|Okay, what is it about ancient cultures in adventure movies and games that makes them build elaborate, deadly temples? I mean, when's the last time you walked into a house of worship and had to dodge giant buzz saws and spike traps? Seriously. |
Well, it happens to Indiana Jones all the time. Lucky us, his latest outing – Lucasarts' Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb – plays like a chapter in the film trilogy.
It's 1935, and Indy is hoping to (you guessed it) recover an artifact from a tomb in Ceylon. This introductory series of levels is partly tutorial, but it’s much, much longer and more elaborate than the usual cursory adventure-game tutorial. Once safe in his classroom, Dr. Jones is approached by a mysterious pair who hire him to explore the tomb of the first emperor of China. Said tomb is rumored to contain a black pearl that allows its user to
Of course, the tomb is locked and hidden, and the pieces are scattered around the globe. Oh, and the emerging Nazi party wants to get in as well. Indy hates those guys, so the race is on.
Emperor's Tomb is a two-fisted platformer that really shows off the XBox's strengths while, unfortunately, showcasing some of its weaknesses. The main view is third-person, but the camera isn't locked behind Indy, and in the height of battle that makes for some awkward moments. Yes, the left trigger moves the view back behind him, but that precious few seconds can really make a difference.
Control is also a little twitchy. As with any platformer, there are tons of jumping puzzles, which often require Indy to line up just right. That can get tricky, considering how sensitive the left thumbstick can get. Clipping and collision detection are somewhat loose as well, adding to this problem – I spent lots of frustrating time at one point trying to climb up a ledge and another breaking a skylight. In fact, for a long while I thought I was doing something wrong and searched for alternatives in both situations. In truth, I just wasn't in a very specific place where the game registered I could climb or break.
Those are the game's most egregious failings, which is a good thing. The graphics are very good, with some very nice sequences and plenty of detail, both in textures and in lighting. Sound is good as well – the actor playing Indy is often dead-on, and the Nazis are appropriately moustache-twirlingly evil. One of the main characters, the comely Chinese lass who just happens to be a martial arts expert, sounds garbled but is according to the manual accomplished (and gorgeous) actress Vivian Wu.
Gameplay? Well, it's a platformer. Expect lots of jumping and swinging, and try not to think, "Hey, who put a chain there?" or "Has that glider been sitting there for decades, or is it returned to its clock tower every time an adventurer solves the puzzle?" Fighting is great. There's plenty of two-fisted Indy action. Literally; one button controls each fist, which can of course be combined for combos. Indy also has his trusted whip – I laughed with delight during one battle, when I somehow managed to swing the whip in a circle and knock back a group of Nazis – and other weapons.
I got so into the Indy mindset that I found it a shame to, low on health, use a silenced pistol to dispatch some baddies rather than giving 'em some two-fisted American sunshine. And I must mention Indy's hat, which can be knocked off during battle. I backtracked more than once to pick it up, even though it magically returns at the beginning of each new level.
Anyway, any game that makes me grin while writing the review is near tops in my book. I can’t give Indy a perfect score, thanks to the clipping and other frustrating issues, but I can heartily recommend it to fans of the series. Aside from XBox, Emperor’s Tomb is currently available for PC and PS2. PC users, get some sort of gamepad before playing, 'cause keyboards are no fun when combined with platformers. Now, please excuse me – John Williams' Indy fanfare just started playing in my head, which means it’s time to get back to the archaeology.