Licensed games don’t have to be bad, as Lucasfilm Games’ classic adventure Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure is a great reminder that it can work out quite well.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure (PC)
(USA 1989, developers: Lucasfilm Games/LucasArts (defunct), publishers: Lucasfilm Games/LucasArts (defunct)/Disney, platforms: PC-DOS, Amiga, Atari ST, FM Towns, Amiga CDTV)
Indiana Jones looks for his father and the Holy Grail, while trying to prevent the Nazis getting their hands on it.
Play the movie
Those familiar with the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade movie will soon realize that the game uses most of the locations and even dialogue scenes and stays true to its source material for the most part. What this means is that there aren’t many surprises, as only a few sections are longer, e.g. more time is spent in the catacombs of Venice or in an Austrian castle. While there isn’t anything new or original that expands on the plot or characters, one does have a few choices to change the story, especially at the end with different outcomes that aren’t canonical. Anyone who hasn’t watched the third Indy movie might have some problems understanding a few plot points or references, as the game doesn’t spend as much time explaining things or even including some twists if one isn’t aware of them. The game still has a good story with a cinematic presentation, but one won’t necessarily get the same excitement from it than watching the movie, especially since Indy and his father aren’t as fleshed out and even the excavation expert Sallah is completely left out, too.
However, the adaptation has its moments, as the additional humor works well. Even the more dramatic scenes and death sequences are presented in a highly amusing way. Showing a “censored” block when Indy changes his clothes or dies a horrible death is just one example, while his comments in dire situations perfectly capture the big screen hero’s character. There are also quite a few references to other Lucasfilm games and having a look at the environment by reading signboards or titles of books is also a lot of fun. The balance between adventure and comedy that doesn’t fall into nonsense (as seen in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) is always right, so even if one gets stuck during a puzzle, there’s always something fun to discover.
A thinking man’s game
The puzzles are varied and fun, but can be a quite difficult to get around, especially if one doesn’t have knowledge of the movie. While most of the conundrums make sense in the wider context of the license or setting, too many obscure ones require a keen eye for every object lying around and a good memory of where they’re used best. Objects can be easily missed and even if they’re not essential in some cases, a few make the game easier to complete, but only in hindsight. Unlike most classic point-and-click adventure games that are very linear and only rely on one specific solution, more than one are possible here.
Violence solves problems
This becomes very obvious when one encounters the guards in the Austrian castle, as one either picks up a disguise, chooses the right dialogue options, offers a certain object, or just beats them in a fistfight. Unfortunately the latter is the least desirable, because the combat mechanics that make use of the numerical keypad for evading, blocking and hitting in various positions requires more luck than skill. One should also be aware that except for a medikit one can find in a room of the castle, the stamina and health bars aren’t replenished for the rest of the game, so it’s easy to run into a dead end with this more violent approach.
Try things differently
Solving puzzles in multiple ways sometimes even results in different story paths, so going to Berlin and getting the diary of Indy’s father back doesn’t necessarily have to happen if one chooses to give away another item as a substitute. But first one has to find it, and there’s no clue where to look for it. The same holds true for many other items, like a map of the catacombs, a flight control manual, and even hints of what the grail looks like. So it’s not only possible to miss out on alternative puzzle solutions, but on objects that help progressing in the game. This is easier said than done, because without any hotspot function and objects like books being almost indistinguishable from the background, it can be very frustrating to look through every screen without even knowing what to look for.
Even more aggravating are identically-looking rooms or corridors. Wandering through the labyrinthine catacombs is almost as frustrating as trying to remember all the rooms in the Austrian castle and evading guards. As these can also behind doors, saving and reloading becomes second nature. There are also a few death scenes. Even if they’re nowhere near as frequent and unfair as in Sierra titles, this doesn’t make the game any easier, especially for those adventure players who don’t necessarily want to do a lot of fighting. Still, trying out different solutions and even getting into fights offer their own rewards in the form of IQ points, i.e. raising the Indy quotient at the end of the game, so multiple playthroughs are necessary to reach the highest score.
Looks and sounds of the past
Despite almost 30 years old, the game still looks quite nice thanks to some good pixel art. Backgrounds and characters might be low-res, but they’re all colorful and even the animations are still nice. While voice acting is missing, the music is great with original Indiana Jones tunes, but also other atmospheric or catchy parts. The only downside is that there are many screens in which none of the music is played, making them a bit boring to explore.
Germany’s “special” version
It’s also worth noting that a lot of censorship has been applied to the German version of this game, so swastikas are absent, being either repainted or deleted (in a quite frankly terribly amateurish way), which is obviously very annoying in so many scenes where the Nazi influence is more than prominent. What is also weird is how some texts have been changed, not only because of the controversial topic, but also to tone down some of the humor with violence. For example, in the English version Indy comments on a human head rolling to his feet: “Yep, this is the place.” and in the German one he remains silent. Anyone living in Germany won’t be able to buy the Steam version, either, because of the aforementioned symbols. For more info on some of the very ridiculous and badly done censorship, you can check out this article that compares the uncut US and cut German version.
A good licensed and adventure game
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure is a relic of a time when Lucasfilm tried to please movie and adventure game fans alike, and it mostly works. Story-wise, there isn’t anything surprising, but the re-enacted scenes work the nostalgia angle. After more than three decades, the game looks and sounds nice as well, but the gameplay itself hasn’t aged in all aspects. While the multiple solutions are great, pixelhunting and often obscure solutions in addition to frustrating combat sequences that can’t always be avoided don’t make this the best entry point for those who want to try out the company’s past games, as there are much more accessible and forgiving titles available, like the Monkey Island series. However, if one wants to experience a nice blast from the Indy licensed past, then the game still comes recommended.
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