It's clear to me that the developers of Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine were more interested in making a game than the next Indiana Jones movie. This absolutely a good thing because the lackluster script and dialogue don't come anywhere close to being as good as the movie trilogy (yes, I know some people hate Temple of Doom, but I don't, and even if you do, trust me when I say Infernal Machine's story isn't as good.) The attention given to the gameplay elements is most likely what kept me from hating it, as it's also one of the most embarrassingly glitchy games I have ever seen. Somewhere, lurking beneath all the lock-ups is a hearty adventure with some surprisingly good puzzles. Players who are willing to remind themselves to save, save, and save again so that precious progress isn't lost to an unexpected glitch might discover the grand adventure through exotic places around the world that lies within. They must also be willing to forgive the utterly nonsensical dialogue and mediocre voice acting.
As the game begins, World War II is over and the Cold War has just begun. While on an archaeological dig somewhere in Utah, Indiana Jones (voice of Doug Lee) meets up with CIA Officer Sophia Hapgood (voice of Tasia Valenza), who informs him that the Russians have uncovered something in the ruins of Babylon. Believed to be part of the legendary Tower of Babel, it is called the "Infernal Machine", and it could potentially be used as a weapon. However, it is missing four vital parts. The Russian scientist Dr. Gennadi Volodnikov (voice of Victor Raider-Wexler) is determined to find them, and the CIA wants Dr. Jones to secure the lost parts first.
Indy accepts the challenge and launches into a third-person, 3D adventure game, a la Shadow Man, that will ultimately take him to many uncharted areas around the world. (It always amazes me how these mammoth buildings and structures manage to elude discovery for centuries, like the not-so-subtle Demon Temple of Ninja Gaiden.) These places include Babylonian ruins, a snowbound monastery, pyramids both Aztec and Egyptian, a temple in the heart of an active volcano, a sunken Japanese warship, and even the core of the Infernal Machine itself, which exists in its own plane of reality.
Each level is a long, complicated series of puzzles and platforms that are designed to (a) stump you, and (b) make you lean on the edge of your seat as you perform harrowing jumps you could've sworn a moment earlier were impossible. There are plenty of bottomless pits and other nasty hazards that you either leap across or swing over via Indy's trademark whip. There is even a particularly nerve-wracking sequence of jumps over small platforms that rise and sink in a pool of "instant-death" lava.
The jumps are only half the battle, as there is much puzzle-solving to go along with them. This is a game where you can walk into a room to find four large gears lying on the floor and four sealed doors. You can probably get an idea of what you need to do to open those doors long before you'll actually figure out how to do it. My favorite level featured a large tower with a metal ball at the top that pulsates with electricity. You know you have to get to the top of that tower, but the steps involved are long and elaborate. Like many other situations in this game, the answers are only revealed by paying careful attention to the environment and subtle clues. (I can't tell you how much time I spent running in circles in King Nub's Tomb because I failed to recognize the significance of the dislodged totem pole lying on the floor.)
Indeed, Infernal Machine is a game that often forces you to think laterally about your situation ("if the oil doesn't work on this end, maybe it'll work at the other end...", or, "if there's no forward way into this door, maybe there's a backwards way...") Sometimes the solution could be so simple, yet so elusive that I could put the game down and think really hard about it to no avail, only to pick it up a day later and get it right away.
Although you can spend hours trying to complete a single level, you can quickly zip through it on a replay. It's probably for that reason that Infernal Machine includes an optional sidequest of finding hidden treasures. By collecting enough of these, you can unlock a secret level and some other goodies. Although Infernal Machine is not a treasure hunt game like Super Mario 64, it's still funny how knowing that those treasures might be hiding anywhere can manipulate you into checking every nook and cranny before moving on. No matter how thorough you are, you will likely know the feeling of getting to the end of a level with only 7 or 8 treasures while thinking, "That can't be! I checked everywhere!"
Infernal Machine sometimes sidesteps the traditional exploring for the occasional whitewater rapids rafting (straight out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom - the raft is even yellow), driving a jeep, and even a mine cart ride (again like Temple of Doom). These rides generally aren't that challenging (although the raft can be a pain to control), but they are a fun change of pace.
