Updated: Feb 16
Platform: PS2, Xbox, PC
Developers: The Collective, LucasArts
Genre: Third Person Action Adventure
Release: August 29th, 2003
Ba bada DA da deda, Ba bada DAAAA ba deda da DA…. Look anyone who knows the movies will totally appreciate that… Anyway, here we are with another tie-in and to pay our respects to the late great LucasArts. A developer/publisher that defined the point and click adventure genre with the likes of Monkey Island, Full Throttle and then revolutionized it again with Grim Fandango and Sam and Max. These are games from a bygone era but ones that helped to solidify their presence in the gaming industry and without having to lean too heavily on their namesake to turn gamers heads.
That isn’t to say they didn’t bring it when ever they did bring out the big guns. I’m talking your X-Wings, TIE Fighters and X-Wing Alliances. Your Shadows of the Empires and Jedi Outcasts. LucasArts knew how to handle its franchises and wasn’t afraid to diversify its portfolio to do it. Whether by way of internally taking on a project or outsourcing to different studios. But we’re not talking about those games, today we’re looking at Indiana Jones and the Emperors Tomb. Itself a sequel in an, at that time, long running series of Indiana Jones titles. A game that for this dear casual, marked the end of an era of the kind of true quality LucasArts was known for. Up until that point, whenever you saw it’s name slapped across the side of the case you knew exactly what you were getting.
Emperors Tomb was not the first Indiana Jones game to try capitalizing on the Tomb Raider model (which itself wouldn’t exist without the movies I’d argue) but it was the first for me. If anything, it was the most logical leap forward from the point and click nature of previous titles like the direct adaptation of The Last Crusade or the equally impressive Fate of Atlantis. I think at this point it’s a bit redundant to say “I’m a huge fan of the series”, I wouldn’t be looking into these games at all if there wasn’t some connection so let’s just take that as a given and dive right in!
What Do I Remember?
The kid brain in me had just learned to recognize that Harrison Ford wasn’t just Han Solo in a different jacket and loved the period soaked pulpy action. These movies actively started my interest in history and while archaeology it turns out is really boring by comparison, it showed me a larger world. Gave me context if you will. My first brush with this game was a booth demo in my local Smyths toy store on Xbox. Being my first experience with an Indiana Jones game, I could not believe one hadn’t been made sooner. The demo had everything, death defying jumps, gun fights, Indy’s dry wit and of course, punching Nazi’s. Needless to say, that Christmas was a slam dunk and you better believe I got in trouble for ignoring my family in favor of the Jones’s that Christmas Day.
Emperor’s Tomb became another in a long string of gaming obsessions of my youth. I had to find every historical artifact (they belonged in a museum after all) hidden throughout each level and push every goon off the nearest balcony because you know what, it was worryingly satisfying, watching them bounce off of and over the precipice to their doom. I was never interested in Tomb Raider outside of my wish for an Indiana Jones version and this absolutely scratched that itch, it was perfect. The hand to hand combat was satisfying, Indy would go for big sweeping punches that literally knocked the hats off of enemies. You could push people around and crack a chair over their heads, just like the movies. I even made a point to go back for my own hat which could also be knocked off during combat or after a particularly bad fall. Any fan knows that Indy can’t leave a scene without his hat and I had to recreate every iconic scene.
In the quieter moments, you consulted Indy’s diary to solve puzzles that would reveal the next ancient tomb or secret civilization. The game even included the globe hopping montage from the films in between levels to immerse you in the world. Sure the voice actor was a bit off but it was the most authentic experience you could get in the 2000’s, the movies were long dead (little did we know…yikes) and this was the only way to continue the adventure. The stakes were suitably world ending, how could they not be when it comes to the greatest baddies in history?
