Best adventure game I have seen.
Indiana Jones is a legend of its own. Raiders were the first and because of that the movie became legendary. Temple was a mediocre filler and Crusade was a great hit because of a new character portrayed by fabulous Sean Connery. So LucasArts had great material at their disposal to base game upon. But no. It would not be LucasArts if they would not go the other way.
Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis presents a completely new, original story. And it would not be LucasArts if they would not elaborate it. So the story not only is on par with any of the three movies that preceded the game (Crystal Skull was 15 years after this game) but the player's sheer involvement in a brand new Indy story makes this stand above any of the movies. It's pretty hard to explain if you didn't play the game. It's not like a game based on movie which follows the plot and you loose much of the surprise because you know what is supposed to happen. Not when you have a well known character in a brand new story. The game starts with a really great interactive intro with Indy making some funny remarks about Barnett College artifacts. It's this intro that captures you and sucks you into the game which then keeps you in till the very last image and the last tone of the music. Most of people don't like intros but this one is worth spending 10 minutes on, also because it explains the basic setting of the plot.
When I first played the game in 1997 it was already a bit dated. But since I am an oldskool player (and I know the internals of PC) I found the VGA graphics amazing (more so when I learned it was hand painted, every single background, character, movement and animation) and the music (especially Adlib) really captivating despite it was pretty primitive compared to other systems.
But what was really the most thrilling element of the game was the storyline. Starting of with the intro and an action sequence that set the game in motion the game story progressively builds up, Indy reveals more and more about the Atlantis. Nazis are a constant threat in the game (as in every Indy movie) but there is also something more in the air. This doesn't reveal itself till the very last stages of the game (and I will not reveal it either) but the game pacing, settings and music build up this tension as the player approaches the goal. The atmospheric highpoint for me was the Outer ring with its maze, gloomy music and Nazis walking all around where player had to take long distance trips through the maze. It really brought in the frustration and sense of threat that a real human in this setting would experience.
The puzzles are another highpoint of the game. You've got these, let's say eccentric puzzles in Day of the Tentacle or Monkey Island. Not so with Indy. If you want to make a balloon you have to use a real balloon bag, a real basket and something to tie it with. Puzzles like these contribute to the involvement of the player because the player doesn't feel like he's doing something outrageous. One big plus is many of the puzzles (almost all of the important ones) change with each replay - the things needed are hidden in different places, the player is required to use a different approach or a different object, search at different locations or take different steps to complete the objective. A great example of this is a search for Lost Dialogue in the first part of the game where the dialogue can be hidden in several places (I think it's more that five!) and to retrieve the Dialogue from each place takes a completely different set of steps to take.
If changing puzzles are not enough for you then there's something bigger in store for you - three different ways to complete the game. After the first part you make a decision and until the final parts the game progresses totally differently in each mode converging the three paths seamlessly after you reach Atlantis. What is so great about the three modes is that although Indy roughly follows the same locations in each mode (with a host of locations unique to each path) the storyline in each path is distinctively different and locations have different puzzles in each mode that serve different purposes. A topping on the cake of this is that even some characters change from path to path - while they are helpful in one they are evil in another and you never know what to expect or will stand surprised if you try to treat the character the same in different paths. Take the variation in puzzles AND three distinctive paths and you have myriads of possible gameplay combinations that will make you replay the game again and again.
Technically there's not much to say. Controls are so easy you won't be needing manual even in the fighting mode. This is the probably the cleanest most intuitive adventure game interface I've seen. The graphics is a 320x200 256 color VGA mode which was the best you could have on PC those days. Artists at Lucas took some big efforts to make the scenarios look good in this resolution and also make the important elements stand out so that the player doesn't have to do pixel-by-pixel search (except for some two or three occasions).
The music can play either through the PC speaker (no comments needed, you know the bleeps) or using Yamaha's OPL3 music chip found on Soundblaster cards (and clones). For the luckier who had Roland cards the MTU-41 interface was also available. The OPL3 music, although pretty simple stands in its own right and does the job right. First notes you'll hear is of course the obligatory theme (which of course is a positive thing) but the in house musicians created original soundtrack that has his own themes that fit the game and yet is bonded together with the well known Indy theme. Also the ending credits are incredibly well done (I won't spoil what's there) and with the music based on Indy theme rearranged and extended by different original melodies that transition to a grand finale based again on Indy theme with some nice arrangement touches from game musicians finishing with a final crescendo accompanied by a tiny bell sound that will make you smile.
Noteworthy is the iMUSE music system that pretty seamlessly mixes the music according to scenario or situation so that the player experiences a continuous movie-like sound scape that really adds to the game. The voiced version is also a very nice touch since reading silent letters on top of nonsilent music is not really natural, having voices AND music WITHOUT the letters is much more a cinematic experience and takes the player involvement a step further.
Summed up - if you are able to switch your brain to year 1993 play this game if you haven't. The story, atmosphere, technical quality and huge replay value are so attractive you will find enjoying this game more than you would find healthy to. For me the game stands in the adventure genre as a highpoint, as the best adventure game ever.
There's not too much bad to say - it IS a best adventure game after all (for me at least). Maybe some parts were too long and frustrating (e.g. the outer ring). Maybe some animations and movements could be better (especially in final scenes where Indy and Sophia are expect to run from Atlantis yet the animations shows them Sunday walking). Also there is this quirk - some sound effects are presented as text (or sampled sound in talkie version) while others are played back through MIDI/OPL3 chip. This might be distracting to some (it was to me) since you never know what you're going to hear/read and it makes some scenes unnatural (like Indy pushing a stuck door, first the text reads "ouch, oof" but nothing is heard and then the doors move and suddenly you can hear the door squeak). This is probably my biggest criticism of this game, apart from that there is really hard to find something bad in this game.
The Bottom Line
A legend in adventure gaming, a must have for anyone who is able to appreciate a game in the context of its age.