Combat in this game is nothing special and exists for only two reasons: To force you to use your healing items once in awhile and just for the sake of having it. It wouldn't be "Indiana Jones" if there weren't villains and snakes for him to fight. Since using the whip is awkward, it's a good thing there are plenty of guns at Indy's disposal, including a revolver that never runs out of ammo. Healing items are rather abundant and you can buy more between stages, so there's little chance of running out and being unable to move on. (Even so, there is an option to restart a level from the beginning if you get screwed over.) There are only a few boss fights and winning them is more like solving a puzzle than an action challenge. That, I suppose, is appropriate because puzzle-solving is what's emphasized. The final boss can be somewhat tricky to figure out, but once you do, there's little excitement to it.
Although the graphics are lackluster, the sheer scope of the stage design is often quite impressive. There are moments when the atmosphere can generate a sense of awe or strange creepiness. Even the smallest area seems big, and yet the game curiously doesn't feel like it has much wasted space. Although it's preposterous to think a looming Aztec pyramid could've been here all this time without being noticed, there are moments when the game's lonely feel is so convincing, you really can believe you are exploring something that's not been touched in centuries, and perhaps was not meant to be. It's too bad the moments are sometimes ruined by really stupid quips of dialogue.
I suppose I can understand there were probably a number of reasons Lucasarts couldn't get Harrison Ford to voice Indiana Jones. Therefore, I can be forgiving of Doug Lee's performance, but let's face it: Not only does he not sound like our favorite archaeologist, but even his tone is all wrong. Part of it comes from having to wrangle with truly awful dialogue like, "I'm no gardener, but I remember reading somewhere that plants need water". I understand the necessity for some silly lines that only serve as clues, but it's as though the writers were trying to make them as cringe-inducing as possible. In a moment of frustration, Indy exclaims, "Where are the priceless artifacts? The gilded idols? The crowns of kings?" Um, was he really expecting to find those things in Utah? Did the writers ever stop and ask themselves, "Would the 'real' Indiana Jones say something like this?"
Although the lavish settings are fantastic, the story behind everything is rather uninteresting. It's hard to take the waddling Volodnikov seriously as a villain, which is why it's a good thing he may not be as bad as we're initially supposed to think he is. The "real" villain isn't given much character or motivation, and things get even sillier towards the end with Indy ultimately battling the Babylonian god, Marduk. I am guessing that Infernal Machine will not be one of Indiana Jones's more talked-about adventures. I am hoping that he won't be taking on a Christian god next.
A bigger cause for concern than the mediocre story are the numerous game-crashing glitches. They are so blatantly obvious that it's impossible to believe the playtesters (if any existed) weren't aware of them. Some of the more serious problems include:
Frequent lock-ups with no way to resume action, forcing you to restart from your last save.
Indy can get stuck in a floor, wall, or between two objects with no way out.
Buttons become unusable if you're swimming and jump out of the water a certain way.
Polygons smear, jump, glitch, overlap, and/or disappear as you move around them.
A sound effect gets stuck and won't go away or the music gets stuck on a note. (If the latter happens, the game will usually lock up, too.)
Level objects can malfunction or disappear. Sometimes it's harmless, other times it can leave you unable to complete the stage.
If you're really creative, you can find alternate ways of getting into certain rooms, particularly in King Nub's Tomb, which could lead to the possibility of getting stuck with no way to move forward or go back.
Blowing a hole in the side of a pyramid also takes a large rectangular chunk out of the sky behind it.
There are countless other minor glitches, but since I don't wish for a third of my review to be dedicated to them, I'll end here by saying that they are annoying and inexcusable, but can be guarded against by saving often.
It should also be noted that I played Infernal Machine with the N64 Expansion Pak, and I have it on good authority that the game is extremely foggy and difficult to see without it. I have also heard that some levels, such as the mine cart stage, cannot be played without it. If you do not have an Expansion Pak, then buyer beware.
For everyone else, Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine is a good, but certainly not great adventure that's dragged down to mediocrity by an unfortunate overabundance of glitches. Indy fans looking for a story that can rival the movies will be disappointed, although I did appreciate the spirit of adventure that's present in the gameplay. I rather enjoyed playing through it considering the number of problems. But I don't feel motivated to complete the harder mode since I know that the hardest thing of all will be enduring those glitches again.
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