Written by Dan Gill
Writing retro reviews can be a funny old thing. As a writer you try to judge a game on its merits, on how it plays right now. In some cases there will obviously be some bias towards a title due to having played and enjoyed it in the past, no matter whether it was any good or not. For example, I quite enjoy Gremlin’s C64 version of platform/shoot-em-up Future Knight, despite the fact it isn’t a particularly well designed title (and received a critical panning and little commercial success upon release), and a close friend (who shall remain nameless) enjoys 3DO’s mostly awful Army Men titles. Still, despite all this we reviewers need to put our past selves away and play a game with fresh eyes. With that in mind, I take on one of Ron Gilbert’s early titles for Lucasfilm Games.
Readers of my somewhat sparse and sporadic past wordblurts will know how fondly I look upon LucasArts’ point-and-click library, of which I still feel the pinnacle is The Secret of Monkey Island, a game about which many words have already been written. The same can be said of Maniac Mansion, the debut of the SCUMM engine. However, poor old Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – The Graphic Adventure (a snappy little title if ever there was one), is often overlooked in favour of the aforementioned games, and its own sequel – the rather spiffy Fate of Atlantis. Despite being a movie tie-in, Crusade manages to avoid the early nineties trend of only being loosely affiliated with its source material and dressed up as a platform/shooter/beat-em-up (like Wayne’s World on the Game Boy for example). Well, The Graphic Adventure does anyway (an Action Game was also released. It wasn’t great)
The story follows the plot of the film where Dr Jones is on the search for the Holy Grail, all the while dodging troublesome Nazis, reuniting with his father and bumping into Hitler. The game looks pretty good for a title from 1989, losing the giant heads of Maniac Mansion and Zak McKracke and recreating the environments from the film in 16 glorious colours (although I played the CD ROM re-release which uses an eye-melting 256 colours). Given the limitations of the time, the team did an impressive job of creating the locales. From the university to the library, the backdrop to Indy’s search looks much nicer than anything being produced by Sierra at the time.
Of course, such things are moot should the game not play well. Thankfully, Crusade retains the humour of its predecessors while tightening up the adventuring a little. A point system is introduced (the Indy Quotient), which scores you on how you overcome obstacles with some puzzles having multiple solutions that affect the score you receive. This is quite novel for a LucasArts title and adds a bit more replay value. On the whole, puzzles are fairly logical and manage to keep the player thinking without being too obtuse.
The one aspect of the game I’m not particularly keen on is the awkward fighting system. Using (ideally) the numpad on the keyboard allows Indy a variety of blocks and punches with which to take on opponents. My trouble with this was that it deviated from the adventure gaming I was used to and seemed awfully fiddly and random. On a couple of occasions fights ended up with me loading an older save to replay an entire section in order to attempt to retain health, or to avoid the fight completely. Since this is an earlier SCUMM game it is possible to lose/die and after being downed by a single punch over and over I lost my patience and had to leave the game for a while. Perhaps this is more a sign of how games have coddled me in recent years, or maybe indicative of how adventure game design has improved over time, be it Monkey Island’s insult sword fighting or The Walking Dead’s QTEs. Either way, this is my only real gripe and it didn’t sully my experience too much. It did also teach me to man up and get on with it; another trait required of retro reviewers.
So, is Crusade worth playing? If you’re a fan of point-and-click adventures, absolutely. It’s a game from a time that Lucasfilm was at a turning point, where they would lose the cul-de-sac trappings of adventure game design for future titles (at least for the most part), and one that shows the great writing and design the company later became renowned for. Sure, Crusade would be improved upon by its stablemates, but it’s still worth revisiting. And I say that on viewing it with a fresh pair of eyes rather than through the warm, fuzzy fondness often observed through the Retroscope™. Should you choose to play this, be safe in the knowledge you’ve chosen wisely.