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SummaryDoctor Jones opts for fists over story yet again.
The GoodI've already ranted a bit in my review of Indy's previous outing, 'The Infernal Machine' about trading in narrative and drama for out-and-out action. I had hoped the situation would improve in this outing, but sadly action wins the day again. To be fair the action this time around has improved immensely.
Switching time frames from the Infernal Machine, which presented an older (though strangely more healthier – more on that later) Indiana, here we have the youngest occurrence of the adult Dr. Jones in film or game. Set just prior to the events of 'The Temple of Doom' Indy is once again embroiled in an oriental adventure that also finds time to visit other locations. Too much time for my liking, but I'll save that for the negative section. A chance discovery in a Ceylon temple puts Indy on the trail of the Mirror of Dreams which in turn will lead him to the Heart of the Dragon lying within the tomb of the first Chinese Emperor.
It also brings him into contact with his German nemesis Dr. Von Beck who is also after the heart of the Dragon in the name of the budding Nazi state. To add another dimension to the tale Indy is doing all this in the name of a general from the Chinese army and his beautiful assistant Mei Ling.
This story all happens around you in cut-scenes which set up reasons to send you off to Prague and Istanbul before finally closing in on China with levels set in Hong Kong and Xi'an. The actual game play mainly consists of fighting your way through about 60 levels following a linear path. Each location has a cluster of levels capped off by a 'boss' who requires a special tactic to beat. Indy is controlled using the keyboard with the mouse controlling the camera view, playing from a 3rd person viewpoint. This is a massive improvement over 'The Infernal Machine' as you can finally see everywhere and don't get frustrated. The puzzle element has been greatly toned down, so there's less trouble figuring out what to do, handy given the huge number of levels. Plus the mid-thirties Indy we have here feels a lot more like the movie Indy than before, complete with panting after exercise and the combat system.
The combat system is definitely the best thing about this game, I don't think I've ever enjoyed fighting so much – it's much closer to the fighting in the films. I complained that in 'The Infernal Machine' Indy tended to become a one-man killing machine armed to the teeth with machine guns and rifles, in this game the violence often gets more – personal. The engine is designed for more cinematic slug fests, with free-wheeling combat making use of any objects laying to hand. Get it wrong by picking a fight with too many people and you're in for trouble as you get thrown around the room without remorse. Tapping the mouse buttons in sequence produces a gratifying series of combos. Finally the whip becomes useful for more than just the trademark swinging. One final note about combat, finally Indy can get his hat knocked off, and if he doesn't pick it up he leaves it behind for the rest of the level (though it does re-appear in the next), a small feature I know, but a fun one.
The BadIt's a good thing the combat is so good as you have to do a preposterous amount of it to progress through this otherwise lifeless game. As if to make up for the lack of any drama and plot development the levels are packed with a crazy amount of people all to slug your way past. This is often done at the expense of story and level design.
The control system is on the whole pretty solid, but I do have one important niggle with it. For some reason the system would get confused as to what direction Indy was facing relative to the camera, which could cause my command to jump forward resulting in a side jump to Indy's doom. Very frustrating when you have to play the whole level again to get to that point. My other control related niggle is the awful, awful arcade sequence near the end as you avoid a tank and lose control over the mouse camera which just becomes painful and took me over an hour to complete a two minute sequence!
The story here is pretty thin on the ground, taking a long time to get anywhere. I found the opening levels dull as you had no clear clue to why Indiana Jones was in a jungle other than a quest for an idol (but why?), yet you have to fight through about five levels before you even see the prize. Not only that but the levels are populated by possibly the densest collection ever seen – of ivory hunters! Why they are in the jungle miles away from any ivory bearing animals is a mystery. As is why they take particular exception to Indiana Jones, maybe he's on a secret mission for the WWF. This use of any old stock villain is further trivialised by having them camped in parties of one and two around an old temple rather than all together, it's as if they don't know each other are there. Here the game broke my suspension of disbelief. Having dealt with another set of curiously similar looking hunters, I then blew up a temple wall and swung past a few deadly traps only to be confronted – by more hunters! How did they get there when there's no other passage?
This kind of sloppy and clichéd plotting abounds in the game. In a city like Prague there's no one around who isn't connected to the Gestapo and again in Istanbul, where everyone is either a Nazi or mysterious Arab raider. The story is straight-forward and predictable with the plot doled out in brief cut-scenes where you have no choice over the outcome and Indy displays even less personality than before. In fact he's noticeably quiet in the whole game seemingly switched off by the tedium of fighting and climbing, of course that is apart from when he's panting incessantly which he does an awful lot. Instead you have to follow the obvious path through the levels, taking out everyone you see with barely a quip to be had.
The story only begins to get interesting nearly halfway through the game when Mei Ling gets kidnapped (quizzically after displaying combat prowess far in advance from Indy). This section does entail an absolutely hilarious rail-shooter sequence where your rickshaw can outrun cars and bikes! By then most of the critical thinking had left me and I was intent on completing the game, even ignoring Indy's ability to hold his breath for minutes at a time after apparently swallowing a canister of oxygen.
I've already mentioned the story is pretty dull and poorly told, but at least it avoids the other-worldly nonsense of 'The Infernal Machine'. Well almost. For some reason it's still necessary to have Indy travel into the netherworld and once again fight against a woman possessed by a demon! I should have been for warned of this potential rubbish by some of the end of level bosses being mythical creatures (a Kraken) and a bizarre mutated alchemical man.
The Bottom LineOne day an Indiana Jones game will be released that actually involves Doctor Jones doing some archaeology. He'll have to do some quick thinking and fast talking to get out of a tight spot. He'll have to win that tomboy lady round. Of course things will escalate and his fists will do the talking but it will be worth it to save world from the evil powers that want to abuse the near mystical treasures of the ancient world.
In the meantime he'll continue to run through improbable temples, fighting thousands of nameless enemies in order to reach that cut-scene which transports him to a demonic plain. All of which will leave him – and me – strangely unmoved.