Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings — Review

Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings was developed by Artificial Mind and Movement (and by Amaze for the PSP) and published by LucasArts in 2009, and continues the adventures of Dr. Jones. Staff of Kings is the third in a series of games, preceded by Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine and Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb – both of which I have never played.

The game begins in 1939 with a classic Indy set piece of entering a tomb to retrieve an idol, only to be thwarted by the main antagonist of the game, Magnus Voller. Afterward, Indy receives a letter from a friend concerning the disappearance of his former college professor. Upon his return to America the main story kicks off and Indy finds himself in situation after situation that leads him down the road to another great archaeological find: Moses’ staff.

Many of the classic character staples are here (except for his leather jacket for some reason): the comedic performances, a new female love interest, and landscapes galore. Indy never finds himself in the same location twice and is in yet another race against time to retrieve a powerful artifact before the Germans can get their hands on it. Although Dr. Jones is not performed by Harrison Ford, John Armstrong does an excellent impression (though his performance is, sadly, mostly flat).09

Gameplay is divided between exploration, puzzle solving, brawler sessions (fisticuffs), and third person shooter. Exploration allows you to find artefact trophies (represented in-game by a glowing fedora) scattered about the levels which unlock alternate costumes and the four Indiana Jones movie trailers. The puzzles are exactly what you would expect for a game of this nature (jumping through hoops over several areas in order to progress) and the brawler sessions and third person shooter are self-explanatory. The Wii version has an exclusive co-op mode which unlocks a game previously released for the PC, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, a point and click adventure game.

Unfortunately, everything good about the game ends there. This game has so many things wrong with it that rob this title of its charm that, upon playing it again for this review, I started to remember why I have only played this game once before. For starters, the fighting tutorial at the beginning of the game is easy to skip over. As you approach your first fight, you naturally start mashing buttons to see which does what, causing you skip over the informative text. While the necessary button to be pressed appears in the lower right-hand corner, there is one instance where that does not happen and you are left to wonder what to do. The fight tutorial is broken up into several sections and your natural instincts will override the tutorial text every single time.

The rules governing gameplay change without any indication. For example, the third person shooter aspect provides the player with a reticule that will allow you to aim prior to emerging from cover to shoot (provided, of course, that the overtly sensitive thumbstick allows you to emerge instead of inadvertently duck walking left or right when crouched). In most cases the reticule remains stationary as you come out from hiding, though frequently the reticule moves with you instead. Another example is that after establishing that Indy can climb a broken bridge, the game allows him to die if you attempt to do that on any other bridges. Also, after establishing that Dr. Jones can use his whip in a fight, there is a single brawler session in an Istanbul mansion where you are unable to use it, despite the whip clearly still being in his possession.

staff_of_kings_2The Quick Time Events (QTE) get old fast. You are always performing the same actions multiple times to the point where you become bored with them and eventually start dreading them. The biggest offense is with wall clinging while traversing along a narrow ledge as you know what will happen long before you ever set foot on it, and these QTE actions are always identical and happen every single time (and there are many narrow ledges to cross). Another, albeit unrelated, aspect that gets old fast is the fact that Indiana will scream every time he falls. Every…single…time…whether the fall results in damage or not. As jumping down from a higher area is necessary for both exploration and advancement, the scream becomes quite irritating to hear.

Exploration is both encouraged and punished. When given two paths to follow, it can be difficult at times to know which leads to an explorable area and which leads to the next part of the game. If you mean to choose exploration before continuing and you wind up going the wrong way, you are rewarded with the previous area becoming blocked off, as backtracking is expressly forbidden. Worse, the chapter and area selection in the game’s menu is so awful that until I had the game beaten and was familiar enough with it, I thought that reloading the previous section during gameplay was not an option. The guide buttons (of which there are four, one for each side of the rectangular image representing the stages of each level) are not labeled and navigation, to the uninitiated, is understandably quite confusing.

The game is loaded with performance indicators that hold your hand the entire time (except for the trolley section [Sony and Nintendo platforms only; the Xbox 360 version has a brawl atop the cable car instead], bell puzzle area, and motorcycle chase stage, which have none at all), telling you exactly how to play the game. While that alone is bad enough, it is compounded by the fact that the buttons indicated cannot always be pressed the moment they pop up on the screen—the action buttons only work when you are standing in the exact spot and facing the correct angle, meaning that, for this game, close enough is not good enough. The largest violations come from using the whip to either swing across a gap or scale a wall.

The biggest problem this game has, however, is that it constantly shifts from 3D gameplay to 2.5D (a playable 3D environment with the camera remaining at a fixed point), causing the player to constantly struggle with the camera angle. This would not be so bad if the 2.5D set up was only used for the third person shooter aspects, but it is also applies to explorable areas as well.

This game uses short cut scenes to set up each level and area, which is great for someone like me who prefers to play video games rather than watch them. Unfortunately vital story information is glossed over in these cut scenes to the point where you stop questioning what is going on or why you are in the current situation. If you desire to know what is going on, you must play the game several times or review the level notes, found in the Journal at the game’s menu. Even then, however, the story does not really make all that much sense, as it is unclear why Magnus Voller or the Nazis want the Staff of Moses in the first place—no explanation in the game is ever given.full20090329190000

All of these deficiencies are clearly indicative of this game being rushed out the door (including Mr. Armstrong’s accurate but one-noted performance) and is a sign of its most egregious error: that of increasing the game’s difficulty through handicapping the player. You are never given a moment’s rest, constantly fighting with the game in order to play it.

On top of it all, this game is guilty of one of the most horrendous video game sins: not allowing the player to skip either the logo animations at game start up or the cut scenes. When you die in an area, you return to the previous checkpoint. If there was a cut scene at that checkpoint, you will have to suffer through it again, especially if you keep on dying (not to mention the fact that if you suffer from multiple deaths, you must go through everything you have already immediately beaten all over again, though I am hesitant to label this as poor game design as it is most likely a compromise for the PS2’s game loading limitations).

Taking everything into account, this is not a game I would recommend playing. If you have some time to kill and you bought this game at a garage sale, only then would I recommend playing it. It is best, though, if you are the kind of person who screams at video games, to play this one when you are alone.

The game was released on Nintendo Wii and DS, PS2 and PSP. It’s still available through eBay and a few other places online.

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