It’s great to review one of your all-time favorite games. Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (FoA) was what LucasArts provided to their p’n’c fans after the sublime Monkey Island 2, and it would take an absolute miracle to achieve the quality level of that game. What made LucasArts avoid going the easy route and just basing the game on Raiders of the Lost Ark or Temple of Doom? All I know is that a comic book of FoA was released around the same time as the game, and I believe that the game and the strip were made in tandem. Creating a unique storyline for the game worked wonders, and because we had no film to remind us of any scenes, it felt like we were really Indy, whipping himself around the world.
Can it possibly be better than Monkey Island 2, though? MI2 is an absolute legend in the adventure gaming genre, and in gaming in general. I gave it an 8.5 just last month. MI2 is considered by many to be the absolute pinnacle of p’n’c gaming, and with good reason. Well, LucasArts followed the MI2 success up with FoA, and you can immediately see the similarities just by viewing screenshots. We have the usual SCUMM engine implemented, so all the verbs you need to make Indy act are laid out for you in easy to use buttons. The visual style of FoA is slightly changed from MI2, as it’s more realistic and less cartoony, which suits the game well. It almost makes it feel like you’re watching a film, because everything looks so authentic, from traveling through the coldness of Iceland, to perusing the stalls of Algiers while entertainers perform knife tricks in the streets, and to visiting Monte Carlo in search of that certain someone to give you a lead in your adventure.
It’s a testament to the age of 2D. It’s a game where all you do to get through it is point and click, but you still can’t help but be marveled at what you’re witnessing on screen. It’s a gorgeous game to view, and I would pay money to have some of the locations in the game framed and hanging on my wall. The animation is always quirky and funny, too. You’ll catch the odd little frame that just tickles you, such as Sophia going into a trance or Indy getting his lady, and the whole sequence in the Monte Carlo hotel room is just a brilliant set-piece.
Sophia who? Well, with the introduction of a unique storyline comes the introduction of new characters to the Indy universe. Sophia Hapgood becomes your lady, but she is also a very handy partner who can help you through various points in the game. There’s also Klaus Kerner, the stereotypical German bad guy who’s out to rule the world. Even Marcus Brody returns from the films, but only for a short while at the start of the game. Brody is the only character from the films besides Indy who is actually featured in the game and, considering the movies, I find it remarkable that LucasArts avoided just filling the game with movie characters and actually developed their own cast. The characters are all very individual and you’ll love the good guys and the bad guys equally. Kerner is evil incarnate, and you’ll be rooting for Indy to overcome him by the end of the game.
The storyline may as well be a movie script, and it’s just a shame the game never was made into a movie, because it would have been a damn fine one. I could easily imagine Harrison Ford and Denholm Elliot reprising their roles for it—such is the quality of the writing in the game. The dialogue is word for word perfect and the characters all develop with it. The plot follows Klaus Kerner, a Nazi follower who learns of a metal stronger than even uranium and intends on utilizing its power to, of course, rule the world. Despite it taking itself a lot more seriously than most of LucasArts’ other p’n’c games, it still shines through with humor, and you’ll get a few in-jokes from the movies. And if you ever get the chance to play the version of FoA that also includes voice acting, please play it. The actors all did a fantastic job, and even a Harrison Ford-less Indy still sounds great.
Leading onto the sound, the soundtrack is fantastic and includes some real gems, such as the Monte Carlo theme, the opening title tune, as well as the mood-setting Tikal track, which really helps make you feel as if you are in the jungle. The music plays a huge part in helping you feel the part of Indy as well as making the environments seem more alive than ever. There aren’t a lot of sound effects in the game aside from the odd crack of the whip, a gunshot here and there, and a few underwater effects. This is less noticeable when you play the game with the voiceovers added, but if you’re playing without, you may sometimes get that lonely feeling because all you’re hearing is the music. But the music is so good that it often makes up for the lack of sound effects.
The gameplay is identical to that of Monkey Island 2, though there are a few neat additions. We now have map-based puzzles, such as when Indy is traveling around Algiers in a hot air balloon or traveling around the maze of Atlantis. There are also new puzzles in which the game zooms in on a particular object and asks you to solve a puzzle using items you already have, such as Sophie’s necklace and the stone discs. Ah, the stone discs. If this is your first adventure game or if maybe you’re not a huge fan of taxing puzzles, the stone disc puzzles will be enough to make you want to hang yourself with Indy’s whip. And that’s not all; there are other puzzles in this game, such as when you’re in Crete using the surveyor’s instrument to figure out where one of the stone discs may be. What makes this so much trickier than it could have been is having to read an item called Plato’s Lost Dialogue, a book that might look at first to be just an essay on Atlantis, but it holds a LOT of clues to solving certain puzzles in the game. However, as they can be so obscure, it’s hard to differentiate between what exactly is a clue and what is just part of the myth of Atlantis. Again, if you’re not a big puzzler, you’ll struggle with a lot of this game, but for those ardent solvers, you’ll feel very rewarded when you succeed at piecing together the clues and finding a new item to progress the storyline.
The absolute best innovation of the game, though, has to be the “path” system. At a point in the game, you’re asked a question by one of the other characters on how you will approach the adventure ahead. Depending on your answer, you will then be set on one of three totally different ways of playing the game known as the Wits, Team, and Fists paths. Choosing Wits means you’ll play a lot more puzzles of a harder difficulty than the other paths, but you won’t have to worry about fighting as much. The Team path means Sophia will join you for the journey and give input on various puzzles if you need help. You could think of this as the easier of the three options, and it’s definitely recommended if you’re new to the genre. It also means you get to witness some of the funnier dialogue in the game between our two heroes, who are always bickering about one thing or another. Choosing the Fists path means you’re ready to rumble, and you will see far fewer puzzles but a whole load more fighting with various bouncers, Nazi guards, and corrupt navy men. You should choose what suits your style of gaming most, because once you pick a path, you will follow it for the rest of the game. Once you complete one path, you can always go back through and do another one, meaning you’ll see more of the story in the process!
It’s a long game that’s made longer if you struggle with the puzzles. It’s not as long as Monkey Island 2, but I genuinely believe it’s a better game. The art direction is superb, the music is very befitting, the storyline is so tight that there is no room for plot holes, and it all moulds together to present what I believe to be LucasArts’ finest game. It’s entertaining from its great introduction all the way through the tense end sequence, and with the introduction of the “paths,” it ensures that the player can try the game a different way on a second playthrough and it’ll be different enough that it feels like you’re playing the game for the first time again.
I’ve been looking forward to reviewing this game. I already reviewed one of my top 10 games ever in Sensible World of Soccer, so with FoA being another in my prestigious list, it’s with great pleasure that I put fingers to keys for this. What I like most about my top 10 list is that I have classics sat next to modern titles, so if you were to ask me if I would rather take FoA or Call of Duty 4, I would be tearing my hair out trying to decide. That’s what makes FoA so endearing, that it has stood the test of time and is such a quality title that it plays better than a lot of titles today. I like to polish the game off every couple of years to go down a different path from last time, try to complete puzzles I’ve forgotten the solutions to, and relive the wonderful story all over again. For me, it’s the best LucasArts has to offer and one of the greatest games ever made.