Feeling like Indiana Jones in The Emperor's Tomb

The Indy game that time forgot.

Raiders of the Lost Ark recently appeared on Netflix, and after watching it I felt the urge to recreate the experience in a game. I get this a lot when I watch films. Fate of Atlantis, the classic LucasArts point-and-click adventure, seemed like the obvious choice, but then I remembered another Indiana Jones game that a lot of people seem to have forgotten about.

Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb, released on PC way back in 2003, is a third-person action game in the style of Tomb Raider. I last played it when I was a teenager, and I remember loving it. But I also loved Coldplay back then, so I wasn’t sure if my memories could be trusted.

I impulsively bought the game on GOG for a fiver and prepared myself for the usual bitter disappointment of returning to a game you once loved.

And I was surprised to discover that it’s actually pretty damn good. It has a lot of problems that plague most early 2000s third-person games, namely a camera that swings around your head like a drunken boxer and some frustratingly twitchy jumping. But those complaints aside, it does a superb job of capturing the spirit of the Indiana Jones films. And that’s all I really wanted. To feel like Indy, if only for a fleeting moment.

The first level, set in the ruins of a jungle temple, is a gauntlet of spike traps, crumbling floors, bottomless pits, and gun-toting ivory poachers. You use your whip to swing across chasms, find treasure hidden behind waterfalls, and punch a lot of people who probably deserve it.

There are big, open areas to navigate by jumping and climbing, and traps that are hilariously brutal. And there are barely any cutscenes, just the occasional line of dialogue from a fairly uncanny Harrison Ford soundalike.

It’s exactly what I wish the new Tomb Raider games were like. The level doesn’t exist merely to funnel Indy through a godawful, boring, overly earnest storyline. It’s there to be enjoyed. A tomb to be raided!

There’s a sense of fun, of humour and adventure, that Lara’s most recent outings sorely lack. And you don’t have to keep stopping to crouch behind a wall and shoot people or watch another dreary cutscene.

Of course it helps that you’re playing as Indiana Jones, and that composer Clint Bajakian has so expertly recreated John Williams’ famous score. The music is incredibly stirring, and always seems to kick in at the right time.

I was unarmed and some guy was firing a revolver at me. So I took out my whip, yanked the gun out of his hand, then put him down with a flurry of punches as a few bars from the Raiders March played. I’ve never felt more like Indy.

The melee combat is superb. It feels scrappy and ugly, just like the best brawls in the movies. And because Indy is never afraid to fight dirty, you can grab bits of scenery—wooden chairs, glass bottles—and batter your opponent with them mid-combo. Or just pull your gun out and shoot ‘em.

But I’m not really into using guns, except as a last resort. Punching people is so much more satisfying, and it just feels more in character. And when the Nazis turn up later, introducing them your fists is extremely cathartic.

Brilliantly, if you take too many hits you lose your hat. You can pick it up again, and I always do, because Indy without a hat is like Luke Skywalker without a lightsaber. I don’t know why I love that your hat falls off in a scrap, I just do. I loved it when it happened in L.A. Noire too. Indy even tucks his hat away when you go in water, then pops it back on his head when you climb out. Now that’s an attention to detail I can get behind.

Look, I don’t know why I’m recommending this ancient game you probably don’t care about. But I’m so frequently disappointed by returning to old games that when one actually holds up, I feel like I should sing its praises. It’s by no means a classic game, and actually kinda annoying and drawn-out in places, but man, it made me feel like Indy.

Be warned, though: some of the later levels are pretty bad, especially when things start getting really supernatural. But I doubt you’ll make it that far—I played about five hours and that’ll do me. The itch has been scratched.

As for getting the thing running, it works perfectly on my Windows 10 setup. I just had to use this thing to run it at 2560x1440 and this tweak to unlock the frame rate. It doesn’t look especially handsome, but there’s a lot of character in the animation, which does a good job of making you feel like you’re playing as Indy and not some generic third-person action game hero.

I don’t think they were allowed to use Harrison Ford’s likeness, as this Indy looks a bit strange up close. But the guy doing the voice really nails his weary cynicism.

Even though the story’s not quite on par with the original trilogy, it’s a masterwork compared to Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. So if you feel like punching some Nazis, exploring some ruins, and dodging a few traps, the Emperor’s Tomb might be worth raiding. Turns out the teenage version of me was right about some things.

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