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If adventure has a name, it must be Indiana Jones. The year is 1947. Indy is back (this time in electrifying 3-D!) as a CIA recruit tasked with uncovering why Soviet agents are sniffing around the ruins of the fabled Tower of Babel. So hold onto your fedora and grab your whip in this heart-pounding action quest for the elusive "Infernal Machine."
It's not often that a game perfectly captures the essence of both genres without compromise. In the case of Infernal Machine, adventure fans will be left wanting, as the latest Indy game is almost 100 percent pure Tomb Raider-style action. It's true that the game has an interesting story, that it creates several memorable gameplay sequences, and that it successfully captures the spirit of Indiana Jones. But quirky controls, repetitive puzzles, and a range of other annoying flaws keep it from being the major-league hit that Indiana Jones fans hoped it would be.
The game takes place in 1947, when World War II has ended and the Nazis are finished. But as the Cold War begins, so does a new challenge for the esteemed archaeologist. It seems the Soviets have uncovered a mystery in a dig site near the ancient city of Babylon. Recruited by his old friend Sophia Hapgood, Indy sets off to discover the secret of these ruins before Volodnikov - his portly Soviet rival - gets his hands on whatever it is. And so Indy will embark on an adventure that leads him to Kazakstan, the Philippines, Mexico, and the Sudan. The game features 16 levels in all, including one secret level.
Gameplay in Infernal Machine is similar to that of the Tomb Raider games, though Infernal Machine also bears a strong resemblance to Bethesda's action-adventure Redguard. Between levels, Indy can use the treasures he has found to purchase additional equipment and healing supplies, which is a good idea and a welcome one for this type of game.
However, excluding that small innovation, Infernal Machine is mostly about jumping, climbing, and swinging from Indy's whip. In fact, the game often puts too much emphasis on this sort of thing. Nearly every puzzle of consequence requires extensive jumping or climbing. It's as if the developers forgot that puzzles can be simpler and less agility-driven and still remain a challenge. Yet after the first four or five levels of Infernal Machine, most of the puzzles become quite repetitive - even predictable - and you may find yourself longing for a straightforward combination puzzle or other thinking challenge rather than another sequence of blocks and ladders.
Even if you never tire of the sort of puzzle that requires numerous jumps and shimmies, you probably won't appreciate the controls you'll have to work to overcome. Keyboard users should just forget about it right now: The game is simply too jerky and unresponsive on the keyboard. A gamepad is the best way to control Indy's moves, but even with a good pad you'll still run into some problems. To begin with, there's often too much of a delay between actions. There is a pause as you climb onto a ledge or ladder, or up out of water. This slows down your progress significantly and can be deadly in certain areas, particularly in one adrenaline-pumping sequence involving a gargantuan ice creature. A game that relies so heavily on quick-reflex challenges needs to react faster and better to user input.
One other major problem with the controls is that the game is far too picky about the way you line up next to a button, door, or other interactive object. Far too often, you have to line up just right or else nothing will happen. This is especially irksome during some of the game's key puzzles, where you might think you've already tried a particular solution but actually haven't because you weren't in quite the right place when you hit the action button. As a result, you'll end up trying a hundred other possibilities before stumbling back onto the proper solution.
However, Infernal Machine isn't all bad. The graphics, while not exactly cutting edge, are generally quite good. Save for his enormous head, the in-game Indiana Jones actually resembles Harrison Ford, and many of his mannerisms are captured well by the animations. The fact that he always pulls out a fresh hat from somewhere after climbing out of the water is a nice touch. Unfortunately, many of the other 3D models are not so good, but even their movements are fairly smooth and convincing.
Most of the levels are aesthetically well designed because of convincing architecture and wall decorations that seem appropriate to each locale. Spiderwebs and other atmospheric touches are well placed. Many of the outdoor levels have a blocky, artificial look, but the indoor scenery is impressive.
The game features just enough enemies without seeming excessive. Why you cannot shoot an attacking wolf is peculiar (you can only frighten it off), but the rest of the creatures and enemies will make for impressive encounters. Not only will you meet a horde of Soviet troops on your journey, but also plenty of spiders, scorpions, lizards, and snakes. There are also a few memorable boss monsters to fight.
However, in terms of providing high-quality gameplay, the level design in Infernal Machine is not quite what it should be. Most of the game's puzzles require a great deal of back-and-forth travel across each level. This wouldn't be so bad if it didn't require numerous trips through areas filled with extensive and tedious climbing and jumping. It also wouldn't be so bad if the game didn't rely so heavily on frustratingly obscure puzzles that seem to be designed to make players retrace their steps several times. Among other things, returning to the beach on Palawan Lagoon and the seemingly never-ending plant puzzle in the Shambala Temple come across as backward, convoluted, or both. Many of the puzzles in Infernal Machine simply have too many steps. Rarely, if ever, are you presented with an obvious challenge that you just have to logically think your way through. Fans of the Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis adventure game will likely be disappointed by this structure - not to mention the action-oriented gameplay - while even Tomb Raider veterans may find many of the puzzle solutions disjointed, random, and too long.
Even so, the game can be great at times. Some of the extended action sequences, such as the inflatable raft, mining car, and jeep scenes, are a lot of fun. The sound effects, though somewhat tinny, add a lot of atmosphere to the game. Indy's comments are well timed and helpful, while some of the other dialogue can be very funny. In fact, if not for the quirky controls, this would be a good 3D action game - albeit one with some ill-conceived puzzles and obstacles.
In final analysis, Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine is a decent 3D action game that suffers from control problems and puzzles that quickly grow old and repetitive. Tomb Raider fans may enjoy the look and feel of the game, and die-hard Indy fans should get a kick out of the archaeologist's first 3D game, but anyone expecting a pure combination of action and adventure will likely be disappointed. -- Michael E. Ryan