Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings Review
The “Indiana Jones” franchise has proven to be one of the most lucrative in video entertainment history, as the immensely popular movie series has spawned everything from television cartoons to action figures to video game adaptations. Installments in the latter haven’t been fantastic, but we were hoping Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings would deliver some light-hearted fun for those still looking for decent PS2 games. Unfortunately, despite a decent amount of diversity within the gameplay elements and a relatively simple pick-up-and-play style, the technical drawbacks and major control issues left us with a bad taste in our mouths. This is one of those games that might’ve been a better buy at half its $29.99 price tag but even then, we wouldn’t automatically recommend it. Developer A2M really needed to refine the combat and general control mechanics, and because they’re so clunky, we end up more irritated than entertained. The pacing is good and we really loved a few of the concepts (disarming enemies with the whip tops our list), but it just falls well short overall.
For some reason, it appears as if many designers have settled into a comfortable albeit mediocre mode for PS2 games these days; it’s like they’re all utilizing the same graphical palette. So far in 2009, most all of the new PS2 titles we’ve seen have been on about the same visual level, which is to say, they’re mostly consistent, devoid of crippling glitches and hitches, and completely incapable of enhancing the experience to satisfying levels. In other words, the graphics are okay and there’s little more to say (yeah, it rhymes; what of it?). In Staff of Kings, character detail is average, special effects are somewhat bland and uninspired, and there are several notable highlights in the background environments, but nothing too extraordinary. The game did appear to be too dark – even with the benefit of torches – and the extremely loose camera would occasionally reveal some muddled and murky visuals. With this presentation, the game really needed gripping and addictive gameplay to save it from obscurity but as you’ll soon find out, that didn’t happen.
In some ways, the sound is worse due to spotty voice acting, boring sound effects, and a soundtrack that gets repetitive within the first hour. Granted, we certainly need that classic Indy theme but does it really need to be heard every 15 minutes? The lack of original compositions doesn’t help and besides the sharp crack of the whip, the combat effects were found wanting. The punches sound like nothing more than dull “thuds” and even tumbling rocks or explosions had little impact. And as has been typical of recent PS2 productions, the balance between effects, voiceovers, and soundtrack was all over the place, meaning we receive a very uneven set of sounds throughout our adventure. The problem is that with action/adventure titles like this, we really need a strong audio accompaniment to keep us involved and engrossed, and when there’s so little effort put forth, the generic offering always fails to do its job. The very same argument could be made in regards to the graphics, and at the end of the day, both the visuals and sound are painfully average. If there was more t analyze, we would dive right in, but sadly, the technical level of Indiana Jones is just…meh.
The game first takes you through the standard tutorial segments superimposed over actual gameplay. Basically, most games in this genre are following a very similar formula: the first portion of the game won’t be much of a challenge, as it’s designed specifically for the sake of initiating the player. Once this section is over, the player should have a firm grasp of the controls he’s going to need for the remainder of the quest, although it’s likely he’ll run into new skills and abilities as the adventure progresses. Staff of Kings is no different, as you will begin by going after an artifact that subsequently disappears in the hands of the Germans (gee, that sounds familiar). It’s during this time where you will learn the basics of exploring and fighting, but it won’t take long for you to realize that things aren’t quite as responsive or intuitive as you might’ve hoped. It’s too bad, too, because as we mentioned in the intro, there are quite a few decent concepts that should’ve worked out, had the developers taken the time to fine-tune the controls. Instead, we’re left with a game that feels slow, clunky, and even frustrating thanks to the unresponsiveness of the commands.
Indy can punch quickly with a tap of the X button or throw a more powerful punch by holding down the X button, and he can also dodge, pick up items to use as weapons, throw those very same objects, use his whip to either disarm or drag enemies towards him, and perform grappling moves when prompted. All of this sounds great; it makes it appear as if Indy is an appropriately competent hero. However, while the ideas are solid, the implementation and execution leave a lot to be desired, and some useful abilities are curiously left out in the cold. Wait…we can’t jump? We can’t block? There’s no way to just grab someone without the whip? And when we hit the X button to punch or the Circle button to dodge, we expect that to fluidly combine with the movements of the enemies, but far too many times, those foes are simply beating on Indy because he A. can’t block, and B. is way too slow. The dodge is almost comical; Indy will duck for several seconds, meaning the enemy could actually throw a punch well after you've ducked, but he’ll still miss. I suppose picking up items to use as weapons works fine, and disarming enemies is way cool, but beyond that…
You’ll do other things besides fight, of course. You’ll use your whip to swing across gaps, light torches so you can find your way in the dark, solve a few puzzles, and even hop in some vehicles (this includes an airplane, which wasn’t a bad addition). Again, this should all come together to present the player with an interesting and well-paced adventure, and while the pacing is good, the clunky controls just override everything. Then you have to factor in the wacko camera, which can easily turn too fast or put you at an immediate disadvantage if you fiddle with it during combat. It also seems to be zoomed in too far; it should’ve pulled back to where it is in the God of War franchise. That’s a perfect position for third-person action games. Also, there are environmental prompts that are designed to help you; these are known as “hotspots,” and it generally involves your whip and some unfortunate soul standing beneath a structure of some kind. All you need to do is snag your whip on said structure and yank down, which causes it to fall on the head of the enemy. It works fine, but that camera doesn’t always let you see these hotspots and you often find them after all the baddies are gone.
Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings is entirely unremarkable. The solid design ideas and diverse nature of the gameplay keeps it semi-interesting, but it never reaches out and grabs you. And in fact, it just doesn’t have that capability. The techincals are too drab and out-of-date (even for PS2 software), the clunky controls will put a damper on just about everything you do, and the storyline is about as memorable as the game itself. I suppose that if it shows up in the bargain bin for ten bucks, and you happen to be a huge Indiana Jones fan, it might be worth a look; something to play through on a rainy day. But it’s certainly not recommended at the current $30 price point and even though there’s nothing horribly wrong with this production, it's just…just…’yawn’
7/9/2009 Ben Dutka