Game Description: If adventure has a name, it must be Indiana Jones. The year is 1947. Indy is back (this time in electrifying 3-D!) as a CIA recruit tasked with uncovering why Soviet agents are sniffing around the ruins of the fabled Tower of Babel. So hold onto your fedora and grab your whip in this heart-pounding action quest for the elusive "Infernal Machine."
While fans of the Star Wars movies have been blessed with the Holy Grail of sequels, Episode I: The Phantom Menace, along with an abundance of licensed videogames, fans of George Lucas' other brainchild, Indiana Jones, have not been nearly as lucky. Despite actor Harrison Ford, director Steven Spielberg, and writer Lucas all having openly expressed interest in doing another film based on the adventuring archeologist, a script has yet to meet with approval and actual production is not within sight. Simultaneously, videogames bearing the Indy moniker have also been scarce over the years. Making matters worse is a young upstart equipped with bigger guns and more estrogen by the name of Lara Croft. Currently starring in her own series of games dubbed Tomb Raider, she has essentially stolen all of Indy's fortune and glory by replacing him in his videogame absence. Thankfully, there's a ray of light for all the fans in waiting because the developers at LucasArts are no longer taking it lying down and have decided to recapture the adventurer's cap by creating a new high-profile game based on original material called Indiana Jones And The Infernal Machine.
When I say that this is a game made to compete with the likes of the Tomb Raider series, I'm not joking. The Infernal Machine is not a bold attempt to redefine the 3rd-person, 3D-exploration genre pioneered by the original Tomb Raider. Instead, it's a massive 17-stage exercise in transplanting the body of Indy into a Tomb Raider-style game complete with all the flaws that have typically plagued the genre. Expect to have unresponsive controls, which makes timing and executing jumps an unnatural task that never performs to expectation. Awkward camera positionings around walls and in claustrophobic areas is another mainstay. Gunfights also feel disassociated comparable to Tomb Raider due to the way enemies are automatically targeted and the way the Indy handles so poorly under strenuous circumstances. Making matters worse during these combat situations is that he isn't endowed with the ability to quickly turn and face the opposite direction the way Lara can and it is nearly impossible to do combat with enemies without taking significant amounts of damage regardless of your skill or your evasive maneuvers.
There are many attempts at interjecting distinctly Indiana Jones' trademarks into Infernal Machine, but the results are a mixed bag. For example, the backdrop story involving Indy trying to thwart the efforts of the Russians (rather than the Nazis) in recovering a powerful ancient artifact to tip the scales of the Cold War is fairly in line with his usual exploits. Yet there's little effort put into the actual storytelling. Cut-sequences and vocal narratives are sparse and there's barely an effort to fully flesh out the plot and events that transpire. Right from the beginning, Indy starts in a stage with virtually no explanation as to why he's there and from then on, he's dropped from one location to the next due to some vague semblance of a plot with little or no reasoning.
The same confusion can be said of the visual style of the game which is very authentic considering Indiana Jones' timeframe (which takes place around the late 1940s) and Indy's visiting locales. But again, in spite of all the artistic efforts to digitally recreate the Indiana Jones universe, it's all presented through the aging Dark Forces II graphics engine, which isn't up to the task. Everything from the environments to the characters look too blocky and primitive. The visuals are reminiscent of older games and severely lacking when compared to today's technologically cutting-edge offerings. The only positive offshoot of using an older engine is that the game runs great even on older systems. Aural efforts suffer similarly. The inspiring, trademark John Williams' theme is present, but throughout stages, consistent background music is non-existent (a la Tomb Raider) and I can't begin to explain the awkward-sounding voice actor that portrays the role only fit for Harrison Ford. Couldn't they have found a better imitation?
Even with what has been said about the maligned efforts that went into the story, graphics, and sound, these faults aren't what does Infernal Machine in for good. It's the overly contrived level designs that are too unnatural and never had me believe that this was anything more than a traditional 'solve-the-puzzle' videogame. Little effort was put into the ambience and in the notion of making a world where gamers can lose themselves in its subtle beauties. Instead, power-up items are unbelievably scattered throughout and in the strangest places. Gaps in the floors and between structures are always sized disturbingly the exact distance that Indy can leap and hang from. All the ancient excavations are reduced to nothing more than blocks that need to be pushed or climbed and puzzles that need to be unraveled. Everything ends up being more work than play. Can anyone say, "Jumping through hoops?"
