I didn’t quite know what to expect heading into Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb. LucasArts has a hit-and-miss history when it comes to converting their mega franchises from the silver screen to the small screen. Indiana Jones is no different. From Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis to Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine, the rugged archaeologist has had his ups and downs. This time around, The Collective, the development studio behind the Xbox sleeper hit Buffy the Vampire Slayer, were put to task on capturing the qualities that made the movie franchise so popular. In a nutshell, they’ve successfully done just that, recreating the spirit of Indiana Jones, but not without hitting a few pitfalls.
We join our whip-cracking hero in the jungles of Ceylon, as he searches for the Idol of Kouru Watu. This opening level serves as a tutorial where, among other things, you’ll learn Indy’s acrobatics. Although cleverly implemented, this long-winded level could and should have been half its size. A multitude of poachers, guardians and crocodiles later, you’ll secure the Idol, encounter the main villain, and escape certain death knowing full well you’ll come face-to-face with the Nazi evil-doer again later in the game. Then it’s back to the University where the main story sees Indy on a quest to recover a Chinese artifact known as the Heart of the Dragon, a mysterious black pearl with special powers. As usual, Indy isn’t the only one after the loot. You’ll have to outwit and outmuscle the Nazis, Turkish thugs, and the Chinese Triads as you travel from Prague to China to procure the item.
The Emperor’s Tomb is a third-person action-adventure game akin to Tomb Raider, which, ironically enough, was compared to Indiana Jones when it was first released. Exploration and puzzle solving is the main entrée. As such, you’ll need to be on the lookout for useful items and hidden levers and switches that open secret passages and compartments. There are a few mental puzzles to work through as well but the most common puzzles are jumping-related. Some defy belief with their elaborate nature, prompting you to wonder how some of these thugs got where they are in the first place, but for the most part they’re inventive and challenging. There are also several traps strewn throughout the levels and it all lends to a satisfying adventure element.
Combat is a high point in The Emperor’s Tomb. While not as complex as The Collective’s previous action outing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Indiana Jones can still stand his own in a fight. With two attack buttons, Indy can throw an array of punches, and, in combinations, kick, head-butt and grapple with an enemy, which lets you shove them up against walls, over ledges and even into other enemies. You can also use makeshift weapons in combat, such as bottles, chairs, shovels, and anything else you can get your hands on. Indy’s trusty whip also plays a role in combat. With it, you can knock weapons out of enemies’ hands or wrap the whip around an enemies’ neck to drag them over to you for a quick jab. If the odds are against you, you just might want to pull out Indy’s revolver or any number of different firearms available in the game, including a Luger, a shotgun and a machine gun. When the dust settles, the combat mechanics are both easy to master and very enjoyable.
Visually, The Emperor’s Tomb feels rushed. Despite a well-animated main character (and alluring partner Mei Ying), diverse environments and an excellent atmosphere in general, graphical glitches abound in Indy’s latest adventure. Occasional missing textures allow you to see through surfaces and collision detection issues create their share of odd moments too. For example, pull out your machete and you’ll be able to thrust the blade right through an enemy. Ok, I suppose that’s possible with a machete. Pick up a plank of wood however, and you’ll get the same result. You can enter a stationary first-person view to shoot your firearm, but that doesn’t guarantee you’ll hit your target. I’ve had many an enemy in my crosshair, only to miss the shot. In the first combat scene in Ceylon, I killed one of the poachers and his limp body floated mysteriously above a fire pit. The occasional glitch is bound to happen in any game, but it’s more of a habit in The Emperor’s Tomb and that’s a shame.
The audio is a bit of a mixed bag. Nothing beats a good soundtrack and The Emperor’s Tomb has that in spades thanks to composer John Williams. Similarly, while they weren’t able to recruit Harrison Ford for the lead role, the voice actor standing in as Indy does a commendable job of sounding very much like him. Where the sound falters, however, is with some of the other voice actors. Some of the accents are believable while others, like Mei Ying’s Chinese accent, are pretty bad. There are also glitches in the audio department. In Prague, I came across a guard who was apparently practicing his forceful tone of speech. I managed to sneak up on the well-dressed man, got him in a headlock, and quickly threw him over the ledge. While falling to his imminent death, the man continued to practice his tone. Now that’s commitment. Overall, the presentation is what causes Indy the most problems. The game simply is not polished.
There are other, minor issues that I should mention as well. The level design, for example. Some of the levels are quite repetitive. Here, the developers should have made a trade-off of length for intensity. The camera system is also a bit problematic. I’ve yet to encounter a third-person action-adventure game with a flawless camera and you shouldn’t expect the trend to be broken in The Emperor’s Tomb. Working with the camera, particularly with the numerous jumping puzzles, can become quite frustrating. Luckily there are plenty of save points throughout the game to ease the pain and that’s much appreciated.
Indiana Jones and The Emperor’s Tomb had so much potential. The Collective managed to encapsulate the Indiana Jones movie-going experience in an action-adventure game, complete with John Williams’ soundtrack, a convincing Harrison Ford stand-in, inventive puzzle elements, and an exciting combat system. If not for the abundant technical glitches, repetitive level design and spotty camera system, recommending The Emperor’s Tomb would have been a no-brainer. Unfortunately, newcomers to the genre will likely be overwhelmed by such problems, so it’s hard to recommend it to them. However, if you’re a fan of the Indiana Jones movie franchise, I think you’ll be satisfied with his latest adventure.