Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb
It's a sad fact, but many game are shit. While a tiny fraction of the game development community is determined to prove that dizzying advances in technology multiply the possibilities of depth, quality and storytelling, it seems the rest of the world is content to recycle, regurgitate and release titles that display an alarming lack of imagination. It's not their fault really. I blame the marketing departments and the directors who listen to them. It seems most games are bom in the same kind of meetings that produce things like Fame Academy and orange-flavoured Kit Kats.
The latest Indy adventure-and I use the term in its widest, most devalued sense - is a perfect example of how games are devolving. In 1989 the brilliant point 'n' click was released, followed in 1992 by the even better Fate Of Atlantis. They had clever puzzles, bags of charm and captured the spirit of the films perfectly. Seven years later The Infernal Machine tried to emulate the success of Tomb Raider while still acknowledging that Indy is an intelligent archaeology professor who can deal with puzzles as much as physical obstacles. Fast forward to 2003 (or should that be backwards?) and we're presented with an experience so empty, banal and simplistic you can only sink your head into your hands in despair.
All In The Title
At this rate we'll be playing the gaming equivalent of the primordial soup pretty soon, with specially designed controller pads that won't require the use of opposable thumbs and gameplay targeting solely the deepest, reptilian parts of your brain. It's easy to blame it all on consoles, but also short-sighted. It's true that the main problem is publishers want to appeal to the lowest common denominator but this is also true of cinema, television, music and even books. What really gets me about The Emperor's Tomb is the half-arsed way it's been put together.
In a way, a review seems superfluous. You can get all the information you need from the title. They so desperately wanted to put across that this is Indy doing a Lara Croft, that they included the word "tomb". On the one hand, their condescension and belief in our utter stupidity should have us up in arms. On the other, you have to admire their cojones at dispensing with all subtlety and admitting straight up that they're trying to rip you off.
The Emperor's Tomb is a firm believer that by playing the instantly recognisable and uplifting theme tune every few minutes it doesn't really need to do much else to put you in Harrison Ford's shoes. So what if every level consists of hopping from one ledge to another, pushing a lever and beating up a few Nazis? So what if the actor sounds nothing like Ford and his lines are rubbish? So what if poor design has you grinding your molars with frustration every step of the way? All you need is a few notes of the John Williams score and you're sorted. We've seen the same uninspired thinking with some James Bond and Star Wars games, leading me to think you might as well buy the soundtracks to any of these, stick them on your hi-fi and sommersault over your sofa for a more effective use of the licences.
A Fedora Nightmare
I mentioned frustration just now, and not without reason. It's not a particularly hard game, but it does have an awful control system. And when you're spending so much time delicately judging jumps, it's a fatal flaw. At first I was delighted to see mouse support and a default WASD keyboard layout. But, in a stroke of complete idiocy, the mouse is used only to move the camera not Indy himself, and pressing down for example will make him run towards the camera rather than walk backwards. It's so unintuitive and annoying I tried playing with a pad for a while, but the complete lack of camera control made that even worse. There is no way of saving (except by completing a level), so if you fall to your death you have to start again. At least most levels are mercifully (even ridiculously) short.
The combat looks good but isn't particularly enjoyable to execute. It's all part of the misplaced simplicity, which includes symbols telling you what to do whenever you come across an object you can interact with. Well, how would you know to push a lever if you didn't get an icon in the top right corner? One can only assume this was a rush job, an attempt to get to the shelves before the next Lara. It's the only way to explain how The Collective (responsible for a solid DS9 title and Buffy on the Xbox) could do no better with such a great licence.
Indy, Where Four Art Thou?
Forget The Mediocre Games, When Is The Next Film Out?
When we reviewed The Infernal Machine nearly four years ago, we included some of the speculation going on at the time about a fourth Indy movie, and still nothing has happened. The rumours have become much more concrete though, and Spielberg, Lucas and Ford have at least admitted it will exist. There are reports that shooting could even start this year. The problem has been getting a script everyone is happy with, with various rewrites occurring over the years. At the moment, the man working on it is Frank Darabont (screenwriter and director of The Shawshank Redemption), which should at least reassure us we won't have some kind of Episode I fiasco on our hands.
The action will take place in the 1950s, reflecting the fact that Harrison Ford is 60 now and unlikely to have the energy to run away from giant balls. Of course, this means the Nazis won't be around, and there's unconfirmed talks of the story taking place in China. Sean Connery is set to return for a few scenes as Indy's dad. Don't get too excited though, because the initial release date is pencilled as July 1,2005. Thankfully, there are also rumours that the first three films will be released on DVD later this year. About bloody time too.
Download Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb
Indiana Jones And The Emperor's Tomb is an Indy game unlike any other. And yet it's probably the most familiar one yet, as LucasArts gets ever closer to the magic of the films.
This time, perhaps 60-70 per cent of the game is pure combat, mostly rough and ready hand-to-hand brawling, while puzzle-solving and exploration take a back seat. We really wanted to focus on the action and fighting of the Indy films, explains LucasArts' Reeve Thompson. We wanted to think about all the aspects of the movies that make them fun to watch. Obviously it's still an adventure storyline, but we really wanted it to play like a brawler, where you can pick up a bunch of stuff and use it as weapons."
Needless to say Indy still gets to whip his gun out when things get a bit hairy, and for that matter, where would Indy be without his whip? This time he can not only swing across gaps with it, but employ it in combat in some surprisingly effective ways. With one flick of his rawhide he can take weapons out of enemy hands, or wrap it round their scrawny Nazi necks and yank them over for a sharply delivered uppercut.
The new plot is based around an ancient artefact said to hold the power of mind control. To get his hands on it before the Nazis or the Triads do, Indy must collect various pieces of the Mirror of Dreams, which forms the key to get into the Emperor's Tomb. Along the way he'll battle an array of enemies, from simple thugs to supernaturally animated terracotta warriors. A number of grand set pieces will be on offer, including a tense battle atop a cable car and a rickshaw chase through the streets of Hong Kong.
If you think back to the Indy movies," continues Reeve, there's always a sequence where he's riding on something and doing battle at the same time - mine cars, motorcycles, the truck carrying the Ark of the Covenant - and we've tried to create some levels that are similar to this."
Oh, and on a final note for all you Indy fans, Reeve also let this slip: "We had to run everything by George Lucas to make sure nothing contradicted whatever story he's got for the fourth film. Whatever way you look at it, it seems Indy is set for a comeback...
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.
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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