Review: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (PS2)

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Eurocom
Publisher: Sierra
Release Date: 07/22/08

So here’s a story we’ve heard a million times or more: a publisher manages to get their hands on a license of some degree of value, turns it over to a developer of variable talent, then sticks the results out into the market for the general public to latch onto like a cannibal on Jorge Garcia. Generally speaking, this has been happening for longer than some of you out there have been alive, and will probably continue long past the point when all of us are dead, simply because licensed properties make money, no matter how the end products turn out.

In any case, Sierra are no strangers to publishing licensed games; prior to their recent absorption into the Activision-Blizzard fold, they had published more than a few licensed titles of mild interest and questionable quality, inclusive of but not limited to The Hobbit, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, in addition to re-releasing their various successful adventure games from the 80’s-90’s and a bunch of mascot-based platformers. As it happens, however, Eurocom are no strangers to developing said licensed titles, as with the exception of Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy and Spyro: A Hero’s Tail, that’s all they’ve done for the past eight years.

In case you were curious, most of those games were not very good. In case you were further curious, neither is The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

So, as you might expect, the story more or less attempts to follow the plot of the movie, IE evil Chinese Emperor is brought back to live, and the O’Connell clan pretty much has to put a stop to him, along with the help of some magical allies who pledged a long time ago to keep him locked away in the first place. So, y’know, it’s the first movie all over again. The plot of the game as it is more or less attempts to explain the plot of the film as simplistically as possible so that you’re aware of what goes on in the film, but not to the extent that you wouldn’t go and see the film after having played the game, and in this regard it’s vaguely successful. That said, most of the plot is delivered by way of painted images instead of cutscenes (with the painted images being painted over scenes from the film, by all indications) and a narrator explaining the core events, with the end result being rather boring and bland. The game never bothers to really tell you anything, either, meaning that you have to infer that the ninja who attacks Alex O’Connell in the first chapter of the game is actually Lin, the girl he falls for later, for instance, which all basically makes the experience a disjointed mess of large proportions.

Visually, TM:TotDE is serviceable at the best of times and ugly at the worst. The graphics are generally tolerable in most respects, in that you can see where you are and where you’re going, but the character models are generally unattractive, not especially well animated, and not particularly lively in any way, shape, or form. The game doesn’t have any sort of visual style or flair to it, either, as most of the stages look like lower resolution versions of Tomb Raider locales and the special effects lack any sort of flair to them, even as a PS2 title. On the plus side, the starring characters look like who they’re supposed to look like, at least, but that’s about the best that can be said all in all. Aurally, the game isn’t too much better; the music has a decidedly Asian flair to it and manages to be acceptable without being anything stellar, and the sound effects are your typical fair, IE punchy-kicky with some gunfire and crumbling environmental effects here and there, and they tend to work well enough, but OH MY GOD THE VOICES. Now, here’s the thing: the cast of the film, by all indications, seems to have reprised their roles from the film in the game, save for one or two such as Jet Li (not that I could tell the difference as he talks all of twice in the game anyway), and insofar as that goes, this is a good thing. That said, the only one out of the lot of them who actually seems to care about doing this is John Hannah, as his voice acting is as amusing as one could expect, while the voice work of Brendan Fraser is, frankly, mostly boring until about the last chapter, and the voice work of Luke Ford is entirely dull as dishwater and bland across the board. There’s also this thing the game likes to do where characters will shout out words of encouragement every ten seconds, which becomes tiresome the eight millionth time you’ve heard “Jump over the shockwave!” in the most shrill voice your brain can begin to imagine, especially when you have to go through this sort of thing through the entire game.

