Indy returns to the computer screen
November 26, 1999
By D. Ian Hopper
(CNN) - Move over Lara Croft, Indy is back in town.
The "Tomb Raider" series star loved by adolescents is no match for Junior "Indiana" Jones, who has finally returned to computer gaming in his first 3D adventure by LucasArts. "Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine" takes the winning parts of third-person platform adventures and marries it to an entertaining plot and the unforgettable style from the famous movie trilogy.
The game is broken into chapters taking place at the diverse locations typical of an Indy adventure. The difficulty of the game is scalable, and there are hints that can be accessed throughout using a map overlay that shows the next place Indy has to go. While it doesn't say specifically what you have to do, getting to the right place is half the battle and it's generally logical from there.
The first thing you'll notice is the great scenery graphics, which can render gaping canyons, snow-capped mountains and more at a very high resolution and in 32-bit true color. Both backgrounds, buildings and vehicles are modeled very well, and cutscenes - meant to move the plot along - are rendered within the game engine. Oddly, though, the character graphics in the cutscenes aren't quite up to snuff. There are too few polygons making up the body of everyone but Indy. They're roughly at the level of characters from the LucasArts hit "Jedi Knight," which was released two years ago.
The game does an exceptional job of pacing between combat sequences and puzzles. While you generally should be on your guard, the game isn't riddled with randomly placed bad guys. Since this is a third-person-only game, targeting is done automatically. Once you draw your weapon - and there are a great many in the game, including the famous whip and revolver - Indy points it at the closest available target within range. However, there is a flaw in the targeting system that usually keeps Indy from targeting anyone lower or higher than himself - even if that difference is a couple feet. The only way to point your gun at such an enemy is to charge until you reach his elevation. It's a silly limitation, and it will make you miss the simplicity of first-person action games.
While there is plenty of combat, the real meat is in the puzzles. They are, for the most part, fair and logical. They make sense within the context of the game, and none are overly hard. As long as you suspend your disbelief long enough to believe that perhaps in the mountains near the Soviet border there could have been a huge forgotten city protected by a retractable bridge controlled by four candle holders, you'll be just fine.
As is essential for this sort of game, character control is very good. Indy reacts quickly to keystrokes, and he can jump, hang, swing, climb and much more. There is quite a lot of platform jumping in the game, and with a little practice none are impossibly difficult. Also, you'll usually have plenty of time to concentrate and make the jump. Indy also gets to ride around a bit in addition to jumping and running. The raft sequences in the third level are both challenging and exciting.
There is an occasional control quirk, however, making Indy spin around and around in circles like he's trying to catch his tail. If you Alt-tab out of the game and back in, it rights itself. There are also some rather frequent clipping problems, where Indy's appendages get stuck in walls, floors, platforms and the like. Remember to save your game early and often if you happen to become part of the scenery.
The context-sensitive music adds a lot to the immersion factor of the game, as does the classic Indiana Jones theme music. Also, the levels start with an old map with a red bar slowly making its way to your destination as the level loads. It's a nice touch borrowed from the films.
Instead of fighting the Nazis, in "Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine" Indy has to battle Communists for a powerful weapon. Just like Indy survives beyond his familiar surroundings, as does this game with respect its predecessors. There are plenty of ways such a change from the traditional adventure game could have gone wrong, but good design and familiar surroundings manages to save the title and, in the process, teaches Queen Lara a thing or two.
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