Based upon the most compelling story of the Indiana Jones movie trilogy, Last Crusade represents a key stage in the evolution of the graphic adventure. The game faithfully retells the story of Jones’s race against the forces of evil to recover the legendary Holy Grail, while fleshing out the original movie plot with arcade sequences, original dialogue and inventory-based challenges.
The story begins with Jones receiving his father’s Grail Diary, an immensely detailed work containing the information needed to find a chalice with the power to grant eternal life. Informed of his father’s mysterious disappearance, Indy begins a quest that will lead to the exploration of ancient catacombs, a daring rescue attempt and a climactic dénouement at the Grail Temple. In the course of his globe-trotting adventure, Indy encounters a range of characters, from the bumbling Marcus Broody to femme fatale Elsa Schneider, and even Adolf Hitler. All in a day’s work for the world’s most famous archaeologist!
This offering from 1989 features an early version of the classic SCUMM third-person interface, that straddles a point in development between the cluttered interface of Maniac Mansion, and its more streamlined successor in The Secret of Monkey Island. Despite being in some aspects archaic, with limited character interaction and the now defunct “What Is” verb (later blessedly replaced by hotspots) it is important to view the game contextually. In this sense, Last Crusade is innovative, pioneering the use of dialogue trees to overcome Nazi guards instead of wholly unavoidable action sequences. It also breaks new ground in the use of different interfaces within the game, including the somewhat uninspiring fist fights, but also an excellent bi-plane flight sequence, true to the film.
Due to the time of production, the musical score is understandably restricted, no doubt further hindered by the fact that I could only coax my dated machine to play internal speaker sound. Obviously context is all, but today hearing the Raiders of the Lost Ark theme bleated in cellphone-esque fashion is more likely to excite hilarity than impress. On par with the irritating quality of those early mobile phone ringtones, it is fortunate that the majority of the game is mercifully silent. Those attempting to play Indiana Jones on a newer machine are advised to use SCUMMVM, the wonders of which improve the soundtrack to a tolerable quality. But what is tolerable remains a long way from what is pleasurable.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is surprisingly strong graphically, with 256-colour VGA graphics and 2D environments that have aged far better than the rest of the game. The Grail Temple and Venetian catacombs are particularly detailed, rendered in a similar style to the LucasArts fantasy adventure game Loom. One of the best features of the game is the attention to detail. On re-watching the movie, I was genuinely astounded at the faithful recreation of film locations, especially Henry Jones Sr.’s house and Barnett College. This represents a concerted effort to immerse the gamer in the heart of the movie, despite evident technological limits.
Puzzles vary in difficulty, although as in Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, their true appeal comes from the different ways in which problems can be tackled. The more original and difficult the solution to a problem, the more IQ, or “Indy Quotient” points are scored. This lends a degree of re-playability to an otherwise linear game. In fact there are many solid hours of gameplay, although this is due more to the difficult action sequences than thought-provoking puzzles. Sometimes puzzle solutions involve playing as multiple characters, switching between Indy and Henry Jones Sr. Even a music-based challenge makes an appearance. Unfortunately, there are more eye-watering pixel hunts than strictly desirable, for objects you have no idea are needed. Produced before the innovation of hotspots, gamers can look forward to several tedious interludes of selecting the “What Is” verb and dragging the cursor at an excruciating pace back and forth across the screen to discover interactive areas. When coupled with long and incredibly tedious maze sequences, gameplay suffers irretrievably.
As might be expected in an Indiana Jones adventure, action scenes are inevitable. Unfortunately, no effort is made to make the inevitable inviting, with sequences about as exciting as thermal underwear. Nazi enemies are extremely difficult to thwart and the rudimentary block and punch functions will leave most smashing their keyboards in frustration. The fact that losing these fights brings Indy’s quest to an abrupt and automatic end is the final insult, with the only glimmer of hope the fact that some action sequences can be avoided by selecting the correct dialogue options. The game lacks the cheerful optimism of the film, where Jones can confront the most impossible situations and escape unscathed. Instead here you can and will die frequently, contrary to the philosophy of most LucasArts games.
Despite its faults, the game does have certain quirks and intricacies that are endearing. Some of the dialogue comes directly from the movie, including the famous closing sequence where the origin of Indy’s name is revealed. Furthermore the game adds LucasArts’ unique sense of humour to the Indy franchise, including a “censored” sign when Jones’ changes his outfit. The dialogue is frequently entertaining: when the Grail Temple is destroyed, the Knight left to protect it ruefully comments “I’ll be picking up this place for years.” Undoubtedly my very favourite part of the game is the inclusion of a 63-page Grail Diary, complete with authentic tea-staining, illustrations and newspaper clippings intended to aid your search for the Grail in conjunction with clues that are scattered throughout the game. (Note: This is included with the original game only, not the later budget re-release)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a franchise game that for a number of reasons fails to hit the mark. It would be unfair to compare the internal speaker sound and dated interface to that of today’s adventures. However, even when considered in the context of its release, gameplay is sorely lacking. Mazes, pixel-hunts and those horrendous action sequences mar this exploit, with its greatest strength being its identity as the forerunner of the brilliant afore-mentioned Fate of Atlantis. Standing alone, it is one best left to Indy fans and die-hard adventure enthusiasts.