It was made by a studio which no longer exists, whose previous title, the Xbox exclusive Buffy the Vampire Slayer, also came and went without anyone noticing.
In fact, whenever I wanted to share my love of this game with someone else, I’d inevitably have to press my copy of it into their hands, and insist that they borrow it. Why was I seemingly the only one excited to play an Indiana Jones game?
Well, here’s what’s interesting about The Emperor’s Tomb — this game was Uncharted, long before Uncharted even existed. It might sound insane, but it’s absolutely true. When Drake’s Fortune was released it felt like a triple-A, super-polished reboot of this game. It had the same mechanics, the same “game feel”, almost identical jungle levels, and countless more similarities. You even outrun a tank in this game! I often wondered if someone at Naughty Dog played The Emperor’s Tomb when it was initially released and thought to themselves: “Wow! What a great idea! We should make a game like this!”
The Uncharted series may be more grandiose in scale, more precise in execution, and possess an impeccable, unparalleled cinematic quality, but the spirit and essence of the series owes everything to The Emperor’s Tomb.
The game begins in the jungles of Sri Lanka, where Indy is retrieving an idol (of course) and fending off Nazis (of course). But much like Raiders of the Lost Ark, the idol-snatching is just a mere precursor to you main adventure. Indy’s real quest involves locating a black pearl called ‘The Heart of the Dragon’, which was supposedly buried with the first Emperor of China.
As you might imagine, this adventure takes Indy around the globe, including to such locations as Prague, Istanbul, and Hong Kong.
The game was released initially on the Xbox and PC, but unfortunately it received a rushed PS2 port. Many reviewers opted to spend an inordinate amount of time complaining about the sheer amount of glitches in the PS2 version, despite the fact that the glitches were minor, insignificant, and largely unnoticeable. To be frank, I can only think of one glitch that interrupted the flow of the game, and I wouldn’t change my review from a thumbs up to a thumbs down just because of one bad glitch.
The game plays like an updated version of the classic Tomb Raider titles (which were heavily inspired by the Indiana Jones films to begin with). There’s a lot of swimming, exploring, hand-to-hand combat, and puzzle solving. Indy’s whip was one of my favorite tools, allowing the player to swing across gaps, and to disarm enemies.
There’s about half an hour of cinematic cutscenes in the game, and it’s worth noting that the voice actor sounds eerily like Harrison Ford. The composer also does an uncanny John Williams-esque score, in fact for years I thought that it actually was a John Williams score!
The Emperor’s Tomb is more than worthy of bearing the Indiana Jones name on it’s title. This feels like the quintessential Indiana Jones game. It never once, even remotely, comes across as some sort of cheap cash-in on a popular franchise. On the contrary, The Emperor’s Tomb is undoubtedly a labor of love. That same classic sense of Spielbergian adventure is perfectly embodied within this game. This is something that only die-hard Indiana Jones fans could’ve made.
It’s just a shame that it didn’t really get it’s day in court.
I’m looking forward to revisiting The Emperor’s Tomb sometime soon, but honestly, I’m also a bit trepidatious about it. Will the game seem dated now? Will it simply fall into the shadows of the Uncharted series and the Tomb Raider reboot?
Well, for better or worse, at least there’s a new Indiana Jones game coming out on May 10th (*whispers* it’s called Uncharted 4).
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