Crapshoot: Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis

From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about bringing random obscure games back into the light. This time it was one of Indy's most unfortunate misadventures this side of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Where to begin? Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis is a godawful mess of a game by anyone's standards. It's ugly. It's boring. It's barely playable. What little plot there is gets buried instantly under the bad controls and embarrassingly poor puzzles. The interesting idea of being able to control two characters at once is utterly squandered by the fact that you won't want to spend a single second more than you have to in their company. And yet despite all this, when you mention Fate of Atlantis, you'll struggle to find anyone who doesn't have warm memories of it. They'll tell you it's one of Lucasarts' best adventures, with a great story and characters that deserved to be immortalised in an actual movie.

So what's going on? Simple. We're not thinking of that Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, which is indeed fantastic. No, we're playing Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis: The Action Game.

Fate of Atlantis: The Action Game is an odd one—a cheap movie cash-in, only without the movie. It owe its existence to one, though. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was also split into two games—a SCUMM0based adventure by Noah Falstein, David Fox, and Ron Gilbert that wasn't great but did some interesting things, and a fairly generic cash-in platformer that didn't.

The Fate of Atlantis version took the form of an isometric action-adventure hybrid, but otherwise stuck to the stripped-down nature of movie ports at the time. The original adventure version was huge. The Action Game offered just six levels. The adventure featured a fun plot, with three paths designed around wits, fists, and Indy's new partner, feisty psychic Sophia Hapgood. The action game relies on the manual to tell you what you're doing and why. Most notably of all, at least on first glance, the adventure game actually has Harrison Ford's face on the cover, while the action game had to make do with a random guy in a fedora, plus a huge INDY logo to draw your eye away from the hideous artwork.

(Image credit: LucasArts)

It's quite clear which of the two games Lucasarts gave a damn about. And in case you're wondering, yes, the Action Game does admit that it's based on the adventure, rather than pretending the two were equals.

You know you're in trouble from the start of the first level, which drops you into a Monte Carlo casino and promptly washes its hands of you. A few enemies wander around, occasionally shuffling over to punch you in the face for a bit, but just as quickly losing interest and getting back to more important daydreaming. If you punch them, sometimes they drop sweets. You can switch between Indy and Sophia at will, with the other in either 'stop' or 'go' mode, which lets them amble around on their own random walking and face-punching adventures. Indy starts off with his whip and his fists, while Sophia gets to gently kick people in the shins until they feign death in the hope that she goes away. If either character runs out of health, they get transported into a cell without even a door to stop them simply walking out, but of course they don't do that because that would be naughty and the Nazis might tell on them.

The best part of the game comes when a character talks to you. Instead of a line of dialogue, it just shows you a symbol - which you then have to look up on the grounds that Indiana Jones doesn't speak the local language and has no idea what they're saying to him. Hit a hotel guest for instance, and they scream "/" You promptly reach for your travel guide, flip to the relevant page, run your finger down the translations provided and discover to your amazement that "/" means "Do not hit the hotel guests." Genius.

Want to learn more Programmer Language? Here are some other handy phrases:

Circle Three-Bars - You can't leave without both a map and the Lost Dialogue

Triangle Hourglass - Tread not upon the Great Machine!

Circle Hourglass - Enough haggling! I have lost patience with you; go away for now

If you both survive and stay awake throughout the casino level, the next levels take you to a naval base, a submarine bay and an actual submarine. As with many arcade games of the era, the manual completely gives away everything that happens in the game. My favourite bit is this section, taken verbatim from the submarine level's description. Fun fact: the developers were called "Attention To Detail"...

"Find the periscope so you can steer the submarine to the islands... one of them has to be Atlantis!"

The greatest irony of Fate of Atlantis: The Action Game is that it's a million times duller than its supposedly non-exciting adventure version. What the real Fate of Atlantis lacked in tedious isometric face punching, it more than made up for with snarling enemies, its own arcade style fighting, funny situations, death-defying escapes and more. Its casino level involved tracking down your contact and having Indy dress up as a ghost to scare his pants off during a fake seance. Doesn't that sound like much more fun than punching easily distracted goons until they poo chocolate? The answer is yes.

Many of the problems with the game can no doubt be attributed to the number of platforms it was aimed at. The adventure game was fairly advanced for its time, and restricted to PC and Amiga. The Action Game on the other hand was ported over to Atari ST, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum as well, with the lack of text strings (not to mention capital letters) and input buttons smacking of developing for the lowest common denominator. That's still no excuse though. It's one thing to make a bad game to sucker people into spending money on something crap, but so much worse to distract them from the genuinely good game of the same name sitting only a couple of spaces away on the next shelf.

Needless to say, Lucasarts learned its lesson. Fate of Atlantis put an end to the "The Action Game" idea before it could infect the likes of Monkey Island or Grim Fandango, with future adventure games simply containing their own arcade sequences where necessary—from Full Throttle's fighting to Sam and Max's gimmicky asides. The real Fate of Atlantis went on to become a genuine classic of the genre, as well as the last dedicated Indiana Jones adventure. Future games took the Tomb Raider route instead, which seems only fair, even if they weren't necessarily what the original fans wanted.

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis is available on Steam.

The Action Game, oddly enough, is not.