Version tested: Wii
There's always a faint ripple of excitement when LucasArts comes out with a new Indiana Jones game, but like a faded band trying to relive former glories, we know deep down that our faith is misguided, and another numbing disappointment awaits. We still live in hope.
To dig into why people care so much, you have to understand how phenomenally brilliant the Indiana Jones games once were. LucasArts was once arguably the most consistent and progressive game developer in the West, and punted out a couple of particularly superb adventures, most notably 1992's The Fate of Atlantis - a PC/Amiga title that remains one of the finest games in the genre. As one of the very first fully voice-acted releases, it gave rise to the belief that games were going places as an interactive narrative medium. Nearly two decades on, we're still seeing the fruits of that evolution in titles like Heavy Rain.
But in the wake of Fate of Atlantis, LucasArts moved onto bold new IP, and eventually backed away from the whole 'adventure' genre as it milked the second Star Wars trilogy instead. By the time it returned to the Indiana Jones brand, it obviously made more commercial sense to churn out a couple of B-grade Tomb Raider knock-offs with added pugilism.
Still, three years ago LucasArts promised that the next Jones title would be a cutting edge affair, showing off unscripted and dynamic physics-based gameplay and chaotic action scenes via its Euphoria engine. When it was announced the game was billed as "a mystery of biblical proportions" set in 1939 - exactly the same as The Staff of Kings, then. But while reports last month claim that the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions have both been cancelled, LucasArts has been tight-lipped on the subject. Whether or why these versions have quietly been shelved is open to speculation, but whatever the reason, the net result is that we're back to square one with the Wii game that has come out, reflecting on yet another underwhelming title.
As is obligatory for a third-party Wii game, motion-based controls have been tacked on almost regardless of whether they make it better or not. What's served up is essentially a concoction of standard gameplay styles, none of which stand up to close scrutiny. Indy's globe-trotting jaunt in the search of the Staff of Moses flits between distinct styles rather than mixing and matching your abilities into a more expansive affair.
One minute you'll be slugging it out toe-to-toe with aggressive guards, and the next you'll dive into stop-and-pop shooting galleries. Once the prescribed number of Nazis (for it is they) have been dispatched, you'll shimmy into tomb-raiding action-adventuring: dodging traps, leaping obstacles and aligning contraptions to gain entry to some long-sealed ancient vault. Occasionally the gameplay will spin off in another direction entirely, throwing chase sequences via tram, mine cart, plane, motorcycle and even elephant into the mix to heighten the drama.
The advantage of such an approach is that the game keeps you on your toes. At no point does it feel like the task at hand is outstaying its welcome, and even during the less palatable sections you always know that it won't be long before you can progress to something you may enjoy more. And that would be all well and good, had developer A2M managed to make each gameplay component as exciting as the potential suggests, but instead they lack ambition and inspiration; a succession of depressingly unchallenging set-pieces which quickly get repetitive.
The melee combat is a reasonable amount of fun in small doses, with its amusing ability to whip enemies by the leg and pull them over before administering some choice blows to the chops. With the Wii remote's B button pressed, you throw the controller forward in a whip-like motion before yanking it back to reel them in, and there's no doubt that this a lot of fun in the early stages. Likewise, punching enemies is quite meaty, just as it was in the long-forgotten Emperor's Tomb.