LucasArts' Secret History #3: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade First review

Back in 1989, the Indiana Jones trilogy was set to close with a bang. A quest for the Holy Grail, the reappearance of Nazis, Sallah and Marcus Brody, a Young Indy sequence featuring River Phoenix… and Sean Connery playing Indy's dad. With Spielberg's desire to do a James Bond film put on hold to do Lucas's Raiders of the Lost Ark instead, this casting was both symbolically apt and absolute dynamite. Patrons were set for one hell of a film to tie up the series (until 2008, but that's another story). Videogames had become more and more popular recently, so a good tie-in game was required. Trouble was, by the time they thought of this there was only six months before the film came out! Even in those days, that was pushing it!

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George Lucas had his own up-and-coming videogame company, LucasFilm Games, start work immediately. Luckily they already had a graphic engine available in the SCUMM system, so an adventure game (that the team was already becoming quite good at) was planned for Indy's latest videogame outing. Still, six months was still a very short time, so three of LucasFilm Games' top designers were put together to co-Project Lead this leading project. This is still a highly unusual situation today, the consequences of which we will look at in a minute. Still, work began with Ron "Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion" Gilbert, David "Zak McKracken" Fox and Noah "Fate of Atlantis" Falstein all leading, so the talent was there. But time was not on their side.

First let's get something straight. Compared to most film-to-game tie-ins, Last Crusade is great. It is one of the best of all time in fact, alongside GoldenEye and Spider-Man 2. You just have to look at the Last Crusade Action Game to see how wrong these things can go (more on that later). There are significant flaws with the game design, all of which can be put down to the game being rushed to release. Considering this however makes you judge the game much more fairly, and see the game as a really cool piece of work.

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In many ways Last Crusade is seen as the last "stopping point" before LucasArts finally nailed the perfect adventure game with Secret of Monkey Island. It contains many improvements over Maniac Mansion and Zak McKracken and yet didn't quite have the smooth polished design of Guybrush's first adventure.

Look at that, five paragraphs and I haven't really started reviewing the game yet. Let's skip the obligatory plot summary as you all know it by now. You've seen the film. If you haven't, kick a nearby wall and then hobble down to the nearest video store. We'll still be here… Are you back? Great, wasn't it? The game's got the same plot basically. So let's talk about those improvements I mentioned.

First of all, the graphics are really becoming special. Yeah yeah, adventure game, graphics don't matter, yadda yadda. Don't worry, it's awful by Curse of Monkey Island standards and Lego Indy looks more like Harrison Ford (and is much less blocky), but the game's still got a superb level of detail to it and is now almost at the standard that would stay with LucasArts' adventures until The Dig. This might be attributed to the hiring of several talented new artists, including the ever-popular Steve Purcell (which explains the presence of Sam & Max).

But what I really want to talk about, and look at, are verbs. Great aren't they? No, you haven't stumbled into an English lecture by mistake (sit up straight back there), I'm talking about the welcome addition of the Look At and Talk To verbs into the LucasArts Adventure command bar. Hooray! At last! Adventure games would suddenly require a lot more writing, and developers would curse those commands for years to come, but as a player it is incredible how much they add to the adventure experience. For the first time, it feels like you're controlling a real person in a real world. Okay, slight exaggeration there, but they really do add to the immersive factor.

Dead ends have been mostly eliminated, although there is one annoying one in Venice that doesn't destroy the game, but does stop you from being able to choose the correct grail at the end of the game. At least not without liberal use of the 'Save' function.

Instead, they've been replaced with straight Dead. You can get in a fight and die at least 21 times in this game. I counted. If you get into more than five fights and survive (and that's using the hidden medical kit at some point) you're probably not human. This is probably the biggest hindrance for people playing Last Crusade and why most go screaming to the nearest walkthrough At times this game isn't an adventure at all, despite the ability to talk your way out of a lot of fights. Just not all of them, and even the ones you can talk your way out are usually not solved by intelligence but by luck.

There are three sets of dialogue options each time, and you usually get some vague sort of clue for the first set. A good example is the classic "I'm selling these fine leather jackets" line, which only works on one fat Nazi in Castle Brunwald. His first comment to Indy is "You in that leather jacket! What are you doing here?" Usually these comments are quite subtle and are well-designed… the problems only start with the second and third sets of dialogue options, which could really be anything. It is down to luck and guesswork… which I suppose embody most people's experience with adventure games, come to think of it. Still, the consequences of failure and the constant saving and reloading do really get tedious. While the overhead map system is nice (reused in Fate of Atlantis), occasionally allowing a stealthy approach, you really have no idea where the soldiers that you can't talk your way out of a fight with are going to be located. They could be in any room or literally round the next corner.

Another nice idea (again sticking with Castle Brunwald, but that really is the bulk of the game) is the changing of uniforms between the IndyWear™, a waiter's uniform and an officer's uniform. The AI system in the soldiers is surprisingly well coded. All the dialogue options change depending on which outfit Indy is wearing, and some soldiers you just can't get past without a better disguise. However, you can't pick up the officer's uniform for a long time, so when you pass previous Germans you've fooled you need to change back into the correct outfit you fooled them with, otherwise they stop you again and the jig's up. This is a really clever well-implemented idea, it's just a pity it gets so annoying having to keep changing clothes all the time.

