Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine

Developer/Publisher:  LucasArts
Year Released:  1999

Review by Len Green (January, 2000)

This game is an 'Action Adventure' with a very strong emphasis on 'action'. Does it belong in Quandary? ... Well we are giving it the benefit of the doubt because many of us have enjoyed Indy's previous adventures so it's appropriate to test it out!  See this review as a devoted Quest/Adventurer's experience of sampling the latest Indy action.

ijim.jpgUntil now I have steered as clear of Action/Adventure computer games as possible. I have almost completely restricted myself to playing a large number of varied Quest/Adventures. At my (advanced) age I intensely dislike computer games which rely almost entirely upon skilful hand-eye coordination and good reflexes to overcome timed-sequences. I have an aversion to shoot'em'ups and hack'n'slashes; and games involving substantial dexterity are not for me.

Having said that, I found Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine (IJatIM) pretty absorbing and certainly not without merit. Although I knew in advance what I was up against, I nevertheless decided to play it. This in turn led me to break another vow to myself, namely, never to write a review. My justifications are that I am a devout fan of Indiana Jones and of LucasArts Adventures.

No comparison!
So I have no adequate yardstick with which to measure IJatIM.Many reviews have compared it detrimentally to the latest Tomb Raider ... but I wouldn't know. Hence I cannot compare the graphics, interface, pixellation, 3D-machine, operation , etc., with others of its genre. I played it on my pretty high-end computer with a good 3Dfx video card and the overall performance was extremely smooth and realistic. The background graphics on the whole were impressive. I do not know for sure but would guess that it would play badly, if at all, on a machine with only minimum requirements.

Some of the scenes and animations are absolutely breathtaking, but Indy himself and his sidekick Sophia are somewhat wooden and disappointing. The other minor protagonists are even more puppet like and off-putting. Being almost entirely accustomed to mouse control, the completely keyboard interface took me some while to get used to ... but when I did, I found it responsive and more than adequate. Indy very frequently suffers many different types of deaths, &/or gets halted through not completing a task in the allotted time. Hence it was a great relief that reloading previous Saves took only between 5 to 10 seconds ... this chore is made even quicker and easier by using the built-in Quicksave hotkey. BUT A WORD OF WARNING HERE! I used the Full-Install of 870 MB. I've heard that when using the Standard-Install of only 56 MB, you have to use and swap both disks, and your reload times are likely to be about ten times as long. If this is so and considering the frequency with which you are stopped in your tracks, many players might decide to give up before completing the whole game. I have searched but not found any mention of this in the game's Manual, or even the Help or Readme files. It is however helpful that you can make an unlimited number of Saves.

Slim storyline
The story, such as it is, does not really feature too seriously in the game. IJatIM is set in 1947, early on in the Cold War. Indy is out to acquire four parts of an ancient machine with mythical powers, ostensibly connected in some bizarre way with the biblical Tower of Babel. He has to do this ahead of the pre-Glasnost Russians who are after the same goal, and hence save the free world from a fate worse than Communism. For some reason, although I'm no particular lover of the Soviets or their system, I found this in rather bad taste. It somehow seemed to be OK killing Nazis in previous Indy incarnations, particularly since it was often done humorously (if killing can ever be categorized as being humorous!). But the wholesale slaughter of hordes of thuggish and grotesque looking "Reds" and "Commies" seemed to me to be gratuitous and even offensive.

Indy's repertoire is very limited and repetitious. I would have liked to have heard him speak a bit more than the half dozen or so stock phrases which he utters every time he picks up one of the 170 treasures, or is unable to push or pull a block, or whatever. His (excellent) voice acting is not over strained by being almost completely restricted to such banal phrases as "What's this?", "Look what I found...", "Now what?", "Hey!", "What have we here?', "Hmm...", and possibly just one or two more similar pearls of wisdom. In the few cut scenes where there is a little dialogue, the lip synching is abysmal. This was a shock at first, but I seemed to have got inured to it after a while ... in any case it only occurs rarely in the game, and has next to no significance when it does anyhow. The music is somewhat disappointing. Apart from some inspiring bars of the thrilling Indy theme tune, there are occasional snatches of eerie melody when something dangerous is about to occur, and not much else ... at least the music does not intrude or interfere. The sound effects are extremely good.

The challenge
The main challenge in the game (apart from surviving, which can be nearly 100% guaranteed if so desired ... as described later) is in exploring VERY extensive territory, and scouting out for the treasures, weapons, ammo, medicinal herbs, first-aid kits, etc., etc. Firstly you have to figure out what is the objective of each chapter and then do your best to perform the frequently labyrinthine journeys and actions to achieve it. In each of the 17 locations, one of the fundamental aims seems to be to find a way to select the most complicated and illogical paths through the maze-like terrain and safely negotiate all the obstacles on the way. The main object of these exercises is always to achieve some goal by which to exit that location in order to obtain access to the next chapter. In addition, in some of these places, Indy must pick up one of the four vital parts plus 'a tool from beyond' which he needs in order to eventually defeat a winged God called Marduk and operate that Infernal Machine. It should be said that when at the end of 16 levels (and an extra 'bonus level') he succeeds in this not too original venture, hardly anything seems to have been achieved other than sharing a bottle of communist vodka with Volodnikov, his chubby and not very sinister Russian Nemesis.

