Title  : Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb
Platforms  : Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation 2, Windows
Publisher  : LucasArts
ESRB Rating  : Teen
Game Rating  : 8.6
Review by  : Ken Gagne

Lara Croft may have the curves, but only one man has the moves. 

The original tomb raider is back in Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb, from LucasArts for the Microsoft Xbox, PlayStation 2, and PC. (Xbox version reviewed here) 

In 1935, the Germans are seeking an ancient artifact: the Heart of the Dragon. Indiana Jones embarks on a globetrotting journey, from the towers of Prague to the depths of the tomb of China's first emperor, to recover this weapon with the power to control men's wills. 

Indiana's quest pits him against devious traps and relentless renegades which he overcomes using his whip, fists, and whatever tools he finds along the way. Indy has full command of his inventory, with two uses for each weapon. For example, not only can the whip be used to latch onto juts and swing across chasms, but also to pull distant enemies in for a swift punch, or to yank their armaments from their hands. Indy can then use these weapons against his opponents in multiple ways — even an unloaded gun is useful for pistol-whipping an enemy. 

The control scheme is not ideal when wanting to access a specific weapon during the heat of combat, often leaving players to practice the more expedient method of pummelling one's foes with one's fists. 

Although there is some mysticism to Indiana's adventures, his foes are usually common thugs, and the end-level "boss" is as likely to be an ages-old trap as a super-Nazi. Each is equally lethal, and vary only in how quickly they work to send Dr. Jones to the netherworld. 

The environment offers aid, with hidden items, collectible curios, and potential weapons such as broken chair legs. It's almost a shame to see the honored archaeologist destroying such precious antiquities, but the player's needs come before the protagonist's. 

The camera control is nearly flawless, with the right analog stick providing 3D control that lets players focus on opponents even in tight quarters. Flung enemies occasionally have their torsos disappear into solid walls, but this visual gaffe has no gameplay repercussion. When walls are lacking, players with acrophobia should be warned: Indy scales and swings above perilous, dizzying heights. 

The music is dynamic, able to change instantly depending on Indy's failure or success, without interrupting the gameplay. Variations on John Williams' perennial themes set the background, while sound effects and spoken dialogue (often in the local language) complete the surroundings. David Esch, who has formerly given video game voice to Harrison Ford's other iconic hero, Han Solo, does an admirable job here in his role as the whip-slinger. Though the way Indy huffs and wheezes after jogging, you wouldn't think this game to be a prequel. 

One stage takes on the characteristics of a shooter as Indy mans a gun mounted to the back of a vehicle. This level is incongruous in both gameplay and quality: the sense of speed is nearly nonexistent, the challenge is laughable, and the sound volume balance is terrible. It's best that this stage is brief. 

LucasArts has unearthed a solid title in this latest offering by packaging together reliable controls, good graphics, and a steady mix of puzzles, action, and exploration. Considering the interminable delays for the new Tomb Raider game, there's no riddle what the superior alternative is.


This article is copyright (c) 2003, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 08-Mar-03