When Tomb Raider first hit the scene back in 1996, it was easy to describe the game's premise as an Indiana Jones movie with a female lead. Lara Croft spent the next several years cornering the market on the video game version of action archeology, and even though the comparisons to Harrison Ford's big-screen character never really stopped completely, it took LucasArts four years to strike back with Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine--a flawed game for the PC and the Nintendo 64. Now, LucasArts is giving its whip-cracking action hero another shot at the title with Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb. While the game does a lot of things right, severe technical issues surface at almost every turn and really drag down the game's high points, leaving behind a game with tons of untapped potential.
Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb has some really good points, as well as some glaring technical issues.
Emperor's Tomb takes place in 1935 and puts the rough-and-tough archeologist on a quest to recover a Chinese artifact known as the heart of the dragon--a black pearl with the power to control minds. In keeping with the standard Indiana Jones theme, our good doctor isn't the only faction involved in the quest, and along the way you'll encounter plenty of Nazi thugs and Chinese gang members, all of whom want the pearl for their own evil plans. Though the plot contains a few twists and double-crosses along the way, the game is very thin on storytelling, only breaking into a cutscene to move you from one part of the world to another. Even the mission objectives aren't expressly conveyed outside of the pause screen, though the linear nature of the level design doesn't often force you to know exactly what you're after at any given time, anyway. While the game is pretty straightforward, it does throw a lot of different levels at you, moving through various locales along the way. You'll travel to Prague, Istanbul, Hong Kong, an island fortress, and more. Even though you'll be moving along from place to place fairly quickly, it doesn't feel like a short game, and players should be able to get a bit over 10 hours out of it. There isn't much replay value to speak of, of course, though the game does contain three difficulty settings and a handful of optional artifacts that are hidden throughout the game.
The game is based on the engine used for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and has a similarly good combat system.
The game combines the exploration and third-person maneuvering of Tomb Raider with a simplified version of the combat system found in The Collective's last game, the well-received Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Indy runs on a modified version of the Buffy engine, and you can do most of the running- and jumping-related activities you'd expect from a third-person action game. At first, the control feels a little too loose. It's easy to miss jumps if you're sloppy with the controls. But after some time, moving Dr. Jones around becomes second nature. You'll often find yourself having to use Indy's bullwhip to swing from one platform to another. The game always lets you know where, exactly, you'll need to do this by showing a whip icon on the screen when you're in position. Similarly, you'll see a knife icon when it's time to hack through thick vines, a switch icon when there's something for you to pull, and an explosion icon when you're near a spot that requires you to plant explosives. When any of these icons are up, an inventory button lets you quickly yank out the necessary item. While this helps make the game a lot easier than it would be without them, at other times the occasionally unclear level design and somewhat blurry textures obscure some things that you'd otherwise need to see for yourself in order to proceed.
While you'll spend most of your time in the game running around and climbing up and over platforms, there is also quite a bit of combat to be found. While the combat isn't terribly deep, it still feels incredibly satisfying. Indy's punches and kicks are exaggerated like in an action movie, giving you the impression that he's really beating the hell out of his foes. He's got a good variety of dirty moves in his arsenal, and a combo system lets you string attacks together.