Indy followup a solid X-Box adventure

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Here's some good news, for a change.

Indy's back.

"Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb," an Xbox offering from The Collective and Lucas Arts, is a fine addition to the Jonesian legend, even if it takes place in 1935, a year before the setting for the first Indiana Jones movie.

In the game, the whip-cracking archaeologist is off to Asia to recover an artifact called the Heart of the Dragon, which can cloud men's minds. The plot is advanced with excellent cut scenes and solid voice acting.

Of course, this wouldn't be an Indiana Jones epic without a few major obstacles. Nazis, Chinese thugs, ivory hunters and other goons are constantly present to hone your shooting, fighting and bullwhipping skills.

As with most videogames, however, the plot plays second fiddle to the action, and there is usually plenty of that to keep you busy.

You get to travel the world with Professor Jones, visiting exotic capitals through 10 elaborate levels.

The Collective's last game was "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and if you played that game you'll see a lot of it in the Indy title. That's not a negative, although there isn't a lot that's new and different in the game play itself.

A lot of platform elements are blended nicely with hand-to-hand combat and weapons handling. It's not a pure platformer, since there's nothing to collect but weapons -- no little hearts or sparkling stars or coins. However, Indy can climb, swim, swing on his whip and climb vine-covered walls.

It goes without saying that he's handy with his fists. He can also use things he finds as weapons; it's fun to bash ivory hunters with a shovel, a chair or an empty booze bottle.

Smashing crates often turns up usable objects, and little water fountains scattered around refill Indy's life line and his life-restoring canteen.

The developers thoughtfully include a little icon in the upper right corner of the screen to let you know when it's time to do something. Is the path blocked by vines? The icon shows you a machete.

Need to get across a chasm? The whip pops up. It even tells you when to pick things up.

The game is also full of one of my favorite things -- booby traps. Cracks in the floor and flaws in the walls often signal that Indy is headed for a fall. Stuff is always falling on your head, which is also in constant jeopardy from swinging blades.

Step carefully.

Graphics get a B. This is a nice-looking game with plenty of detail and eye candy. You will have seen better-looking games, but not a lot of them.

Sound gets an A. Combine the great voice acting -- the guy playing Indy sounds just like Harrison Ford -- with excellent sound effects and music by a genuine orchestra and you have aural perfection.

Control is another A. Indy has a great collection of moves and weapons and he follows your instructions to the letter. The camera, while not perfect, is light years ahead of most efforts. It rotates a full 360 degrees with the right stick and scans up and down, too.

Give "Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb" an A-. The game is a solid effort which keeps you striving with huge, engrossing levels, a real plot, great gameplay and excellent controls.

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