Of course, there’s always good and bad with every memory and this game, for all it got right it was painfully obtuse at times. There was one particular door puzzle, set in the library of a Germanic castle that had me stumped for about 3 days straight. I just, didn’t get it and the game made no effort to explain itself and I ended up stumbling on the correct sequence out of pure frustration. The camera also wasn’t the best, putting it lightly. Tight corridors in particular were a nightmare if you were surrounded by more than two enemies, you’d get batted up and down the place like a ping pong ball and with equally frustrating checkpoints that could mean losing a chunk of progress, should they get the drop on you.
Actual footage of my 2020 plans so far...
Just to get things out of the way, it’s been an absolute pain to get this working on PC. Now, before you call the fuzz, I had previously purchased this game through the magic that is gog.com before promptly forgetting about it. But man is it badly optimized, another thing I forgot about PC gaming in general is the tinkering and fixing needed. It’s a talk for another time but the point is, I’ve struggled to get this game I used to love working so we’re already off to a bad start.For those reading who remember this title and want to relive the magic be warned, keyboard/mouse controls are terrible and if it wasn’t for this fine fellows guide here I’d have been stuck dodge rolling through the environment just to move.
The sport of config file tinkering aside, it’s been a strange ride coming back to this game. I hadn’t thought about Emperors Tomb since it’s re-release on GOG back in 2015 and I honestly nearly gave up and moved on it was so cumbersome to get working but there’s a charm to this title that quite simply is missing in today's stable. The little details are what truly shine here. The way indy fights is comically exaggerated but there's a weight too it that feel scrappy and just feels like it should. Exploring the environments to find temple ruins "lost" to time yet auspiciously crawling with bad guys, that toe the line of cultural misappropriation in their stereotypes (I love this movie but...c'mon), it's all there.
What happens when you bring your face to a shotgun fight
But again, its the little stuff. That previously mentioned hat mechanic, is so unnecessary they could have just bolted the hat on him and people would never have noticed but the team at The Collective went the extra mile and incorporated it into the game-play! There’s the canteen, which acts as a replenish-able health item that Indy drinks out of too. When his health is low, his stance changes as he slumps over his shoulders like he’s exhausted. There’s no flashing red on the sides of the screen to warn the player, nope, poor Indy is just knackered.
The music too, a slightly less budget John Williams riff that incorporates the setting for each level and familiar themes from the films is a nice touch. It stands out on it’s own while also including the classics and compliments the action on screen. A fight breaks out and the big strings and horns come out, a puzzle is solved and there's that familiar flute laden twitter to show Indy's competence to really sell you on the fantasy. That attention to detail can often be lacking in these games and end up feeling more like a checklist of things that the player needs to see as opposed to actually taking the ingredients and you know...baking them into the game-play, so the effort involved is appreciated.
What’s changed you ask?
A lot for me personally. I never did become an archaeologist, or even that much of a historian, enough to get through a table quiz and surprise myself sometimes but not much else. If there is anything that has truly changed it’s my appreciation for what the developers created. Yes, it is rough around the edges, but it also oozes personality. At the time, the game was knocked for being a bit derivative of the genre but I find this to be an unfair assertion, it's arguably the point given it's source material. There is no denying they nailed the look and feel of the movies and once you get used to the quirks there’s a certain flow that really works in the games favor.
This game is very much a product of its time in terms of the overall game direction and style. A product of limitations that clearly didn't stop the developers from attempting to reach great heights and anyway, what's the point in making a game if not to make the best version of it possible? That much is clear with this title, despite some of the jank I've experienced with the camera, controls and even the initial set up I'm still having a great time all over again. There's a reason these games that I've gone through so far mean so much to me and I"m starting to realize that it's not just the brand slapped over the box art that keeps them rattling around my skull all these years later.
Quick Note: For those utterly swayed by my words and picking this one up, I must warn you, there's a game breaking bug at the very end of the Ceylon level that stops progression. I literally can't finish the chapter because of an invisible wall. I haven't noticed this on message boards so it could just be my own bad luck but still!
First image taken from here
Second image taken from press kit here
Gifs taken from recorded gameplay and uploaded here
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