6 lessons that Bethesda’s Indiana Jones can learn from the past

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny may be the last movie to feature Harrison Ford’s iconic hero, but there’s at least one more adventure coming. In early 2021, Bethesda announced that a new original Indiana Jones video game is in the works, but it’s anyone’s guess as to when it will arrive. But given Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda, it’s likely to be an Xbox exclusive.

So far, Bethesda hasn’t shown fans anything from the new Indiana Jones game, which doesn’t give us a lot to go on. But as someone who has played Indiana Jones video games my entire life, going all the way back to the 1980s and the Atari 2600 era, I can tell you that there are certain lessons that the previous games in the franchise can impart on the current game that Bethesda is working on. There are even some games that clearly borrowed a lot from Indiana Jones that could offer some lessons of their own for Bethesda. When taken as a whole, this is a road map that could finally deliver the Indiana Jones game of our dreams.

Finding the right difficulty

Indiana Jones finds the Ark in Raiders of the Lost Ark for Atari 2600.

Have you ever played Raiders of the Lost Ark on the Atari 2600? It’s borderline impossible to beat, although some modern gamers have found ways through it. As a kid, it was incredibly frustrating to play, and it’s unequivocally the worst Indiana Jones video game to date. The Atari 2600 joystick controller wasn’t very exact even on its best days, but this game could easily misinterpret your moves and send Indy to an early grave. This may not have been the first game to inspire someone to throw a controller across the room, but that probably happened a lot.

The simple graphics weren’t the game’s biggest issue; it was the difficulty. Even someone who knows what they are doing in the game still has to struggle to get to that point. It’s not so much a problem with controls as it is a core game design problem. Even worse, Indy’s signature whip is only represented on screen as a dot when he needs to make a pivotal jump. One tiny mistake and you’re back at square one.

Indiana Jones games need to feel like a fun adventure, and this game was about as far from fun as it gets. It would be next to impossible to make another Indiana Jones game as soul-crushing as this one. But it exemplifies everything that could possibly go wrong.

Thrill ride fun

Indy rides the mine carts in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom arcade game.

The Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom arcade game was a huge step up from Raiders of the Lost Arkalthough it’s still primitive compared to modern games. In some ways, it plays more like Donkey Kong than anything we would recognize as a modern Indiana Jones game. The controls aren’t exact, but there is a definite sense of satisfaction from using Indy’s whip on evil slavers while rescuing children from cages.

However, the highlight of the game is the mine cart sequences, which let the player control Indy as he attempts to escape down a dangerous mine shaft. Unlike the Raiders of the Lost Ark game, the developers behind this title clearly had a much better grasp on Indy as a character and an understanding of what makes the game fun. That’s the key takeaway here. Gamers can forgive a lot if they’re having fun, and the next Indiana Jones game could really use some of the easy-to-play thrill-ride sequences this arcade game had. Sometimes, the simple touches are the best.

Indiana Jones needs a foil

Indy and Sophia Hapgood in Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis.

One thing that you may have noticed about the films is that Indiana Jones always has a partner or a sidekick to play off of. In Raidersit was Marion Ravenwood. More recently, it was Helena Shaw in Dial of Destiny. Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis was the first game to jump on this trend by introducing a new love interest for Indy: Sophia Hapgood, a former archeologist-turned-psychic.

Sophia doesn’t just hang out with Indy in silence. They banter, they have disagreements, and sometimes they get on the same page. This went a long way toward bringing out the personalities of both Indy and Sophia, and it’s a key feature in any Indiana Jones story. Granted, the point-and-click gameplay of Fate of Atlantis is hard to control and dated. But that shouldn’t be a problem again thanks to the advancements in game technology.

Let the quest flow naturally

Indiana Jones decides his next move in Fate of Atlantis.

Sticking with Fate of Atlantisparts of the game are specifically dedicated to Indy and Sophia trying to figure out what to do next. The game didn’t simply send them to their destination and it forced players to do the work before advancing. This allows gamers to really feel like they’re stepping into Indy’s shoes. He is, after all, an archaeologist, and it’s good to see those skills in action.

Another option we’d love to see continued from Fate of Atlantis is the branching dialogue tree. Giving Indy and his companion something new to say each time not only helps flesh out their characters, but it’s also a subtle way to drop clues to the player. Modern games like Mass Effect and The Witcher 3 easily incorporated similar dialogue tree choices, and those features would be very welcome in an Indiana Jones game.

Bring on the puzzles

The Uncharted and Tomb Raider video games borrowed heavily from the Indiana Jones movies, so it’s only fitting that the next Indy game steals a few things from them in return. In this case, we’d like to see Dr. Jones and his companion put their minds together to solve some puzzles to get past booby traps and unearth hidden treasures. There’s nothing more Indiana Jones than that!

Deliver cinematic action

Tomb Raider’s reboot trilogy and Uncharted excelled in giving gamers action sequences that delivered cinematic moments and genuinely exciting gameplay. That’s something the new Indiana Jones game badly needs as well. If we’re meant to be walking in Indy’s shoes on his quest to uncover the fantastic, we need to be able to get caught up in the action and break out his trusty whip and pistol.

Just look at the gondola sequence from Tomb Raiderwhich features some absolutely incredible action as Lara Croft is ambushed by enemy fighters on a ship that is barely held up by ropes and cables. Can you imagine a similar sequence in an Indiana Jones game with the familiar theme music by John Williams?

It should be said that some Indiana Jones games have had an emphasis on action, but none of those titles were as fun to play as Uncharted or Tomb Raider. That’s something that needs to change with whatever Bethesda has cooking up. Hopefully we’ll get a glimpse of that soon.

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