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Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb
Review By: J. Michael Neal
 
Developer:  The Collective
Publisher:  LucasArts
# Of Players:  1
Genre:  Action/Adventure
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  8-21-03

Between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb, developers the Collective have proven four things – one, they know how to pick a good license; two, they know how to successfully transfer the unique strengths of that license to the gaming realm; three, they can craft a damn fine combat engine; and four, they just can’t get the attention of the buying public! Shortly after release on the Xbox, both games joined the ranks of “sleeper hits” along side other solid to excellent games that just didn’t reach the sales numbers they deserved. Not to be discouraged, plans to release both games (Buffy in the sequel Chaos Bleeds and Indy in ports of Emperor’s Tomb) on more… popular platforms like the PS2 were not derailed. Hopefully, introducing the Collective’s fine, fine work to a much bigger audience will prove successful, as this is a team that deserves recognition for what they have managed to accomplish twice, in relative short succession – making games worthy of their big name licenses; a rare feat in this industry. It’s just a shame this new, larger audience will have to settle for the weakest of the ports.

By weakest I mean visually of course, which is a no-brainer considering how much more powerful the Xbox, PC, and seemingly GameCube is when placed side-by-side with the PS2. Although I’m not slighting the power of the PS2 one bit, a mere glance at a Ratchet and Clank 2: Going Commando, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Gran Turismo 4, or Jak II can put even the most fervent Sony detractor in their place, the PS2 isn’t able to handle Emperor’s Tomb quite as well as the other systems. Clipping is abound, frame rate drops are frequent, textures are muddied, enemy animations jittery, details minimal, load times long, and lighting lackluster – a far cry from it’s PC and Xbox brethren; even though the Xbox version isn’t the prettiest bell at the ball either, between you and me. And while it may seem a minor nit-pick, although Doctor Jones looks wonderfully age-appropriate, he looks a lot more like an older Russell Crow in the face than a younger Harrison Ford for some reason. Either way, he sure does sound a heck of a lot like Ford, though.

One technical aspect that didn’t receive a downgrade was the audio. Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb sounds like what you’d expect an Indiana Jones game to sound like. It has a very John Williams-esque score and quality voice acting, including a very convincing Harrison Ford sound a like. Some of the sound effects are a little stock, and it definitely would have benefited from surround sound support, but these are minor issues that few will notice.

A definite “nice touch” in the audio department is the constant panting and grunting of Indy. It’s one of the mainly little things the Collective adds to their games that show they know their subject matter. Doctor Jones is an older man; he’s an archeologist that gets dragged into outrageous situations. He’s a flawed, everyday kind a guy, not some superhero. It makes sense that he would pant while running around the sweltering jungle, or grunt whenever he has to hoist himself up on a ledge, or gulp loudly while drinking from his canteen, or strain while moving a heavy object.

This game is full of “nice touches”. Indy loses his lucky hat often, but he can walk over it and pick it right back up, and he takes it off when he goes into the water so it doesn’t get wet. They could have easily just made this magic hat that’s part of the character model that never moves, but they didn’t, they went the extra mile. He regains health by drinking water out a canteen that he must refill at certain stations instead of collecting ubiquitous medical kits or eating random foodstuffs he finds lying around (although medical kits can be found hidden through the level and saved for special situations). Even the manual is a “nice touch”, cleverly interpreting everything from the warnings in the front to the legal mumbo-jumbo in the back within the context of the time period and the subject matter. Of course the game’s biggest strength, and the point by which the Collective really shows how they can marry the unique treats of a particular license with great gameplay, is the combat.