The worst, most tedious and potentially frustrating (and messy) moment in the game comes at the end of Castle Brunwald. Everyone remember that bit (especially those of you with broken toes) where Indy and his Dad are tied to that chair and edge over to the fireplace to escape? That is re-enacted here, but badly. In short, you have to edge across the room to the fireplace and nudge a statue, which drops its axe and slices the ropes between the chairs. Sounds simple? Not on your life. There are two real staggeringly bad annoyances here.

The first annoyance is having to get across the room. You can only budge over one little bit each time, and to compound that irritation, you can't just use the default 'Walk To', oh no. You have to use 'Push' or 'Pull' on the chairs. Every. Single. Nudge. It takes absolutely forever (the room is quite big and the Joneses start on the opposite side to the fireplace) and is very very tedious.

When you get where you need to go, there's the escape. It's pretty obvious to figure out, it's just making that axe drop in the pixel perfect position needed to free the Jones boys that's the problem. Now, the idea is that in your first run-through in the Castle you should have pushed the suit of armour so that the axe fell, leaving a nice line in the carpet you can line up against later. I mean, duh. Obviously my developer mind-reading skills were a bit rusty the first time, because I didn't do this and got poor Indy horribly splattered time and time again.

After you've Escaped From Castle Wolfenstein Brunwald, the game becomes a lot more varied – and with several slightly different paths to take, the last time LucasArts would attempt that with the exception of Fate of Atlantis – and those paths would be far less subtle.

A personal favourite is the Berlin/Adolf Hitler scene. For starters, that and the big Zeppelin scene can be totally avoided! That's basically half the game skipped if you hand over the 'fake' Grail Diary instead of the real one! Of course it's much less fun that way, and there's plenty of other alternate routes to take. Getting back to Berlin (yes, I know that's the opposite of Indy's goal), the meeting with Adolf Hitler can go several ways. How many games allow you to punch the leader of the Third Reich? That doesn't get you very far, but it's fun! Anyway, you can either follow the film blindly and have the Fuhrer sign the Grail Diary (bor-ing, doesn't help at all), if you've found a copy of 'Mein Kampf' you can have him sign that (makes a nice bribe at a roadblock), or best of all he can sign a Road Pass which means you will never be bothered by roadblocks again!

These alternate pathways continue to the Airport (buy/steal a ticket), the Runway (board/steal a plane if you've learnt how to fly one) and the Zeppelin (fight or flight), with more ingenious solutions getting you more Indy Quotient points. This is the first and only time Indy Quotient has been used to inspire more imaginative solutions to puzzles, with Fate of Atlantis just being about finishing the game with all paths and Infernal Machine being about finding treasure (arr). It's also the last time LucasArts would make a conscious effort to have various puzzle solutions all through an adventure game, so Last Crusade show definitely be commended for that. That always was the great thing about the Indy adventures – they had far more replay value than any other LucasArts adventure.

Anyway, the Zeppelin is then followed by the biplane scene, the only action scene in the game – thankfully. It is atrocious. You really are just randomly waving your mouse cursor around. Then you crash, and have to get out of Germany. So they ditched the Tank Battle and Speedboat Chase for that? After the crash there are a few more checkpoints (you may notice I'm nipping along now as this review's turned into a point-by-point summary of the game which I didn't intend), then it's the Three [s]Trials[/s] Tests of Faith and the Grail recovery.

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Hooray! Finally! LucasFilm Games' delight in torturing game pirates (that's Guybrush and anyone who duplicates their games and so doesn't have manuals for copy protection) shows up, meaning if you've not got a genuine game here with manual and Grail Diary then you're in for a lot of re-loading at the ending. The Breath of God requires a precise spot to be clicked to escape certain decapitation, which is only illustrated in the ex-game Diary. Then there's the Grail itself. Sadly enough, Donovan's fun death doesn't feature. Instead, if you pick the wrong Grail you can see the death happen to Indy instead… in close-up! And you can only find the right Grail with the help of – you guessed it – the printed Grail Diary. This feature's really neat and makes you feel like you're truly seeking out the answers in history (nowadays of course, we have GameFAQs). Of course if you don't own the game or have lost your Diary, you're screwed.

After you take the Holy Grail (suck on that, Dan Brown), there is a choice of several endings, which of course I won't spoil here. I'll spoil them on the Trivia page instead.

One of the last points I want to make with this game is how strangely LucasArts-like it feels. By that I mean it has the traditional LucasArts humour of Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion etc, rather than Indiana Jones. Moments of shock in Last Crusade the film turn into moments of hilarity in the game. For example, a bloody bouncing head passes Indy inside the temple, and Indy says "Yep, this is the place." Even ridiculous moments in the film get taken to their extremes, such as Elsa's Roman Numeral blindness in the library, when they're in every damn room! While this all makes Last Crusade the funniest Indy game, it definitely isn't the Indiest Indy game.

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The general unfairness of Castle Brunwald and the shortness of the game (it's the briefest LucasArts adventure by a long shot), combined with the prejudice most gamers have towards film tie-in games, usually cause most people to overlook this game. However, if you can put up with that unfairness you'll find a surprisingly enjoyable adventure, a curious gem in the LucasArts Adventure trove – if a slightly unpolished one. The puzzles are inventive and often have several varied solutions, the story and humour will appeal to both Indy fans and LucasArts Adventure fans (although they really should be one and the same), and the new Verb commands and standard of graphics raised the adventure game to the standard perfected in a certain game just around the corner involving monkeys and islands.

She might not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid. Oh, wait, that's Han Solo. Close enough.

Written by former Mojo-updater, Capel.

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