The gameplay in TM:TotDE is basically the gameplay of the last few Tomb Raider games, only with some rudimentary puzzle-solving and melee combat added and all of the fun violently removed. The first stage of the game helpfully acts as a tutorial of the gameplay elements so as to allow you to become acclimated to them in case you’ve never played a game like this before, but if you have, the good news is that the game kinda-sorta plays like you’d expect. You control Rick or Alex O’Connell (depending on the stage) with the left analog stick, the face buttons act as your jump, melee and grapple attacks, the right triggers fire and reload your weapons, and L1 locks onto enemies. It’s all pretty standard and easy to work with, by and large, and you should be able to get the hang of it simply enough. The D-pad is used to select your weapon of choice, between pistols, shotguns, machine guns and grenades to work with, and they all generally work as they should, by and large.

Most of the game is spent either performing various Tomb Raider style jumping puzzles or fighting enemies, with the former being the usual “jump from one overhang to the next to get over pits and such while dodging traps and, if applicable, racing against the clock”, while the latter is generally beating up gangs of thugs either with your fists or your guns, as deemed appropriate. There are a few instances where you’re provided infinite-shot guns to kill large swarms of enemies, and one section where you’ll be playing as a yeti, but otherwise, the above two gameplay styles make up the brunt of the gameplay. You’ll also occasionally have to solve some sort of puzzle by way of manipulating the left and right analog sticks, and this is one of the better mechanics in the game, as you’ll have to push and pull the sticks in the right directions to solve the various puzzles, several of which are kind of interesting, if not particularly original. These often pop up a few times a stage, but never pop up so often as to be annoying or unwelcome, and overall, work well. You’re also provided a life meter for your various combat sequences, which slowly regenerates as you’re not taking damage, allowing you to regain health by running from enemies and taking a breather if battles get too hairy, and allowing you to replenish health between fights with little difficulty.

The game features six chapters, which you should be able to go through in about five or six hours, give or take, and each stage features unlockable upgrades and such based in five separate categories: Stage Completion (IE beating the chapter), Hidden Statues (of which there are usually four per level, though some are significantly less hidden than others), Melee Kills, Throw Kills, and Gun Kills. You’re offered the option to do stages over to unlock missed unlockables, if you like, with the unlockables generally amounting to weaponry upgrades for your grenades, shotguns, pistols, and machine guns, and concept art, which is unlocked by beating the stage every time. There are also cheats that can be unlocked, though the only ones I located seemed to be related to infinite ammunition for your basic weaponry, there are presumably others of various sorts available, and finding and unlocking them offers the potential to bring you back a few times if you’re interested.

Which, unfortunately, you most likely won’t be, as the game is simultaneously uninteresting and, in several cases, borderline unplayable; though it is entirely possible to complete the game, thanks to many of the design elements in the game, most players won’t be bothered even wanting to do so. Now, here’s the thing: when a game is “short”, developers often try and find ways to pad the experience out a bit, to artificially extent the lifespan of the product, IE fetch quests, level repetition, and in the case of TM:TotDE, fake difficulty. We’ve all seen fake difficulty; bad camera angles for jumping puzzles, arbitrary success mechanics for missions, rubber-band AI, you know the drill, but TM:TotDE is one singularly amazing example of bad design elements, poorly implemented ideas and fake difficulty stirred together into a product that one cannot even BEGIN to comprehend how it was green-lighted for publication.

For example:

