Lucasfilm is more than just Star Wars. While the space opera in all its incarnations is still the company’s behemoth franchise, the newly branded ‘Lucasfilm Games’ (why not just Lucas Games?) is bringing its other nostalgic film series back to video games: Indiana Jones. It seems we live in a strange time of franchise swappery because while Indy makes the leap from films to games, its mimic from the gaming world, Uncharted, is being adapted for the big screen. Bethesda’s Indiana Jones title is being developed by Machine Games, the studio behind the brilliant modern incarnations of the Wolfenstein series, once again placing Nazi killing in full focus. But because Indiana Jones has had such a profound impact on gaming, first through Tomb Raider and then Uncharted, how will the new game be able to differentiate itself from its successful imitators?
I think the biggest way it can set itself apart is for the game to take full advantage of its time period. The Uncharted series is set in the present day, with modern technology and sensibilities. To counter this, Indiana Jones should fully lean into its 1930’s pulp adventure roots, back when globetrotting was a moving red line on a yellowed map. The game can do what the upcoming Indiana Jones 5 can’t in this regard. Because Harrison Ford is fast becoming an octogenarian, the fifth film will have to be set around 1970. I don’t see how that time period could possibly work for an Indy film. Instead, just put Ford in a recording booth and he can live on as a virtual Henry Jones Jr in the correct setting. Then again, Tom Holland’s Nathan Drake in the Uncharted movie is much younger than the game’s version, so it seems like neither franchise can get it right.
Taking advantage of the game’s period setting would allow Indy to bump into some historical characters on his adventure. The short teaser trailer hints at an appearance by Mussolini so maybe the game will branch out from allowing us to kill fascist Germans to fascist Italians too. I’m down for that. Some locations were also teased in the announcement video, including the Pyramids of Giza, Rome, Vatican City, and Mesopotamia. These all sound like perfect places for an Indiana Jones adventure. Who doesn’t want to search the Vatican archives for long lost clues or explore hidden tombs in the Pyramids? Although, then you might get a little too close to the Assassin’s Creed games rather than just Uncharted.
The trailer also, if you’re keen-eyed enough (or just watch someone else’s breakdown of it), reveals the date of October 1937. If this is indeed when the events of the game occur then that’ll place it between Raiders of the Lost Arc and The Last Crusade. The trilogy’s middle film – The Temple of Doom – being a prequel. I think this is a great decision because it’ll be before Indy learns to let go of his obsession, at least partially, and reunites with his father in The Last Crusade. And at the beginning of Raiders, Indiana claims “I don’t believe in magic. A lot of superstitious hocus pocus”. Therefore, to keep the continuity secure, he’ll be able to experience more ‘magic’ like the Ark because the game is set afterwards. Although, Temple of Doom may have already messed up that part of the canon.
Supernatural artifacts are a key element of the Indiana Jones formula. The Ark of the Covenant. The Sankara Stones. The Holy Grail. Crystal alien skulls. Sorry, I mean crystal interdimensional being skulls. While the first few Uncharted games also had supernatural elements, the series’ final two instalments did without them. While many gamers liked this change, I was disappointed by it. I missed having some mutant monsters to fight. Naughty Dog clearly wanted the games to evolve into more of a serious drama – or at least as much of a serious drama the action-adventure games could be – and I think they went too far. But Uncharted’s loss is Indiana Jones’ gain. Machine Games’ entry in the franchise should absolutely embrace the occult and mystical side of the films. It’s a necessary part of its pulp adventure serial nature. And I hope they’re not shy about getting religious with it. The bible seems to be canon in the world of Indiana Jones. Thinking about it, Machine Games did something similar with the ancient Jewish secret society “Da’at Yichud” in the Wolfenstein series.
Another trope of the Indy films I hope gets translated into the game is the villains. Namely, their deaths. In all four films thus far, it’s the greed of the baddies that gets them killed, not Jones himself. They get exactly what they want but not in the way they expected. Belloq and the Nazis open the arc and say goodbye to their faces. Mola Ram gets the Sankara stones but they burn his hand and he falls to his death. Donovan chooses poorly. Elsa reaches for the Grail instead of Indy’s hand. And Irina Spalko receives the knowledge she desires but it proves too much for her to process. Following this example will also set the title apart from the Uncharted games where you shoot or stab your antagonists to death instead. I love Uncharted 2 but the ending boss battle is terrible.
Let us not forget one of Indiana’s most iconic elements. No, not his hat; his whip. I’m sure the coiled weapon can be used in gameplay for a variety of combat and traversal methods. It’s something Nathan Drake never had – although the rope in Uncharted 4 is a little close. There’s also a variety of supporting characters from the films that can be called on for the game’s adventure. Marion could still be in Indy’s life considering the setting; Short Round could make a long-awaited reappearance; and who doesn’t love Sallah? Maybe we could see that time Marcus got lost in his own museum.
But, most of all, the game needs to remember that Indiana Jones isn’t a superhero. I don’t want him to be quite as preposterously tough and energetic as Nathan Drake. Always dropping from great heights and single-handedly slaying thousands of goons. Indy’s an experienced man but a man nonetheless. He gets injured. He struggles. He gets lucky. This may be a difficult aspect of the character to bring into a game where the controllable character needs to survive an awful lot of threats, but I hope Machine Games finds a balance. It’s not the years, it’s the mileage. Let’s rack up some miles.
How do you think the Indiana Jones game should differentiate itself from the likes of Tomb Raider and Uncharted? What are your hopes for the game? Let me know in the comments and be sure to geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.