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Back in the day, was there a man on the planet who could make getting his ass kicked look better than Harrison Ford? Much ink has been spilled about the man’s undeniable Star Wars era-swagger, but the key to his most iconic performances came from a different direction: That hint, always hiding around the eyes, that Han Solo or Indiana Jones know exactly how full of shit their shows of heroic bravado really were.
I’ve been thinking about Indy a lot lately, ever since news broke earlier this week that Machine Games was making a new game about everyone’s favorite fedora-toting Mutt Dad. It’s a bit of an odd fit: Machine is largely known, at this point, for 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order and 2017’s Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, games I love dearly, but which share little with Dr. Jones’ whole ethos or aesthetic beyond a shared devotion to kicking Nazi ass.
More to the point, both of Machines’ previous games have a certain determined self-seriousness to them, even when they’re trafficking in objectively and intentionally silly plot points—like, say, B.J. Blazkowicz’s hyper-over-the-top survival of his own decapitation in The New Colossus. I have faith in the developer—seriously, if you skipped either of their earlier games, you really should go back and check them out—but that dedicated unwillingness to wink feels somewhat out of touch with Indy at his best. That’s to say nothing of the games’ eventual embrace of full-on power fantasy: B.J. beats the Nazis by gunning them down with unstoppable force, in contrast to Indy, who wins by taking the punch, rolling with it, and making do with wherever he lands.
In fact, there’s really only a handful of Indiana Jones games—out of the twenty-and-change that have been made over the years, from straight film adaptations to rampant Lego silliness—that have grasped the inherent comic doofiness of Henry Jones Jr. And none have done it better than 1992’s Indiana Jones And The Fate Of Atlantis. Created by Hal Barwood and Noah Falstein for LucasArts way, way back in the day, the game has been praised for decades now for its writing, its inventive branching storyline (based on whether Indy makes progress by punching people, solving puzzles, or teaming up with a partner), and especially for its humor. And nowhere is that latter element clearer than in the game’s opening sequence (viewable above), a segment that reminds players that, for all Ford’s success as an action hero, it was Indy’s slapstick skills that helped make him into a star.
It’s in the nature of video games to prize success and “coolness” over comedic incompetence. (And god knows it can be difficult to make hardcore archaeology exciting.) But Fate sets its scene by telling you, in no uncertain terms, that this is a man who makes progress less through unbridled victory than by repeatedly falling on his ass. (It’s not for nothing that the central moment of Raiders Of The Lost Ark’s first big setpiece is Indy failing to properly swipe that statue, right?) Failing forward is a powerful topic in game design of late, especially in tabletop realms. But it’s one that that digital games sometimes have trouble embracing. That’s what Indiana Jones does best, though, the patron saint of “Fuck it, let’s just shoot the guy.” Here’s hoping that some of that energy finds its way into this new Indy game. Few heroes in all of fiction are better at taking the punch.