Developer: Artifical Mind and Movement
Release Date: June 9, 2009
Indy's career in gaming has seen better days.
Relative newcomers Nathan Drake and Lara Croft have made themselves out to be the adventurers to watch, whereas Indy could teach those young whippersnappers a thing or two. Although he's not completely out of the picture, having taken a detour to China in the Emperor's Tomb and as a LEGO character, his quest for the Staff of Kings is an example of why some have decided that it's better to watch him on the silver screen rather than try to imitate him.
In 2006, LucasArts released a teaser trailer that showed off the new Euphoria technology that would be used in the next Indy game, but fans would never experience it, since his next-gen debut would be canceled for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Instead, the PS2, Wii, PSP and DS would get "the other version" that was being developed at the same time, which we now have as Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings. It's not quite the whiz-bang adventure that fans hoped to see their favorite relic raider in, but it provides with tantalizing hints of how this could have been so much better had it not come off feeling like a salvaged effort.
At least the storytelling starts off on solid footing in 1939, with Indy in the Sudan. Just like the films, he'll eventually go from one corner of the world to the next while fighting the nefarious Germans at every turn. (Apparently the "Nazi" term and swastikas are too politically incorrect to have in the game, even though the movies have never been shy about it.) Before long, he finds himself on a quest for the Staff of Moses which, according to the Bible, Moses used to part the Red Sea so that the Hebrews could escape Egypt. Certain "Germans" are very interested in acquiring the relic, and it's up to Indy and his unexpected partner to stop them.
In-game scenes telling the story from the depths of Sudanese desert, the jungles of Central America, and even into the depths of an Ottoman palace in Istanbul evoke the same sense of curiosity and adventure of the films. You'll encounter spiderweb-covered tombs and ancient machinery, and you'll even have near-misses with vicious traps — as long as you're willing to look past the rough feel of the graphics, and not just because it's on a PS2. Solid voice acting and pieces of John Williams' score fill in the rest of the production, which does its best to complement the experience, and fans might still feel a few goose bumps when they hear familiar themes play out at critical junctures in the game.
There are also interactive sequences that have Indy running scared from the deadly ceilings and boulders, asking the player to hit the appropriate buttons at the specified moments to help him out as he runs toward the camera with the look that Harrison Ford's grizzled face made famous. The adventure also tries its best to keep players on their toes with a few changeups to the gameplay. There's a flying sequence that has Indy in a biplane while trapped in a canyon, an on-rails sequence down an underground river, and an elephant ride. Each sequence isn't bad within the context of the game and aren't that difficult to get through, but all of them, with the exception of the flying sequence, come off as long strings of button-matching Quick Time Events.
The meat of the game requires you to figure out the puzzles that are in Indy's way, and it's clear that Artificial Mind and Movement did its best to follow his lead. One of the most memorable chapters in the game involves the Mayan concept of the underworld, complete with a ball court. It a remarkable sequence of puzzles, but you could almost feel the spirit of the films channeled through the concept and execution of this particular portion, making part of me wishing that this had been the film that fans had seen instead of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."
Punching is as simple as button-mashing, but Indy's pugilistic skills won't work with everyone. Foes fall into three categories for most of the game: punchable thugs, blockers that need to be grabbed, and baddies who you have to throw stuff at until they die. The punchable soldiers are, well, punchable. The ones who block can be grabbed and hammered in the face. The big brutes can only be dodged and shoulder-rammed or have a lot of stuff thrown at them. Fists won't help, which is weird since Indy doesn't have a problem using them in the films, making these thugs feel like little more than handy targets. Indy also has a dodge move that has him simply stand in place and duck before standing back up again, so he's better off swinging instead.
Many things can be used as a weapon in the game, from brooms to plates, and they can be whipped at enemies who will also try to do the same thing to you or held and smashed against whoever gets too close. There's also an aggravating delay in picking them up in case you drop them, almost as if the game were trying to keep things fair by keeping them "hands off" until after some time has passed. Indy also has his gun, but it can only be used at specific "gun moments," which are pre-set shooting galleries. Some of these have a little puzzle to them, with explosive barrels that can knock down troublesome walkways or clear the way forward, but it comes down to the fact that Indy's gun is only useful when the designers think it should be.
Indy's whip is the most useful weapon of all, and it also contributes to the relatively easy feel of the rest of its challenges and fights. The whip can be used against most enemies (aside from the fist-proof thugs) to draw them in, allowing Indy to dispatch them quickly with a knee to the face. Rinse and repeat several dozen times across each level, and this was how I used Indy to beat most everyone senseless; these should have been dynamic fight scenes, but instead, they looked like they'd been prepared on an assembly line.
The whip can also disarm foes and, most importantly, I makes crossing chasms incredibly easy to do. All I had to do was line up until the right icon appeared, use the whip, and I was on the other side. There are also set pieces that can be pulled down with the whip to kill pesky enemies who might be stupid enough to be standing nearby. It was easier to use the whip to draw them in and knee them in the face.
Indy can also shimmy across ledges and hop over gaps, but what you can't make him do, at least on command, is that most basic of moves that every adventurer learns when he first finds something in his way that he can't walk over: jump. Okay, he does jump, but only at the mercy of context-sensitive areas. Don't count on doing this on your own, since the game doesn't trust you to show some skill.
If you run up to a low ledge, the game will automatically have him try and hop onto it, or you can put him in position to do a "theatrical" jump through spinning blades once you hit the Square button. That's all the control that the player will have, but you can't have him jump on his own in order to clear certain obstacles, so the solution was to let the developers decide where he can jump. It's hard to believe that the globe-trotting archaeologist whose chops have inspired countless others to follow in the shadow of his gaming fedora, from Lara Croft to Nathan Drake, can't jump unless he's standing in the right spot. Considering that he had this ability in his previous console outing, Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb, something must have happened to his knees to limit the player from using it on his own. Old age, perhaps?
The rest of the controls also feel the same way, limited and far outclassed by what is already out there, which only deepens the sense of disappointment that the game brings to Indy's console legacy. Even worse, there are a lot of neat ideas hidden behind them, ideas that never seem to come into their own. I'm not expecting Indy to spin like a gymnast or balance himself atop narrow beams without fear, but I do expect him to be able to at least jump like he was back in
"Raiders of the Lost Ark," box bad guys without being forced to throw dishes for defense, or be able to shoot his gun whenever the situation warrants it. It's almost as if the game, in trying hard to manipulate and craft the feeling of being Indy, has somehow shortchanged the player on the rest of the experience as part of the price.
For a PS2 game, though, it has more unlockable extras than some of the more current-gen offerings, although only the Wii version had gotten Indy's PC classic, The Fate of Atlantis. Unlockable skins allow you to adventure as Indy's father or Han Solo, and you can view the concept art or classic Indy movie trailers, depending on how many relics you've managed to find. For Indy fans, there's quite a bit here to read through, as his journal fills up with notes on what he thinks of many of the stages, characters and recovered relics.
The game's relatively low difficulty and short adventure mean that Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings can be finished in a day. The good news is that it means you may not experience the irregular distances between some of the checkpoints. Enjoying the game also depends largely on how much of a fan you are of the franchise; the title may only be appreciated by those who are willing to look past some of its bigger flaws. Even so, its relatively short escape to parts unknown, coupled with its limited gameplay, can make this adventure feel like another in a growing string of low moments in Indy's console career.Score: 5.5/10
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