In order to complete the game with a respectable score (oops --- IQ ... Indy Quotient!), you have to travel through all the locations and collect as many treasures as possible, in addition to the essential machine parts. Many of these locations are excellently rendered and exotic, but the number of caves, convoluted tunnels, cliffs, ledges, platforms, overhangs, paths, blocks, etc., tends to become extremely repetitive after a while. Between each of the chapters you visit the Trading Post and can purchase more ammunition or health items ... if you need them; and if you're flush with cash. There are a few fairly easy logic-puzzles in the game. However, there is a very great deal of jumping, clinging, climbing, hanging, crouching, somersaulting, rolling, shimmying, and so on, and some of these have a fairly strict time limit ... but never an impossible one. There is some fun driving an (almost) indestructible jeep, jumping on and off a traveling mine-car, and maneuvering a raft through rapids. Indy frequently uses one of his magical machine parts to smash down walls and diverse obstacles; and other parts to levitate, operate mythical machinery and even to render himself invisible ... all in all, pretty entertaining stuff. He also uses his trademark whip to swing over various chasms and climb unbelievable heights. Rather sadly you sometimes have to fiddle around a good deal to hit on the exact pixel where Indy is permitted to whip himself up or over. There is a considerable amount of swimming involved ... a nice touch, but unfortunately the controls are very crude. You often get lost in the underwater caverns and tunnels and find yourself going in the diametrically opposite direction you intended, finishing up where you started. There is an amusing episode where Indy morphs into Guybrush ... weapons, ammo, whip, and all, and views a rogue's gallery of LucasArts celebrities. There is also another Lucas orientated add-on scene ... a sort of elaborate Easter Egg.

Controls and options
IJatIM has a very impressive series of system controls and options:- sound volume, graphics and video display features, subtitles for the (negligible) speech, game resolution, colour depth, pixel sizes, performance levels, rasterizers, buffering, mip-mapping, etc., etc. It certainly gave me all the flexibility I needed, and considerably more ... how these would function on a lower-end computer I cannot say. There is an enormously elaborate map/hint system if you want to use it ... I hardly ever did. You can adjust the difficulty level on the fly but naturally your IQ goes down if you reduce it, &/or take hints. If you do a Full-Install, the whole extremely long and elaborate game is played from one only of the two CD's with absolutely no disk swapping. I encountered very few minor bugs and only one serious one (at the very end of the lengthy fourth chapter) which kept crashing me out onto my Windows-desktop ... I have read that some other players had the same problem. There is a patch available from LucasArts, but it didn't fix this particular fault and I had to find a workaround.

I now expose myself to a lot of flak and potential flaming! The happiest aspect of the game for me personally was that there is an invulnerability-cheat-code which appears to be an open secret --- deliberately leaked by LucasArts themselves, I am given to understand. If, like me you just want to go along for the ride (sort of "Action/Adventure without tears."), you can apply this cheat and even set the difficulty level to maximum and ignore the built in hint system. To be perfectly honest, without this cheat (plus an excellent walkthru written by Jim Blanchard) I would never possibly have been able to complete the game. You may find it weird to walk unscathed through as many Soviet bullets, bombs and grenades as you wish; and likewise poisonous snakes and scorpions, snapping sharks and piranhas, and also ferocious jaguars, hyenas and wolves. Whilst doing this, you can kill as many or as few adversaries as suits your personal taste; but at least you survive, and your health indicators remain fully charged. Of course all this minimizes the essential performance of a substantial portion of the designed gameplay, which is to collect (and use where necessary) as much weaponry, ammo, and survival kits as possible. Also, by applying this same cheat and against all the rules of fair play, you can exist underwater indefinitely without the intended penalty of drowning. Nevertheless, even using this cheat you can still frequently enough be decimated or halted by other odd catastrophes or failed timed-puzzles. However, if I could complete the whole game (with a final score of 1168 out of the *manual's maximum of 1000*), ANYBODY can!

In conclusion
Despite its obvious failings and my totally unaltered prejudice against this genre, I personally had an interesting, if often frustrating, time. I suppose I even got some satisfaction from the fact that, notwithstanding my over liberal use of a cheat and walkthru, I somehow made it right to the end of this very long (for me) game. That doesn't mean I intend to play an Action/Adventure game again. I'm pretty certain I won't; but I personally enjoyed the one-off experience... or to be more exact, I appreciated it, both for what it is and isn't.

Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine will probably not appeal to many players. Most Quest/Adventure lovers will probably keep very well away from it, and with complete justification. Actioneers will probably turn their noses up at it since it is doubtless inferior to many others of its genre. True Indy groupies (like me) may play it, but even they may be disappointed since it lacks the charm and charisma of previous Indiana Jones computer games, to say nothing of the movies. It is not truly bad and can certainly fill in very many absorbing hours of gaming time; but it lacks the magic touch and originality that LucasArts have so often provided in the past. rating:  

Copyright © Len Green 2000. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
Windows 95/98 ; Pentium 200 MHz ; Memory, 32 MB RAM ; Video, 4 MB PCI or AGP Direct 3D Graphics Accelerator ; 16-bit sound card ; Quad Speed IDE or SCSI CD-ROM ; DirectX 6.1 (included on CD) ; Optional support for gamepads and joysticks.