– Not allowing the player to control the camera with the right stick in situations where such control would be preferable (combat, jumping puzzles) is generally objectionable.
– In contrast, forcing right analog stick camera control on the player, with no warning, during stationary shooting sequences (which is about the worst possible time for such control, as it often means you’re leaving part of your range of fire out of your line of sight) is both jarring and doubly objectionable because it broaches the question “Why am I allowed to use the right stick to move the camera NOW, but not otherwise?”
– The unfunctional lock-on mechanics either find you locking on to targets that are less important than the ones you’re trying to aim at or find you incapable of locking onto a target in your range of view at all for some mystifying reason.
– Coupling the above with numerous enemies firing at you from a distance, leaving you madly fighting to lock onto the enemy most likely to kill you at any given time, makes most firefights an exercise in frustration.
– Boss fights where the difficulty comes from the length of the battle; the patterns are easy to recognize, but the boss requires an obscene amount of damage to be dealt to kill it, making simple battles take close to half an hour (the boss of the fifth chapter is an especially abhorrent example of this thing).
– Requiring split-second timing for jumping puzzles when the control mechanics make such timing nigh impossible.
– The complete inability to save mid-mission, meaning that chapters must be completed in their entirety or started over, no exceptions.
– Generally speaking, the human body such as it is would, when propelled in a direction, would not be able to have its momentum interrupted by, say, a single arrow shot through the air at said body. The Mummy seems to believe otherwise, such that the impact of an arrow will immediately stop your forward progress, no matter the direction it hits you from.
– Making the player character flinch when taking damage (repeatedly, when taking damage from machine guns and such) to the point where it can become impossible to fire back on an enemy, but not holding the enemy to the same standard (especially against grenade throwing enemies, which is the source of much frustration during the third level).
– Presenting some mounted shooting sections with a lifebar, allowing multiple hits before dying, but placing others into “one hit and you’re dead” rules.

And this then does not take into account the unbalanced difficulty, where the boss of the fifth chapter is hideously overpowered in comparison to the final boss, or where the jumping puzzles in the first chapter are excessively difficult, especially in comparison to the jumping puzzles in, oh, almost the rest of the entire game. It also doesn’t take into account the collision detection issues, like when trying to make a jump you can become stuck on a part of the level you aren’t SUPPOSED to get stuck on and fall to your death. It doesn’t take into account the fact that with the exception of the left and right stick puzzle solving, absolutely nothing in this game feels in any way fresh or different at all. It doesn’t take into account the fact that the game feels particularly lazy (like in the second chapter when the game provides a brief explanation of the results of a car chase, instead of, say, letting the player actually play the car chase itself). And, perhaps worst of all, it doesn’t take into account the fact that the game just isn’t very fun; it’s the same two types of gameplay, over and over again, with no creativity or imagination attached to them, strewn across six chapters that, were it not for the control problems, technological flaws and fake difficulty that ooze from every metaphorical pore of the experience, could probably be completed in about three hours or so.

The bottom line is that The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor can be summed up neatly in five words: “This game is real bad”. The characters look like who they’re supposed to look like, the music is decent, and you can, given enough time, complete the game if you are so inclined, but who would be? Most everything in the game is either bland, broken, or generally uninspired, the core game is short and the artificial lengthening of the experience is done in the most annoying and offensive of ways, the story is generic and dull, and the whole thing feels like a poor man’s version of a poor man’s version of a poor man’s version of Tomb Raider. Even the most hardcore fan of the film will most likely find little to like about the game, and unless you actively enjoy making yourself suffer, you’re best off finding something else to play than this.

The Scores:
Story: BAD
Graphics: MEDIOCRE
Control/Gameplay: MEDIOCRE
Replayability: DREADFUL
Balance: BAD
Originality: DREADFUL
Addictiveness: WORTHLESS
Miscellaneous: WORTHLESS

Final Score: BAD.

Short Attention Span Summary:
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is generally a game where the positive is very little and the negative is very much. On the upside, the main characters look like they are supposed to, the music is okay, the game is playable and can, eventually, be beaten, and there are a few cute puzzles throughout the game. On the downside, everything else is bad; the story is boring and miniscule, the rest of the graphics are flat and dull, the voice acting is lifeless in all but a few cases, the game isn’t FRIENDLY to play in the least, the experience is lifeless and uninteresting, and the only reason the game can’t be beaten in one or two sittings is because of the flawed design elements and fake difficulty. The money that could be spent on this, either as a rental or to buy it, could easily be spent on the film instead, and you’d probably have a better time with that instead. Someone, somewhere, will probably enjoy this, but for most folks, this is a game that will do nothing for you on any level, and should be avoided.



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