Revisiting Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb

I recently started an experiment involving me revisiting old PC games I used to watch my father play throughout my childhood. In a series of articles, I intend to provide my newfound adult perspective on each game—this time as an active participant as opposed to a viewer. As I grew up, I watched my father play countless computer games, so for this series, I want to exclusively focus on the titles that have stood out in my memory and stuck with me all this time.

After revisiting the cult survival horror classic Nosferatu: The Wrath of Malachi, I wanted to move on to an adventure game—one that evokes particularly vivid memories from my time sitting by my father’s side, watching him game for hours on end.

The game I’m speaking of is the 2003 action-adventure classic Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb. Published by LucasArts and developed by The Collective, the game stands as a truly definitive Indiana Jones experience, putting the player in the shoes of the famed archaeologist and sending him or her on the adventure of a lifetime. The game wonderfully manages to capture the unbridled spirit and style of the cinematic series, and despite the game’s age, it holds up as an entertaining time-killer.

The plot is a classic Indiana Jones affair—you must seek out an ancient magical black pearl known as the Heart of the Dragon, which rests deep within the labyrinths of Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s tomb in China. Standing in your way are a host of enemies, including evil crime lords, monstrous mythical creatures, and of course, Nazis.

The game benefits from not being based on any existing Indiana Jones film or adventure in that it’s allowed to have its own original identity. You never see any of the game’s surprises coming, and it helps make the overall ordeal feel that much more fresh and unpredictable.

Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb screenshot
One of the many dramatic set pieces in Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb.

The gameplay is simple and mostly revolves around platforming, puzzle-solving, and combat. These are three core essentials to any action-adventure title, and I’m thrilled to say Emperor’s Tomb nails all of them (mostly).

The camera and controls are not without their flaws—I found the camera to be overtly sensitive at times and awkward to control. The controls can also be an occasional burden and take some getting used to, but it’s important to remember this game is 15 years old, and you have to be forgiving of some of its shortcomings in this department.

Overall, I was able to adapt to the controls quickly and didn’t find myself struggling too often. The clunky inventory/item-swapping system was the only thing that really tripped me up, causing several deaths due to me frantically trying to get my gun out to blast away a bad guy, only to fail miserably. It’s not always as smooth as it looks in the movies.

Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb screenshot 2
Indy brawls some baddies in Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb.

One element I applaud is the way in which the gameplay adds little touches of detail that go a long way to immerse yourself in the world and character. I found myself squealing with joy when I discovered I could pick up nearby glass bottles and smash them over an enemy’s head.

Similarly, a lot of the environment around you can be used spontaneously in the heat of a brawl with a pack of bad guys. Boxes, chairs, shovels—literally anything you can throw or pick up can be used in a fight, and this really helps create the illusion that you’re taking part in an Indiana Jones film. It may seem like a trivial thing to point out, but when you reflect on how the fight scenes are chaotically choreographed in the movies, it all makes sense.

I was equally excited when I first used my whip to swing across gaps and evade booby traps. Each dungeon is rigged with traps and pitfalls, and you’ll need your trusty whip to get you out of many-a-pinch.

Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb Whip Swing
You’ll need your whip to swing across that gap!

The combat leaves a little to be desired, but once again, for a 15-year-old game, this is about what I expected. There’s a lock-on aiming option, which is handy for shootouts, and making sure you land a punch, but Indy’s response sometimes feels sluggishly slow and unresponsive, which can prove to be frustrating in the game’s more challenging levels.

You mostly fight thugs, with the odd boss bottle thrown in here or there—and this is where the game really caught me off guard. Any Indiana Jones fan knows that no adventure is complete without a supernatural or mythical component included in the story. I was anticipating some crazy stuff, but I never thought I’d be fighting the Kraken or crossing over into the Underworld itself.

This adventure really doubles down on the fantasy elements of this franchise, and I’m all for it! I had an absolute blast in the more fantastical portions of the game, and these were the levels that made me feel like a kid again, leaving the living room of my childhood home and being transported away to somewhere else entirely. The game shines its brightest in these moments and make this title well worth revisiting.

Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb weird screenshot
Yeah, it gets real weird…

The graphics have aged well for a PC game from 2003, and the set pieces still look just vibrant enough to capture the pulpy cinematic style of the franchise. You’ll go from Prague to Istanbul and even Hong Kong, exploring dusty crypts and immensely guarded military bases.

The game bears the mark of quality you’d expect from an early-2000s LucasArts outing—so much so that playing it made me yearn for simpler times in gaming. I don’t want to spoil too much more, because I highly recommend you try Emperor’s Tomb out for yourself. Most desktops and laptops can run it, and you can purchase the game from the storefront for as little as $5.99.

I was amazed by how well the game captured my childlike sense of wonder, and my experience playing it as an adult didn’t change too much from how it felt to watch my father play it as a kid. I loved watching him play this game, because it absolutely stole me away from my waking reality, and I’m happy to say it still holds that magical power.

Like the Heart of the Dragon itself, Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb is a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered by new explorers. Get your whip, don’t forget your hat, and get out there.

What games can you remember playing or watching from your youth? Which titles left an indelible impression on you? Let me know in the comments below! I hope you’ve been enjoying this series of articles, and I can’t wait to keep it going! Thanks for reading.

Featured image is property of LucasArts and The Collective. We do not claim any semblance of ownership.

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