When designing this game, the Collective knew they had to make the combat different from that of Buffy’s. Of course it would have the same fluidity, the same high level of environment interaction, and the same responsiveness, but it had to feel different. After all, Jones isn’t a martial artist or an acrobat, he’s a brawler, a down and dirty street fighter, and the game should reflect that. And it does. He’ll knee a guy in the sack, punch him in the kidneys, then kick him while he’s down – and that’s why he’s so cool! His idea of a “stealth attack” is sneaking up on some guard, putting him in a headlock, and punching him in the face with his free hand, and his idea of a “diplomatic negotiation” is a chair or beer bottle upside someone’s head. His whip is his best friend and his pistol does most of his talking. What’s not to love? Sure, the combat can get a little chaotic at times, thanks to a twitchy auto-face and the propensity of thugs to attack from all sides, but there in lays the fun! Backhand the guy behind you right in the teeth, grab the guy to the right of you, head-butt him, then throw him at the guy on the left, punch the one in front of you a few times in the stomach, knee him in the groin, then send him flying with an uppercut through a table – it’s got the feel of a bar fight, and bar fights are suppose to feel chaotic. If push comes to shove you can create some space between you and the crowd with your whip, then pull out a shotgun and finish them off from afar, or gain the upper hand by grabbing some nearby object and using it to bludgeon your foes, but that stuff’s just icing on the preverbal cake.

The rest of the gameplay (the puzzle solving, the platform jumping, the trap dodging, the raiding of tombs) isn’t quite as up to the same level as the combat. “But Mr. Reviewer” you ask, “it’s Indiana Jones, the original ‘tomb raider’, shouldn’t he feel right at him in a game like this?” The answer, strangely, is yes, but it somehow doesn’t work out that way. It doesn’t feel wrong to have Indy climbing ledges and flipping switches, in fact it suits him more than any game character I’ve seen to date, it's just that none of it is terribly original. Let's face it, this kind of stuff got old around Tomb Raider 2, and although a few puzzles border on clever, they aren't anything you haven't seen before; about a million times before. Sure, the gameplay isn't bad per say, I didn't find myself hating what I was being forced to do or was ever put off from pushing onward, it's just that with a license this huge, with a name this synonymous with action and adventure, you'd think something a little more creative was in order. Of course not every game is an Ico or Soul Reaver 2, and I'm sure whatever fans are left of the catacomb crawling, ledge-climbing, gap-jumping, rope-swinging, switch-flipping genre will probably be more than satisfied.

Although not everyone will find the gameplay fully satisfying, the same cannot be said about the story. It’s pure Indy through and through – Nazis, mystic relics, ancient tombs, sassy dames, exotic locales, double-crosses, a dash of history; everything you’d expect, given the source material. If you consider yourself a fan of the films, the story is reason enough to at least give this game a rental. It really does feel like another Indy adventure in the vein of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, or Last Crusade and will probably hold you over until the collection comes out on DVD, which will then hold you over until the fourth and final film.

The slightly ordinary gameplay, along with the poor visual presentation of this port keeps this one at an entertaining but flawed title. However I would highly recommend picking up a copy of the PC or Xbox version after it hits the bargain bins, along with a copy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer if you haven’t already, as this game is worth a try, yet obviously not programmed with Sony benchmarks in mind. It captures the spirit of Indiana Jones and seals the deal with some truly kick-ass combat. I wouldn’t go into this version, however, unless I absolutely had to. Although, it’s a testament to the enjoyability of this game that even with this shoddy port I found myself happily playing until the very end. 

HIGHS:

  • Nice score.
  • Awesome use of the license, including excellent little touches here and there.
  • Classic Indy story.
  • Truly inspired hand-to-hand combat.
  • Cool manual.

LOWS:

  • Sound effects are a little bland…
  • … As is most of the gameplay…
  • … And the visuals in this version really suck.

FINAL VERDICT:

Only really brought down by it’s hideous visuals, this port of an otherwise solid action-adventure game can’t be fully recommended, but the original sure as heck can: if you are a fan of the genre, the franchise, or the Collective, give some serious consideration towards checking out the PC or Xbox version of this game, as without the terribly weak visuals this game could easily be an 8-point-something.

Overall Score: 6.9

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