If you have an XBOX, run to the store and get Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb. Stop reading now, and go pick it up. We’ll still be here when you return. The rest of this review won’t spoil any plot points, but it will revel in a spectacular game where anything can (and frequently does) happen. It won’t, it can’t, do the game justice unless you’ve experienced it for yourself. This is a review from the heart, and if you have not played Emperor’s Tomb yet, you’re missing out like you wouldn’t believe.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is the greatest adventure movie ever made. Period. Regardless of the flaccid movies on Harrison Ford, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg’s resumes of late, they will forever be enshrined as gods in my book for gifting the world with this film. I love every frame of it. I seek it out if I hear so much as a rumor of it playing at a theater somewhere in town (I’ve only seen it twice on the big screen). The sequels were lame (yes, even Last Crusade – stop arguing with me as you’re wrong, but if you want a debate then e-mail me), and I’ve no hope for the fourth adventure due summer 2004, but my faith has recently been renewed.
I have played Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb, and the Indiana Jones from Raiders is back with a vengeance. This time out, it’s 1935 and Indy is after a series of artifacts that will allow entry into the tomb of the first emperor of China, a secret burial site that has never been disturbed. The Nazis, of course, also want into the tomb, so Indy is off on his globetrotting ways to try and save the world from the Germans. Along the way, a mysterious female ninja and assorted other characters will pop up and either give you a quick assist, or kick your tail and have you thrown into a Turkish prison. Reminds me of a drinking story… nah, moving on.
This is the same engine the Collective used to such great effect in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and they’ve refined it to perfection. The fisticuffs that ensue are some of the most elaborate fights I’ve yet seen. Do you remember the bar brawl in Nepal in Raiders? Yeah, same things here, but try adding in a pool table that you can flip guys on to, you can jump on and then kick someone in the face, then jump off and grab a chair, then break it over someone’s head. I’m grinning like a complete idiot every time there is a throw down like this, and fights like that keep coming. Once guns are involved, things get a little dicey, but you can heal yourself using Indy’s canteen. There are fountains where the canteen can be refilled throughout most boards, but sometimes those fountains can be hard to find. Fortunately, there’s a good enough balance between exploration and fisticuffs that I never felt truly swarmed by more villains that I could handle.
Then there is the hat. If someone hits you hard enough (or frequently enough), the famous fedora will be knocked off. Usually after all the bad guys are on their backs, you can stroll Indy over to his hat and have him casually pick it up and put it back on. It can be tricky to find when you’re in the basement of a castle, or if you’re fighting on the edge of a crevice and it gets knocked over the edge, but it’s worth finding again because hey, it’s Indiana Jones’ hat. You can’t lose the hat on principle. That one feature alone puts this as a contender for me as “Game of the Year.”
I must also give a huge round of applause to the people who designed the look of each of the levels. While the flow of some levels are better than others, I never once thought I was anywhere other than mid-1930’s Europe and Asia. Each interior is richly and elegantly designed, with special nods to those who worked on the Prague levels. Simply gorgeous. Caverns and underground tombs all feel like they would be somewhere Indy would go, not just some Tomb Raider-inspired rehash.
Where I must, however, take issue with the game is in its quirkier glitches. True, they are few and far between, but think about this example. One level you’re in the back of a rickshaw in Hong Kong being chased by goons in cars and on motorcycles while shooting at them with a Tommy gun. I’m guessing an Olympic sprinter is pulling Indy, but I digress. Anyway, during the brief cutscene between segments of this chase, Indy’s gun will vanish but his hands remain poised like he’s still holding one of the coolest machine guns ever created. It’s like Indy lost the gun, but thought the stance was so cool he had to stay in it. Weird.This is how an adventure game should look. There is almost an obscene amount of detail in this game, so much so that it’s tempting to just stop and look around even in the middle of a bar fight. Torches give off the right amount of light and shadows, darkened rooms in castles and tombs are suitably creepy, and the character models move quite fluidly. Plus the hat. Whoever realized that Indy’s hat should be able to come off, I tip mine to you. Stand up and please take a bow, because you are a genius. Quite honestly, that one little touch makes a world of difference, and I am not exaggerating. It’s also a good thing I don’t have vertigo, because the outdoor environments (which blend seamlessly with the interiors) are massive, sprawling maps that usually take place very high off the ground. John Williams would be proud of composer Clint Bajakian, who’s done some of my favorite game scores. Anyone who remembers the Western themes of Outlaws and the Caribbean themes of the Monkey Island series knows Bajakian can create strong, evocative themes that resonate throughout a game. In Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb he elegantly brings to life the scores of John Williams, while capturing the feel of the 1930’s serial adventures Lucas drew his inspiration from. Rollicking tunes follow Indy throughout his adventure, and slower, more personal, music enhances the mood in several of the more low-key sequences. This is a score I would be proud to own as a stand-alone, it’s got such strong legs. While the control scheme is not flawless, it’s darn close. Most of the buttons on the X-Box controller (and the S-controller is what I prefer to use, but your mileage may vary) are well used, and I never found myself guessing what button did what in the middle of a hectic fight. There was a minor bit of confusion on the triggers versus the green button during my first few fights, but once you get the hang of it the controls quickly become intuitive. Beyond great is how I would rank this gameplay, but it doesn’t score a perfect for me due to some blasted hard jumping puzzles. Since the original NES system, I’ve never been a fan of jumping puzzles. They just about killed me in The Collective’s Buffy game, and they hurt like crazy here. Fortunately, there aren’t too many, and the ones that are here I haven’t found to be as evil as the ones in Buffy. Overall, I have been having an absolute blast with this title, and could quickly turn around and play through it again just for kicks. I’ve gotten every cent I spent out of this game and more so. It feels like a labor of love for The Collective and it feels like I’m back in the movie I truly love whenever I play it. This is high adventure in the grandest sense, and running around in the shoes of Indiana Jones is truly a great thing. Not to mention the manual has got to be seen to be believed. It’s so bloody cool, it’s amazing. I’ll leave it at that since another website did an article on this one aspect alone, but it rocked my world pretty hard.