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The story in Emperor's Tomb is just what you would expect from a title bearing the Indiana Jones name. The game takes place in 1935 and follows Dr. Jones as he searches for a Chinese artifact known as the Heart of the Dragon. Along the way, there will be plot twists and double-crosses and plenty of faceless thugs to beat up. There are also a bunch of Nazis running around, of course, since this is 1935 and a story that involves Indy. The story is interesting and you'll explore several exotic locations before the game's end.
Because this is an Indiana Jones game, the reason why people want to play is to experience just what it is like to be Indiana Jones. Emperor's Tomb does an excellent job of letting you do pretty much anything Indy can do. The most important part of this is definitely Indy's infamous whip, and it is recreated very well here. You can swing over pits or use it as a weapon if need be. Using your whip to snatch a weapon out of an enemy's hands is fun, and smacking someone in the head and knocking their hat off will make you laugh every time. Indy looks, acts and even sounds just like he should. The game does a good job of making you feel like Indiana Jones, but that illusion is destroyed the first time you come to a jumping section or when you have to fight someone.
Like any good action adventure game, Emperor's Tomb tries to focus on exploration and puzzle solving on top of a heck of a lot of fighting. This tried-and-true formula doesn't quite work here, though, as the very basics of gameplay are flawed. The exploration aspect is nullified because the level designs are very linear. There is only one path through a level and if there isn't an obvious exit around then you probably have to find a switch that is "hidden" somewhere in plain view. Extra ammo, health, and even key items on your quest are easy to find because they just appear along the fixed path through each level. I don't like it when games turn into stupid fetch quests, and I want a little more challenge than Emperor's Tomb offers.
Exploring the levels is pretty standard adventure game fare. You run around and jump and climb up on ledges, just like every other game. You can also swim and there is a sneak ability that allows you to cross narrow ledges. The ability to use Indy's whip to cross chasms is cool, but it is hindered a bit due to a questionable design decision. Whenever you can use your whip to swing across a canyon, use your machete to cut through some vines, or do pretty much anything else, a little icon pops up in the corner of the screen that tells you exactly what to do. If it was around just at the beginning and then you were slowly weaned off of this help system, it would have been better. As it is, the game is made much easier because you don't have to do any looking around to see where you are or what you have to do. The health system in Emperor's Tomb revolves around water, which is pretty cool, but is imperfect just like the rest of the game. You have a canteen you can fill up with water and then take a drink from it whenever you need to. The problem with this is that there are fountains for you to fill your canteen all over the freaking place. This makes an already easy game even easier.
Combat in Emperor's Tomb is interesting, but it would have been a lot better with a few key changes. In true Indiana Jones style, you are allowed to use pretty much anything you can find as a weapon. In addition to your whip, there is a machete and a bunch of guns, but these aren't the best additions. You can also use shovels, chairs, and even table legs as weapons. It is these weapons that provide the most fun in Emperor's Tomb, partly because they make a very satisfying smack when they hit but also because they seem to do the most damage. You can also have Indy duke it out with just his feet and fists.
There are two problems with the combat here, though. The first is that all of the weapons take an insane number of hits to actually kill an enemy. You literally have to punch someone fifteen times before they die or shoot them at least three or four times. Sorry to sound like a ten-year old, but that is stupid and it sucks. Fighting multiple enemies is a pain because while you're punching goon "A" fifteen times, goon "B" is shooting you in the back with a shotgun and goon "C" is reloading the pistol he just emptied into you. You are nearly invincible thanks to the ridiculous amount of health replenishing water sources nearby, so the game isn't difficult; it's just annoying. The second problem with the combat is the reliance on guns. In the Indiana Jones movies, Indy very rarely uses guns and instead relies on his wits or his fists to get him out of trouble. Because the hand-to-hand combat is so horribly ineffective, you end up relying on the guns you find to dispatch your enemies because it is easier and a whole lot faster. The easiest way to solve this is to simply speed up the fights and let Indy do more damage. It is just boring and repetitive now.
Something that Emperor's Tomb does very well is having a lot of set pieces that give you the same chills that the best scenes from the movies did. At one point early in the game you'll be walking down a corridor only to have a trap door open and you slide down a long ramp into the next area you have to explore. Another example is when you are being pursued down a long hallway and you have to use your whip to cross pits and run and jump as fast as you can in order to get away. These areas where you can relive the movies are by far the best parts of the game.
It is too bad the game in between the set pieces is so boring and un-Indy. The reason why the movies work is because you don't have to watch Indiana Jones do boring stuff. You never see Indy do tedious platform jumping in the movies. You never see him fall in stinky sewer water for the twentieth time in the movies. And you sure as hell don't see him refilling his canteen every few minutes. I can jump from tiny platform to tiny platform all I want in countless other games. When I'm pretending to be Indiana Jones I want action!
The graphics in Emperor's Tomb are nowhere near as polished as in the Xbox and PC versions. There are lots of jaggies all over the environments and the overall look of the game can only be described as blurry. There are a lot of shimmering textures, and clipping is visible all over the place as well. The character model for Indiana Jones is well done, however, and is fairly detailed. He is also well animated and things like jumping over to a ledge and hanging on by just his fingertips look very good. The enemy characters aren't nearly as detailed and all end up looking the same after a while. The hit detection is horrible, and it isn't uncommon for Indy to land a punch on someone when it looked like he was hitting air. Add a cruddy camera that makes the platform jumping much more difficult on top of all of this and you have a graphical mess.
The sound, on the other hand, is surprisingly good. The music is absolutely perfect and suits the action very well. Sound effects for punches and kicks and gunshots all sound just like you'd expect them to. All of the cinema sequences are accompanied by full voice and it sounds good for the most part. The sound-alike voice actor they got for Indy sounds just like Harrison Ford, and that really adds a lot to the game when the character you are playing as both looks and sounds just like the movies.
Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb is a mixed bag of both good and bad ideas. The character looks and sounds like Indy, and sometimes the game will remind you a lot of what made the movies so great, but the gameplay is seriously flawed, and that completely ruins the experience. The combat system is so annoying that oftentimes it is better to just try and avoid fighting altogether. Die-hard fans of Indy will probably find a lot to like about it, but this is a flawed game that really isn't all that much fun to play. I would suggest renting Emperor's Tomb before you buy it.
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