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Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine Review

Indiana Jones is the reason Gabez got into archeology. True story.

DA DA DAAA *whip-crack* DA DA DA DA DAAA *whip-crack* DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DAA DAA DAAA! Run over to ledge, shoot bad-guys *Ctrl Ctrl Ctrl*, roll under obligatory spike-traps, *quick-save*, grab conveniently placed medi-kits, jump, skip, hop *Alt Alt Alt*, shimmy over alligator infested waters, *quick-save*, whip your way over perilous ledge... and I’m done.

Thumb "Plenty of neat little touches"

But enough about my holiday in Wales – what I really want to talk about is Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine, LucasArt’s answer to Lara Croft. At least, it was back in ’99. Now, in 2005, it’s more like a metaphor for LucasArts itself, as it aims to crush communism with its hard-nosed capitalist ideals.

The game begins with the loveable archaeologist fumbling around in some dig site somewhere. It’s after the Second World War, so no Nazis, but there are plenty of snakes and scorpions to tackle in the opening level, which also acts as a neat tutorial. Here you learn how to jump, run, swim and dance, all activated through the handy keyboard. Wait, what was that? No mouse-support? What is this, the middle ages? Well, yes, apparently it is; controlling Professor Jones is done solely though tapping keys, making his movement clunky and slow. But then again the guy’s supposed to be like 60, so maybe it’s realistic.

After you’ve tackled the opening level you meet up with Sophia Hapgood, an old flame from Fate of Atlantis. Her hair is shorter and her polygons are chunkier, but it’s definitively her – and it’s a nice nod back to the old point and click days. Times have changed, though, and she now works for the CIA, spying on the Russians. What have the Reds got to do it with? Well, see, they’re hunting after the Infernal Machine, a key for opening up another dimension, and it’s up to you to stop them. With me so far?

“YOU CALL HIM DOCTOR JONES, DOLL!”

Generally you get used to the awkward controls fast, and to be fair it could be a lot worse. Of course, it could be a lot better too, but that goes without saying. Most of the time you don’t need Unreal Tounrnament style double jumps with super fast mouse-spin enabled, though moments when you hit tab instead of alt and cause Indy to fling himself mercilessly into a torrent of lava do happen occasionally and cause much frustration. In fact, there’s a bit too much precision jumping and crate pushing for my liking, and it can sometimes slow the pace of the game down to a grating crawl.

Thumb "This game's got it all"

But for every jumping-over-blocks moment there’s a fairly decent puzzle or atmospheric touch that makes it all worthwhile. Nothing quite beats splashing around in a rubber dingy and coming across an Ancient Himalayan monument, or running away from yet another boulder in the jungles of Ozabagetiztan, even if it did mean half an hour of crate pushing to get there. I think if we accept that this game is an action adventure, then we also have to accept that there’ll be a bit of the old run, jump reload ad infinitum. It’s a weakness of the genre, and if you can’t stand it then don’t try this game. But for the rest of us Infernal Machine is by no means the worst offender, and makes up for it in other areas just fine.

One such area is in the level concepts. This game’s got it all: white-water rafting, car-chases, a brilliant Temple of Doom style mine car section, driving jeeps around the pyramids, huge scary monsters, sunken treasures, sneaking around on a boat, sexy female companions, evil geniuses… the list goes on. Unfortunately these concepts are marred somewhat by the games limitations; there are barriers everywhere, and you never truly feel that you have freedom in the game world. Still, the levels are massive and hugely atmospheric so it’s fairly easy to look past the linearity.

There are also limitations in the gameplay, however. Take the infernal machine itself for example. The game revolves around finding the four parts of this object, and each part does something special. One blows apart walls, another allows you to levitate, and a third turns you invisible. Sound great? You bet it does. Unfortunately you can only use the first two powers where the game lets you to. Ah. And another thing – you can forget about interacting with the environment. Want to pick up that bar stool and smash it into one of the Reds? Well, sorry, you can’t. There are plenty of boxes to push around though.

DOCTOR JONES, JONES, CALLING DOCTOR JONES

It wouldn’t be so bad if the game weren’t so slow. Simple tasks like picking up ammunition from a dead soldier takes hours as you holster you weapon, wobble over to the carcass, press Ctrl and then watch the aged Indy fumble in the dirt trying to load the damn thing into your gun. Sidestepping and turning around takes an age, climbing up walls is slower than watching paint dry, and even using inventory items with the environment requires you to line yourself up properly lest you make Dr. Jones furrow his brow and complain that “that doesn’t work”.

Thumb "Awkward controls cause much frustration"

But maybe I’m being too harsh here. If we wanted a fast game we’d play Quake III, right? Right. Maybe it’s even better slow; with a fast game it’s all BAM BAM BAM but having a slower pace gives you a chance to have a cup of tea and a look around. Sure the puzzles could be more exciting (most revolve around pushing crates), and the interface could have been more intuitive, but hey, it could be a lot worse too.

There are also plenty of neat little touches. Like the graphics, for instance. Sure, Indy’s hand has less curves than a Lego brick, but for a ’99 game this really ain’t too bad. And I’ll tell you something else: the textures are just lovely - from desert pyramids to lush jungle, ancient ruins to snowy mountains – the whole game comes alive on the screen. As you zoom through Kind Solomon’s tunnels on a mine cart at a hundred miles per hour you’d swear you were actually there, especially with the lights down low and the resolution turned up.

THE BIG COUNTRY

And though this may be reading too much into stuff, the game does seem to make some interesting points on machines in general. Firstly, they’re everywhere, and most of the game revolves around ancient and modern pieces of machinery. Whether it’s getting a giant clock to work in an abandoned monastery or finding a pocket watch for a Nerubian boy, you can be sure that technology isn’t far away from the action. Especially when said technology is trying to kill you. So we get the impression that machines and humanity depend on each other more than we think, and that machines can be dangerous. It’s practically The Matrix! Well, sort of. The point is that this game isn’t just a case of good guys and bad guys; at its core there’s some fairly interesting stuff going on that wouldn’t be out of place in one of the films.

At the end of the day, Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine will appeal to anyone who likes the films and doesn’t mind classic action/adventure game play. It’s hard to recommend this when you’ve got Emperor’s Tomb seemingly doing the job better, but if you’re looking for a budget title to while away the hours then you could do a lot worse - expect nothing else, and you won’t be disappointed. Now where did I leave my whip?

Next week: Gabez goes off to Crete to research Fate of Atlantis.

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Pros: Nice environments; satisfying gameplay; good plot
Cons: Clunky graphics; poor controls; not enough character development; can get tiresome


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