-the-item "puzzles." You'd figure an action hero like Indy would have more exciting things to do than breaststroke around a waterlogged tomb for an hour, looking for an ancient knickknack. He does engage in a few extracurricular heroics, including shooting down planes with an antiaircraft gun and running headlong from a barreling Nazi tank, but these bonus bits feel clunky and tacked on. Puzzles become trickier toward the end when you face the kind of lethal contraptions you'd expect from Indy's onscreen adventures. It's too bad these traps require precise platform hops and chasm-clearing swings--none of which are easy with the jerky control. It doesn't make for a terrible experience, but despite the fun hand-to-hand antics, this game just fails to deliver the kind of high adventure you'd expect from the Indy name. Take away the movie music and the hat and you're left with a game that halfheartedly clones Tomb Raider and Medal of Honor--and where's the fortune and glory in that?
Dr. Jones is just as talented as Lara Croft when it comes to tomb raiding, and as a fighter, he's peerless. In The Emperor's Tomb, all the punching, kicking, and shooting sequences feel just right; you'll look forward to every intense scuffle. Many of the game's levels will inspire fond memories of the films, and that classic John Williams music instantly gets my blood pumping. The game's only downside is that it feels a bit too much tike Xbox's Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which The Collective also developed), complete with many of the same animations. These production shortcuts are unfortunate, but they don't keep this from being the best Indiana Jones console game to date.
Had we known the supposedly stodgy science of archaeology really involved punching lots of Nazis in their stupid Nazi mouths, blowing stuff up, and generally wreaking mayhem, we might have taken up tomb raiding. No matter; Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb puts players in the shoes of the hard-boiled Professor (you call him Doctor!) Jones, and is, simply, excellent. Gorgeous graphics, inspired combat, fun minigames, and cool puzzles and platform challenges bolster play immensely. Despite an occasionally wonky camera and a save-game system that sucks like a Hoover on overdrive, Emperor's Tomb is a breathless, world-tripping adventure.
What license could possibly have more potential for an adventure game then Indiana Jones? With that potential, expectations are raised however as many have great hopes that this Indiana Jones game will take full advantage of the Indy license. Unfortunately, that potential isn't fully realized for a number of minor to moderate reasons with some of these issues distracting from the gameplay.
Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb starts off well, setting up a believable Indy story. Although it can slow down throughout the game, it creates the right mood for a good adventure game along with enough intrigue to get you through it. From there however problems start to creep into the gameplay, causing some disappoint in addition to slowing down the flow of the game.
Issues like puzzles that give little friction significantly reduce the difficulty and enjoyment of the game and Indy has serious problems here. Although some may require you to think, most revolve around pulling levers or simple tasks. Other issues like graphics that are clearly below Xbox standards also keep the game from becoming great. Even through Indy looks sharp, most of the rest of the game had weak textures and issues with a scattering of clipping problems.
The good news is the platform aspects work well as using his whip to cross ravines and scaling walls bring to mind images of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The combat also holds its own and is helped along with a decent, but somewhat buggy AI. Enemies will run for weapons knocked to the ground when fighting and even use cover occasionally. However, they also tend to get stuck behind things in addition to other problems.
Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb is afflicted with a number of issues that will keep it from appealing to a broad audience. It still does enough things right to be considered by fans of adventure games or Indiana Jones, but expectations should be lowered first.
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