Written by  :  Terrence Bosky (5463)
Written on  :  May 03, 2004
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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The Original Tomb Raider

The Good

It must be disappointing for the folks at LucasArts. Between Pitfall Harry and Lara Croft, Indiana Jones must now imitate the imitators. Luckily Emperor’s Tomb is better than the uninspired Infernal Machine, but it still isn’t as good as a good Tomb Raider game.

Set prior to Temple of Doom (chronologically the first of the Indiana Jones Adventures), a tutorial/prologue level finds Indiana Jones scouring Ceylon, India for the Idol of Kouru Watu. Unknown to Jones, this idol is the first of part of a key which will unlock the Tomb of the First Chinese Emperor. This explains the Nazi presence at Ceylon and their dismay when Jones finds the idol. So it’s Jones versus the Nazis for the Emperor’s Tomb—enter the Chinese Connection. Marshal Kai, of the Chinese government, has an interest in keeping the Nazis out of China and backs Jones’ cross continental mission. Kai’s secretary, Mei Ying (obviously a Bond girl in the wrong game), offers assistance to Jones from time to time. Aside from that, it’s up to the man in the lion tamer’s outfit to save the day.

Emperor’s Tomb is packed with two-fisted action. Sure the Nazis have their Lugers, Turkish assassins lunge at you with curved daggers, and Chinese guards attack you with long spears, but you’re Indiana Jones. Disarm them with your whip, knock them down with a chair, kick them when they’re down and finish them off with a knuckle sandwich. Combat in this game is so visceral and so exciting, you’ll wish they had ripped out the vine swinging and cliff jumping levels. You are welcome to use weapons (other than the odd shovel, chairs, and table legs), but ammunition is limited for the guns and it’s a little too easy to finish off your opponents with gunfire.

The game has a few puzzles which are generally more interesting than challenging and the designers have an odd fixation with cranes. Most of the gameplay is split between combat (with a few rail-shooting levels thrown in) and typical tomb raiding.

Voice acting is terrific. David Esch sounds almost exactly like Harrison Ford and Vivian Wu does a great job voicing Mei Ying. The music (orchestral scored) is wonderful and weaves the Raiders’ Theme into the original score without overplaying it. Sound effects are mostly good with the only disappointment being (very surprisingly) an unconvincing whip.

Graphics are great but the color pallet seemed limited, especially in Istanbul which calls for vibrant colors rather than the drab ones seen in this game. Finally, this game has one of the coolest manuals (modeled after The Grail Diary) that I’ve ever seen.

The Bad

Little Bad Thing No save points.

Obviously ported from a platform, this game autosaves at the end of each level rather than allowing in-mission saves. For the most part this is a small annoyance as the levels tend to be bite-sized, but there are a few missions with a lot of combat and it’s frustrating to get past a bunch of enemies and then have to restart because you missed a jump.

Medium Bad Thing Bad controls/camera.

This game uses W,S,A,D buttons, but A and D don’t pivot your character, they cause Indy to run left and right. Also the controls are relative to the camera not the character, so if the camera swings around (which the damn thing does) you have to adjust the controls to match.

Very Big Bad Thing Von Beck’s Revenge

I honestly think this is the hardest level in any game I’ve ever played. Do a Google-search on the level and you will read about grown men crying. For many, the game ended here. This is the video game equivalent of St. Crispin’s Day. If you have beaten this level, then you are my brother.

The Bottom Line

Emperor’s Tomb is a fine game, but the action-emphasis leaves the story on the sideline. We haven’t seen a great Indy game since 1992’s Indiana Jones and The Fate of Atlantis. Fate of Atlantis epitomized the type of game LucasArts was known for when they were known for making quality games. It’s nice to have the classic character back, but I miss the classic company.