Wish List – Indiana Jones

by Jason Dafnis on Oct 20, 2014 at 09:45 AM

The Indiana Jones franchise has seen some troubled video game entries. It hasn’t even seen an entirely original installment since 2009’s Staff of Kings, which failed to properly emulate any of Indy’s inherent appeal. Each game either tarnishes Indy’s legacy or stagnates; the Lego spinoffs don’t add to the lore and Indiana Jones Adventure World barely starred the titular character at all. Nobody seems equipped to get Indy back on his feet in the gaming world.

Naughty Dog earns credit for filling an Indy-shaped hole with the Uncharted series, but Nathan Drake’s similarities to Indy begin and end with their (sort of) shared occupation. Indiana Jones is a franchise rich with gameplay possibilities, if only the right developer could hit the high notes – like these ones.

An Actual Adventure With, Y’Know, Adventure-y Stuff

Action/adventure games often emphasize the “action” and forget about the other part. Gunplay and combat are great mechanics for these types of games, but there’s more to adventuring than cliff climbing and breaking bridges. Sure, give me jaw-dropping moments and awesome set-piece moments, but also throw in some unpredictable excitement when finding and identifying new areas and treasures.

The next Indiana Jones game could look to the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot for inspiration; that game’s secret tombs were rewarding trials separate from the main game that still made sense in the context of the story. They don’t even need to be strict diversions – sidequests can be hidden along the path of the core plot without removing the player from it completely. The next Indiana Jones game could tip the scales back in favor of the “adventure” side of the action/adventure genre.

Big Levels, But No Open-World

A trademark of the Indiana Jones series is a reliance on real-world locations (or supposed locations of mythical ones) to give a sense of importance and scope. An Indiana Jones game set in an open world would have to compromise location for technological limitations (no system is powerful enough to render the entire continent of Eurasia). It might also pan the focus away from concentrated exploration. A narrative-driven game like Indiana Jones deserves to be complemented by a focused sense of progression, which can be lost in translating a game into open-world space. 

Tight Combat, But Not Arkham Combat

Indiana Jones is not much of a fair fighter. When things come to fisticuffs, he’s not exactly graceful, either; his brawling bruiser style belies his military training. As fun and fluid as the Batman: Arkham series’ combat system is, and with as many games as we’d like to see it in, it’s just too pretty to put behind Indy’s scarred knuckles. If Indy’s outnumbered in an enemy encounter, it should feel like he is. The battle should be a blow-by-blow, deliberate experience – not a super-human’s punching bag routine.

[Turn the page to find out what should and shouldn't be in the next Indy game.]

Whip It Good

For too long, Indy’s trusty bullwhip has been abused in games. Instead of feeling like a versatile tool and a non-lethal weapon, it feels like he’s carrying around a big “X” button to be pressed when he can’t quite cross that gap. Whip-rappelling and swinging are great as the bread and butter of the tool, but it should be integrated into puzzles, combat, and exploration in interesting ways. One of the things that set Indy apart from Nathan Drake and company is his utilization of tools. It’s time for a game to start showcasing this.

Puzzles That Make Me Feel Smart For Solving Them, Not Stupid For Enduring Them

With each Indiana Jones game, the puzzles within have gotten worse and worse (Staff of Kings had some particularly pitiful “puzzles”) until Indy’s literally carrying a rock from one end of a tomb to another to open a door. There’s plenty of room for puzzles in action/adventure games, and they’re a staple of the franchise. What if a puzzle could feel as tense as the spiked ceiling scene from Temple of Doom or like the Breath, Word, and Path of God traps in The Last Crusade?

“Motion controls… I hate these guys.”

I’m not usually a detractor of motion controls. Done right, they can enhance a gaming experience. But done wrong, as they were in Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings, they can reduce the whole thing to random flailing segments and lame shooting galleries. The potential benefit of maybe feeling like Indy isn’t worth the risk of removing the player from the experience to play a lethal game of Whack-A-Mole with Nazis.

An Interesting Sidekick Or Two

Half (or a third) of the fun of an Indiana Jones film is watching him interact with his cohorts (The Last Crusade’s expansive cast is part of what makes it my favorite of the series). Marion Ravenwood, Short Round, Sallah, and Henry Jones, Sr. all add as much color to Indy’s adventures as Sully, Elena, and Chloe do to Nathan Drake’s (and Indy did it first). Indiana Jones games, however, usually put Indy on the screen by himself, occasionally letting him share it with only the most two-dimensional waifs, joke cushions, and backstabbers.

Partner-based gameplay has come so far in the last decade that the mechanics are almost laid out for another Indiana Jones game. While Indy’s character has been pretty well fleshed out over the series’ 30-year span, new sidekicks could spice up any vignette without interrupting gameplay.

Something More Mythological Than Sci-Fi To Search For

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull got a lot of flak for introducing aliens to the series, but are aliens much more of a far-fetched concept than the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail?  The juxtaposition of Indy’s gritty, worldly aspirations with archaeological myth roots the series in humanity while spinning the supernatural into its threads. There's a huge number of mystical, occult, and fabled objects Indy could hunt, and any of them could work as a plot device.