Hello there. My name’s Chris ‘The Tingler’ Capel, although a lot of people (mostly imaginary) know me as Indiana Chris.
I have had a lot of daring adventures over the years, journeying to the great palace of Knossos on Crete, the wilds of South Africa, the plains of Spain, the only mostly tamed waters of the English Channel, and the vast cavern of glorious treasures known as that Wal-Mart near the hotel I was staying in.
But now I have just returned from my most daring and exciting adventure yet. From China, dear reader, and the great city of Xi’an, where I discovered the Tomb of the First Emperor and his legion of Terracotta Warriors. Upon making this startling discovery, I then realised that someone else had trod the same footsteps as myself. No, not the thousands of other tourists who visit every day, but a kindred spirit to myself... the famous archaeologist Indiana Jones.
Even though I enjoyed his adventure in the Emperor’s Tomb, I cannot help but see now that I have been there myself just how many things he left out, or just plain got wrong with his story. Let’s have a look…
WELCOME HOME, OLD BOY
Let’s have some history, shall we? There are plenty of obscure things Emperor’s Tomb gets right, so it’s surprising just how much is wrong with it or just could have been better.
The Walk of Doom - I took this photo thinking 'that looks very Indy', then I found it in-game!
The First Emperor of China, Qin Shihuang, was indeed convinced that he could live forever and was obsessed with learning the secret of immortality. He was told to search for three supernatural mountains where Immortals were said to live. The main one of these was Peng Lai. He sent thousands of young boys and girls to search for the mountains, most of which died in the attempt. As for the incredible Terracotta Army, they were made to guard the Emperor, his tomb and its location.
The Tomb itself has never been opened and will not be in the conceivable future. This is both due to China wanting the tomb preserved, but actually mostly down to the fact that opening the tomb after such a long time sealed underground would expose all the artefacts to oxygen. This would damage them forever, for reasons I will get to shortly regarding the Terracotta Warriors.
The Heart of the Dragon is a bit harder to pin down as it doesn’t seem to be mentioned anywhere, but is probably meant to be based on the pearl that most Eastern dragons carry with them. It is the source of their power and how it ascends to heaven.
I was also going to nitpick the Indy map screen’s naming of Xi’an as ‘Sian’, which is how the name is pronounced but not spelt, except that I discovered that in 1937 Chinese maps in English would be written that way. It wasn’t until much later that the Roman version of Chinese, pinyin, would correct the spelling. So that’s one to LucasArts, nil to me. Bugger.
I’m not beat yet. There are still many glaring problems with this game. If I could give them all a name, I would call it a general lack of ambition, imagination, and time. I can blame LucasArts for the time problems (see Armed & Dangerous and Knights of the Old Republic 2 for further evidence), but the other two fall between both LEC and The Collective.
Better odds for Indy.
Central to this lack of ambition is the Terracotta Army. Really, how many does Indy fight in the game? I can’t be bothered to count them, but it can’t be any more than 30 and certainly only a maximum of four at any one time. They all look identical, too. There are thousands of the buggers in reality, and that’s just in the uncovered pits near the Emperor’s Tomb. Inside the tomb itself there will almost certainly be many more. And most importantly – every single warrior is unique. Thousands of stone statues made by hand and every one of them is different. Some have beards, some have large stomachs, some are bald, some are tall, some have bows, some have spears... The Collective couldn’t even be bothered to make more than one model.
Furthermore, did you know that originally the Terracotta Warriors were painted? Following exposure to air after so long buried, the paintwork on the warriors evaporated into dust in less than a week. A similar fate would befall the artefacts in the Tomb should it be opened, so you can’t blame Archaeologists for being cautious. My point is regarding Indy, why aren’t the Warriors in the game’s Tomb painted? Did the Collective not find this out during their research or just couldn’t be bothered to do it?
HOLD ON TO YOUR POTATOES
What really grinds my gears about this game is what the Collective could’ve done. The Tomb has never been opened, so the Collective were free to use their imagination. So they imagined a level from Tomb Raider. What of the great myths, legends and stories about the Emperor’s Tomb? For example:
- It is said to contain a gigantic map of Qin Shihuang’s empire, with flowing rivers of mercury. Above the giant map, the stars shine accurately, with candles made of whale oil so they would burn for eternity.
- Crossbow traps were set inside so that any thieves would be shot.
