Thank god Indiana Jones and the Great Circle is first-person

MachineGames is doing what MachineGames does best.

janeiro 18, 2024 - 23:00
Thank god Indiana Jones and the Great Circle is first-person

As videogame marketing clichés go, there may be only one line more overused than "See that mountain? You can go there," and MachineGames just trotted it out to pitch its new Indiana Jones game, The Great Circle. "In this game, you aren't just playing as Indy. You are Indiana Jones," says director Jerk Gustafsson.

No matter how good Indiana Jones and the Great Circle is—and I do think it'll be good!—I can't imagine truly feeling like I'm Indiana Jones. In real life I'd constantly be self-conscious about looking dumb in the hat. There's no way I could hit anything with a whip. My fists don't make that deep Foley pow when I punch things. But Indiana Jones has never aimed for relatability, anyway; the bombastic films were loving riffs on even hokier pulp serials and dimestore novels of the 1930s and '40s. What Gustafsson is actually trying to do with that cliché, though, is justify a design decision that's apparently taken a lot of players by surprise with today's reveal: Indiana Jones and the Great Circle is a first-person game.

The reveal keeps coming back to this point again and again, playing marketing madlibs with the same message. "Our game is all about putting you in Indy's shoes, letting you see and feel what he sees and feels," says senior narrative designer Edward Curtis-Sivess. "For us at MachineGames, we do that best through first-person. It's the ideal perspective to bring you into the rich, exciting interactive world we've built. We believe that being up close and personal to the adventure is key, making each action feel like your own." Bethesda even played up the line in a tweet.

The first-person camera has immediately become the thing most people are talking about post-reveal. Check the Twitter comments, the r/games thread, the 24 pages and counting of debate on Resetera. Some people are disappointed, some immediately declare they won't be playing, and others offer the counterpoint that if you won't play a first-person game your brain's been poisoned by too many Sony exclusives. It's the most up-in-arms gamers have gotten about a camera since CD Projekt revealed Cyberpunk 2077 was a first-person shooter in 2018.

Despite not buying into the whole "be Indiana Jones" hype, I'm thrilled to see MachineGames following up its two Wolfensteins with another first-person game. Curtis-Sivess wasn't wrong when he said it's what the studio does best. 

Well, specifically what MachineGames does best is let you kill Nazis in first-person, a specialty that The Great Circle absolutely seems to be carrying forward. Yeah, you could go into some third-person wrestling animation and sock these guys in the face with Indy's iron fist, but then you wouldn't get to see these facial expressions: 

View post on imgur.com"

You wouldn't get to do any first-person whipping, either, which has the potential to be The Great Circle's best gimmick. After watching this trailer I started thinking about first-person adventure games—anything similar to the globe-trotting, puzzle solving, sneaking, and shooting Indy gets up to in his movies—and came up with surprisingly little. Arkane's Dishonored and Deathloop sort of fit the bill. Resident Evil 8, kinda sorta. Metroid Prime, despite being sci-fi, nails the sense of exploration (and heck, there's probably a crystal skull in there somewhere). There are other RPGs and immersive sims that put you in first-person without totally focusing on shooting, but none that feel particularly Indiana Jonesy.

On the flip side, I won't belabor the obvious point about Uncharted and Tomb Raider. But there are about 20 third-person irresponsible archeologist adventures between them—it really does feel like well-trod ground. Uncharted 4, especially, which I'm happy is playable on PC, replicates Indy's world weariness and gives Nathan Drake a grappling hook that might as well be a whip. He even uses it to grab onto a truck and gets dragged along in the mud behind it at one point.

A great Indiana Jones game shouldn't be afraid to exist in third-person just because two series blatantly inspired by Indiana Jones have been there and done that. But I think we've seen in the past that the best licensed games tend to truly excel when they adapt the source material to the developer's strengths, not the other way around. Starbreeze made a Riddick game better than any of Vin Diesel's Riddick movies by turning it into a first-person shooter-adventure, then did the same thing with comic book The Darkness. South Park wasn't an obvious candidate for an RPG, but Obsidian nailed it with The Stick of Truth. One of our favorite games of 2022, Marvel's Midnight Suns, is an odd combination of strategy and relationship sim, yet Firaxis's strategy chops made it work.

Here MachineGames seems to be tackling Indiana Jones in exactly the same way it reinvigorated Wolfenstein: emphasizing the tactile feel of action in gunplay in first-person, while still pulling the camera back to third-person for detailed cutscenes. Cutscenes were the big surprise in Wolfenstein: The New Order—they brought comedy and existential angst and even quiet tenderness to a game otherwise defined by big guns blowing craters in Nazi skulls. Remember that train scene, where BJ first experiences the first-day-in-the-office shame of spilling coffee from the espresso machine, then has to pass a random Nazi's sick psych exam?

I'd trust anyone who wrote that scene to find a good balance of comic and serious in an Indiana Jones game.

In The Great Circle, though, I think it might actually be the first-person action, not the cutscenes, that prove to be the big surprise. How will a studio that's proven so adept at shooters make it just as fun to whip and punch baddies, and explore ruins in search of ancient secrets? I think there are some clues in the trailer. There's the old-fashioned way Nazis put up their dukes for a fistfight; Nazis' hats flying off when you sock them in the face; holding up a lighter to examine a stone shelf covered in thick cobwebs. I've solved enough put-the-gear-in-the-right-spot puzzles to last a lifetime, yet I do kind of love the up-close first-person animation of Indy slotting it in, rather than the zoomed out perspective I got from the same moment in Tomb Raider 25 years ago.

The whip is the real wild card here. I'm really curious to see how much control The Great Circle gives us of Indy's default weapon, and whether it quickly feels locked into a few repeated animations or as flexible as a whip truly should. Done right, it has the potential to feel distinct from anything MachineGames has done before and from the grappling hooks in Tomb Raider or Uncharted. That first-person animation and aiming just hits different from the more abstracted experience of a character that takes up a quarter of your screen doing the same animation.

(Image credit: Bethesda Softworks)

I guess what I'm saying is that at least with this specific aspect of being Indiana Jones, I really do want to spend a day in his boots. (And if anyone from Konami happens to be reading: first-person whip-focused Castlevania is still ripe for the making.)

MachineGames hasn't committed to the first-person perspective as hard as CD Projekt Red did with Cyberpunk 2077—fans disappointed they can't constantly be looking at Indy's hat and leather jacket will still see plenty of both in cutscenes and contextual moments where the camera zooms out for climbing animations and so on. But it's a good sign that MachineGames is less obsessed with that iconography than it is making a game that emphasizes environments with multiple paths, stealthing through enemy patrols, and Indy's on-the-spot resourcefulness.

For everyone who's sour on the reveal, well, I have it on good authority that Indiana Jones in the Emperor's Tomb is exactly what you want, and it's a whole $6 on Steam

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