Title  : Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine
Platforms  : Nintendo 64, Windows
Publisher  : LucasArts
ESRB Rating  : Teen
Game Rating  : 8.2
Review by  : Ken Gagne

The impending Tomb Raider movie is based on the game series starring Lara Croft, a relic hunter who delves into ancient crypts and forgotten mountain temples in search of lost treasures. She has all the qualities of a professor of archeology, expert on the occult, and obtainer of rare antiquities. 

Hmm, sounds familiar. Oh, that's right, someone did it first 20 years ago, and now he has a Nintendo 64 and PC game: Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine, from LucasArts. [N64 version reviewed here] 

Sadly, this title may be LucasArts' last crusade on the Nintendo 64, as witnessed by the Infernal Machine's limited distribution: this game can only be rented at Blockbuster, or bought online at blockbuster.com

Set in 1947, the game's plot follows the Indiana Jones formula: while doing some personal treasure-hunting, Indy is recruited to find an ancient weapon housed in the Biblical Tower of Babel before it falls into Russian hands. Players guide Indy through canyons, caverns, enemy camps, and other exotic locales in this 3D, over-the-shoulder adventure game. 

The controls are fashioned after Zelda's, but with a few quirks. Three of the 'C' buttons are assigned to any of the items and weapons in Indy's inventory — but pressing a 'C' button temporarily remaps that item to the 'B' button, which is how the item is used. Why this extra step was included is a mystery, but one that Indy can live with. Another borrowed feature is Z-targeting, which allows Indy to focus on one target while moving. 

But the targets are not as much a threat as the dodgy controls when maneuvering Indy himself. Climbing cliffs should be as easy as standing at its base and jumping, but often Indy must jump several times before finding a hold. This problem usually arises from approaching edges that appear scalable, but actually aren't. Simple jumps, runs, and crawls can place Indiana literally into the glitchy scenery. Again, don't do things you're not supposed to. 

Regardless, death, when it does seldomly come, can come cheaply. One early level has Jones rafting rapids that are nearly impossible to navigate. If players are dashed against the wrong rock, they'll find themselves stuck until the raft deflates and Indy dies. 

Despite these issues, the Infernal Machine is actually a fun game: the right mix of action and strategy at just the right difficulty setting. There's a small amount of action, and Indy's immortality does him no good against bullets and neck-breaking falls. The game's main focus is on puzzles, but not of the tedious nature found in Tomb Raider or Soul Reaver. Indy must acquire keys, assemble puzzle pieces, overcome enemies and discover allies in the most unlikely places. 

Those places aren't the most beautiful to behold. The world itself is fine enough, but there are no little details to bring these dead places to life. The clouds overhead don't move, Jones doesn't leave footprints in the snow — it's the little things that count. But Indy himself is a dapper fellow, coolly replacing his hat after emerging from a swim, uncoiling his whip to take on his adversaries. 

The soundtrack also falls this side of adequate. The dialogue isn't shabby; if you strain your ears and pretend hard enough, Henry Jones sounds like Harrison Ford. But only in a video game would you hear Prof. Jones say, "That post looks whippable." Such audio serves mainly for narration and to advance the plot between scenes. The music score is mostly silent, occasionally piping up with snippets of John Williams' original soundtrack. 

Indiana Jones is a hidden treasure. Players will need to dig not only through a presentation and interface that could have been better, but the game's restricted availability. But it deserves a crack, to take up the whip and doff off your hat: the first and only tomb raider is here. 

This article is copyright (c) 2001, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 15-Jan-01