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Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb Review

publisher: LucasArts
developer: Collective
genre: Action Adventure

PIII 733, 128MB RAM, 16MB Video Card, 1.7GB HD
ESRB rating: T

release date: Mar 25, 03
» All About Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb on ActionTrip

Just how old is Henry Jones, Jr., anyway? One would think that after all these years of being in the adventure business the aging archeology professor would start to feel his age. But LucasArts would have us believe that, apart from a few sprains and some aching joints, there's absolutely nothing wrong with our old pal Indiana Jones. He can crack that whip like a 6' German dominatrix and swing those fists like Mike Tyson on his good day. The Nazis are still after him, and he's out to save the world, yet again.

After making its debut for the Xbox console (read our review here), Indiana Jones wrapped his whip around a network cable and has swung his way onto our PC desktops. The release of the new game is only a build up for the long awaited third movie sequel set to open in 2004. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie will once again star Harrison Ford as the intrepid Dr. Jones. Until then, Lucas Arts has made sure that the fans don't forget who the real tomb raider is by releasing Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb.

It's 1935 and this time Indy (I mean you) must prevent a powerful Chinese artifact from falling into evil hands. China is once again a land ravaged by war. Powerful warlords battle Nationalists, Communists, the Japanese Imperial Army, and each other for control of the country. Meanwhile, in Germany, the Nazi war machine prepares to invade Europe. Hitler secretly dispatches agents to the corners of the globe to seek out some mystical means to guarantee his dream of a thousand-year Reich...

This globe-spanning adventure pits you against evil Nazis and the Asian underworld with a mysterious and alluring partner, Mei Ying. Indy will travel to all four corners of the world, and get the girl in the end. Need I say more? It's a classic setup for what is a very classic action adventure game.

Make no mistake about it; Indiana Jones plays a lot like the Tomb Raider games. The gameplay mechanics are much the same, so anyone who is familiar with Lara Croft's exploits will certainly have a good idea of what to expect in the Emperor's Tomb. There's a bit of action, there's a lot of jumping, and some nice puzzle solving. For all intents and purposes, the latest Indy game doesn't in any way break the mold of its genre. Usually, that's not a very good thing, but it all really depends on how well you execute your initial game plan. The game doesn't innovate the genre in any way, but it does provide long hours of fun gameplay for those of us who are fans of action-adventure games.

The concept of the gameplay is very straightforward, and mostly linear. The game does offer a few branched paths during missions, but those usually come down to taking the easy or the hard way to the same goal. That's not to say, however, that the game's overall design is not up to snuff. Every action-adventure game consists of two basic ingredients: the adventure and the action component. The adventure facet is usually about spectacular environments, the storyline, exploration and puzzles - all these elements are excellently incorporated into the game. The maps will never get boring. The levels are huge and each of the locations is quite unique in its layout and appearance. Granted, some levels are better than others, and the design doesn't stay consistent throughout the game (the Istanbul map was rather tedious), but the important thing is that the maps will provide enough variety to keep you interested as you move from one location to another. The story is in many ways clich', but again, it gets interesting enough in the later stages of the game; enough to keep the player's attention and make all the exploration worthwhile. Finally, each of these huge levels is made up of specific areas, each with its own set of puzzles. Sometimes Indy will get to jump, swing, or dodge a lot. Other times, players will need to use logic. The beauty of it all is that these puzzles are never too hard, but they're testing enough to keep you going without really ever getting board or frustrated. The gameplay is as I said very linear, but you never feel too railed, as the well executed design will keep the gameplay dynamics on a high level at all times. You'll go from one exotic location to another, often guessing what the designers have cooked up next. The scenery is constantly moving, and the challenges come one after another. The only thing that kind of thwarts this lovely game pace is the lack of different types of opponents on each of the levels. It's just not all that fun killing two or three types of clones per level. Granted, this drawback is particularly noticeable on the initial levels, but the situation doesn't get a lot better later on.

Overall though, the designers have done their best not to make the levels feel repetitive, and, luckily, they don't. One level will have an end boss to deal with and less puzzles, and then the next one will be all about exploration and puzzle solving. In any case, the guys and gals at Collective deserve recognition for being able to execute an essentially linear and straightforward gameplay concept so darn well.

Besides the adventure elements, Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb features some very nice combat to boot. Some of the levels will be more action oriented, and I must say that those are equally fun as the ones leaning towards exploration and puzzle solving. In fact, it's the combination of the two that works so well, which is exactly how things should operate in an action-adventure game. Indiana will get to use his fists as well as various firearms to dispose of the bad guys. The weapons will recoil, and Indy won't be as accurate when running and shooting. The fighting is very fun, and it reminds me a lot of another Collective's title - Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Some of the moves look very similar, but that didn't bother me any. It was very fun to fight against the Nazis, and other villains. Depending on the part of the world where you're at, the bad guys will use different fighting techniques. Indy will mostly street brawl (as he does in the movies) and so will the German soldiers. The Chinese triads, on the other hand, will use traditional weapons like throwing knives, and martial arts. Generally speaking, the AI is very decent. It will run for cover, try to move away from you if you're looking for a fistfight and they're holding a gun, and they'll even know how to climb ladders in order to reach you if you happen to be on the floor above them. Furthermore, the baddies will know how to pick up chairs and other objects in their environment that can be used to bash Indy on the head. The only thing that's really lacking from the combat is more combo moves and more fighting moves in general.

The overall game design of Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb is very good. The adventure elements are working well, and so is the combat. Nonetheless, there are some technical issues that ruin this otherwise very smooth flow of the gameplay. In most cases, the camera will work fine, and the PC game will use the standard and intuitive mouse look/WASD combo. However, when you go near a wall or some other solid surface, the camera will just go nuts, and the sensitivity will go way up. It will only take a slight jerk with the mouse to rotate the camera for 180 degrees. This is hardly helpful when standing on the edge of a cliff, or trying to perform a complicated jump.

Other than that, I had some problems with the rather aging 3D engine. The game looks good, but when you pay closer attention you'll see that the character animation is a bit jerky, not to mention that the water surfaces and the outdoor background textures look uninspiring and highly simplistic. The design of the interiors and the characters is very good, but these minor aesthetic flaws will certainly stand out on certain levels.

More importantly, though, I've experienced a noticeable drop in the frame rate on the outdoor levels. Lousy frame rates not only look bad, they also interfere with the gameplay, and it ain't like I ran the game on a slow rig: 2200XP/1GB RAM/Ti4600.

Contrary to the graphics, the musical soundtrack and the special effects are top notch, and without any noticeable drawbacks. The Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb soundtrack was recorded live on July 29th, 2002 with a 65-piece orchestra. During two sessions, 33 minutes of action cues were recorded. The music of John Williams is fantastically incorporated into the gameplay and will do wonders for the in-game atmosphere. The voice of Indiana Jones is very professionally acted, and so are those of the rest of the cast. The audio aspect of the game will certainly make you feel like you're a part of a Hollywood blockbuster movie, and help to immerse you further into the action. It really is good to see that Lucas and Collective have paid so much attention to the sound, and the results are quite evident.

Unfortunately, the game doesn't have a multiplayer facet, but the single-player game is relatively lengthy and the levels are huge, which should give you plenty of value for your money. The replay value is certainly iffy, but I think that the long hours of fun single-player gameplay should be enough of an incentive for the fans of the genre to buy the game.


8.2   Very Good

Has all the ingredients of a fun action-adventure title, excellent pace, solid AI, fantastic musical score;

Too few types of bad guys per level, irritating camera glitches, the game can be a hardware hog; nothing essentially new.



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