- The tomb is mostly an underground treasure house, with models of palaces and pavilions and many artefacts made of gold or jade.
Did anyone see any rivers of mercury? Glorious maps of China and stunning cosmological maps of the universe? Crossbow traps? Thousands of treasures? What about a few bells and an impossible Nazi drilling machine? Oh good, I was starting to worry then. At least the bells look accurate.
Qin Shihuang. The Dragon's Heart must be very slimming.
There’s more to the Tomb then just legends. Modern scientific techniques have revealed the Tomb to be one vast divided underground pyramid, larger than the Great Pyramid. In short, in terms of gaming it is closer to Mero of Indiana Jones & The Infernal Machine than The Emperor’s Tomb of, um, The Emperor’s Tomb. The Tomb can also be considered a subterranean palace, or even a city. Anyone catch any evidence of that?
While Peng Lai is name-checked in the game, that’s literally the extent of the research done. In the game it’s the home of the temple of Kong Tien – who incidentally, as far as I can discover, is totally made up. No mention of Immortals or the thousands of children sent to their deaths, instead we have multi-whip swings! And what about the other two mountains? Maybe that’s asking too much.
Getting back to the Terracotta Warriors again, there aren’t only spear and sword-wavers in there. There are archers, cavalry, chariots, and a few rare Generals. Wouldn’t a Terracotta General have been the most obvious boss character in the game?
Why not use more Chinese mythology based enemies? Just look at Bioware’s superb Jade Empire for the potential in gaming there.
Why would the Chinese ally with the Nazis? They hated them!
And the Emperor most definitely had a coffin – it was covered in molten copper, so the builder’s estimate says. “Look mate, I can do the boilin’ coppa ‘round the sar-coffee-gus, but them ten thousan’ stone guards will ‘ave to wait ‘til after the weekend. Oh, and yer tiles are loose.”
Oh yes, and Chinese dragons don’t breathe fire.
TOO MUCH TO DRINK, DOCTOR JONES?
I shouldn’t really complain about all this. I mean, I complained enough when the game was released – to start moaning again four years later is a bit cruel. There was plenty to whine about before, like no mid-level saves, console-centric gameplay, crappy control, Chinese translations not showing unless you turn subtitles on, boring on-rails shooter sections, getting all supernatural way too early, the story making very little sense, the slightly rushed feel, the now complete departure from even the adventure elements of Infernal Machine, and what the hell was that Nazi Frankenstein’s Monster who’s vulnerable to Kryptonite about?
Terracotta War! Wasn't quite the same in real life.
Still, at least Clint Bajakian’s soundtrack was excellent. It’s so good most people think that LucasArts just ripped John Williams’ music from the films, they can’t tell the difference in quality.
Yes, I did say I enjoyed it earlier. Why? It, most definitely, is Indy. They may have screwed up quite a lot of things, but every time Indy’s hat came off in a fight I always casually picked it up straight after beating all those goons merely because it looked cool. Fights are definitely enjoyable, and while the camera control is a little odd it all still works just fine on the PC, which is a definite relief after playing such gems as the atrocious Resident Evil ports. I also did love David Esch as Indy, voicing him somewhere between Mr. Ford and Doug Lee and sounding like a younger version of both of them, which makes it totally spot on for all fans.
Oh, and the manual/journal was an utter delight. Not enough developers take time to make a really cool manual anymore (sigh).
I suppose the main thing that disappointed most people about this game was the inevitable comparisons to former Indy games. And the films. And other games in general. Compared to those three, Indiana Jones and The Emperor’s Tomb doesn’t really stack up well. The story is fairly interesting it must be said, and I suppose any problems with it are the least of most people’s concerns about the game.
Nevertheless though, this sort of thing still annoys me. The Collective had the opportunity to allow people from all over the world their only chance to explore the Tomb of China’s First Emperor, and as Indiana Jones no less, and they screwed it up by just making a generic action/adventure level with Wolfenstein bosses instead of looking at the infinitely more interesting myths and legends and make the Tomb become real. That is the greatest tragedy of Indiana Jones & The Emperor’s Tomb. Well, that and the fact that Short Round wasn’t in it. I’m sure Ke Huy Quan probably still sounds the same...
Pros: Fun fighting, John Williams-quality soundtrack, nice manual
Cons: Rushed, not enough imagination put into it, not Fate of Atlantis (again)