Not all is bad with Infernal Machine and there are a few bright spots here and there. There are a few puzzles can be quite engaging. The stages involving whitewater rafting, driving a jeep, or riding the mine car can be quite a hoot. I also can't deny the overall quality of the game. Despite the dated graphics, LucasArts is renowned for having first-rate production values and Infernal Machine is no different. When all is said and done, I think what symbolizes the game best is the way the game tries to incorporate one of Indy's most famous trademark, his whip. You'd think something so characteristic would be integral to the gameplay. Instead, the whip is useless as weapon. The slight delay when he draws and cracks it makes it impractical for disposing of quick-witted snakes or disarming quick-drawing soldiers. What it is reduced to is little more than a elaborate ladder or swing vine that can only be used at a few specific locations (Don't get me started on how particular the game is for events like that to happen) and I never once felt 'in character' when using it. Indiana Jones may have been an action trailblazer in films like Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Temple Of Doom, and The Last Crusade, but in Infernal Machine the videogame, he's more like an imitator. A Lara Croft wannabe with only Indiana Jones' characteristics tacked onto the surface rather than ingrained into the gameplay.
It must not have been sitting well with LucasArts to see a game franchise that was once credited for spawning Lara Croft being thoroughly surpassed by her. I'm sure the developers went to work on Infernal Machine with the goal of unseating Ms. Croft from her throne. Unfortunately, it could also be possible that like every other developer in the world these days, they looked at the success of Tomb Raider and decided if they locked themselves in a room with Tomb Raider I, they could make a clone and watch the money roll in. My proof? How about the fact that the game plays as awkwardly as the first two Tomb Raider games? As Chi mentioned, all the problems that plagued Lara also plague Indie and he just doesn't have the 'assets' to distract players like Lara does.
Chi mentioned something that really only occurred to me after I stopped playing. I was so caught up in playing through as much of the game as I could for the review that I never felt any urgency or purpose in what I was doing. With so few cut-scenes and dialogue, I was really just going from point A to point B climbing walls and solving puzzles. It was never about stopping the Russians but more about getting to the end of the level. To compound this distance the game keeps from the player, I felt like I was lead around on a leash. Not just in terms of the story but in the levels themselves, everything seemed 'too prepared' for me to use. If I needed to get to a ledge, there just happened to be a collapsed column there for me to jump off of. And what has been a peeve of mine sine I first played Tomb Raider is the location of keys and other items to help me progress through levels. Why is it that keys and other artifacts are always placed so far apart? Would the indigenous people who populated these tombs and temples be so stupid as to put things they needed to get around the place so far away from each other?
Combat in Infernal Machine was also a let-down. Even with an auto-aim feature, locking onto enemies can only be done in close proximity. If I saw an enemy, I would have to get close enough to shoot him, but the problem with that is that he was also close enough to shoot me and his aim was also much better. This aspect of the game sort of negated the use of what should have been THE reason to pick up Infernal Machine: Indie's famous whip. I was dying to use it to knock weapons out of the hands of enemies, grab things for swinging, and even to hit things from a distance. It takes so long for Indie to actually use it that I was often left wide open for attack. In fact, the whip is basically only good for climbing and that being the case, Indie would be better off carrying around a strong rope rather than trying to impress the women with his oh-so-cool whip.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Animated Blood, Animated Violence
Parents should take note that the poor controls, convoluted puzzles, and pickyness in making certain actions occur may easily frustrate younger gamers. One other bit of strangeness for all to note is that there is a sidestepping bug which makes Indy perform the action inconsistently.
Lara Croft lovers can breathe a sigh of relief because as far as I'm concerned, she's still the reigning queen of the genre and Infernal Machine only tries to follow in her footsteps and never surpasses them.
Fans of Indiana Jones could do worse then Infernal Machine being that there haven't been too many offerings since the point & click masterpiece, Fate of Atlantis. Just make sure you bring along a control pad or joystick because playing without one is only going to make the difficult controls even worse.
Those with older computers should also take heed. Because Infernal Machine was built from an older game engine, it will run fairly well even on minimal setups. But those expecting something distinctive of the Indiana Jones name and unique as far as videogames goes will be disappointed by Infernal Machine.