So, Indiana Jones and the Great Circle is a first-person game. This has come as a bit of a surprise to some people, who likely were expecting a third-person perspective thanks to not just the Great Circle’s movie roots but also Indiana Jones’ influence on the video game industry. But do you really want another Uncharted game where the only significant difference is that your sarcastic hero now wears a hat? After six Uncharted games, a reboot trilogy of Tomb Raiders, and uncountable third-person adventures going back to the dawn of the medium, I think developer MachineGames has made a wise move in making Indiana Jones first-person.
MachineGames’ DNA is coded in first-person. Most of its 15-year existence has been spent working on the critically-acclaimed Wolfenstein FPS games. And before that the developer’s founders worked at Starbreeze Studios, which also had great success with first-person games The Darkness and The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay.
But as game director Jerk Gustafsson explained to Lucasfilm, the decision to make Indiana Jones and the Great Circle as a first-person game comes from more than just relying on studio tradition: “It also separates our game from many other action-adventure titles, making it a unique experience that you cannot find anywhere else.” And, at least on the surface, that’s true – have you played anything in the last few years that looks like what was shown at Xbox’s Developer Direct?
The perspective ensures that Indiana Jones and the Great Circle isn’t just an Uncharted clone. First-person games operate in very different ways to those in third-person. It’s not just that there’s a different vibe; the camera position affects level, encounter, and puzzle design. It can provide a more claustrophobic feel than a zoomed-out, third-person camera, which is perfect for those tight and winding tombs that Indy constantly finds himself in. And, as demonstrated by games such as Portal and The Talos Principle, first-person puzzling is a unique experience – often through its use of the perspective and its relative controls, and always in its feel. We can already see that in the trailer’s single shot of Indy slotting a wheel into an ancient mechanism – the perspective really forges a sense of direct connection to the puzzle’s solution.
That immersive closeness is clearly being used to great effect across the project. There’s a real sense of being anchored to the world in the shot where Indy brushes away overgrowth to reveal a mysterious pattern engraved in a wall, and when he strikes up his lighter to illuminate skulls in a catacomb. And, of course, the up-close-and-personal effect really looks like it will come into its own when punching Nazis – as Wolfenstein proved, there’s nothing quite like seeing the lights in a Fascist’s eyes fade away just inches from your face.
For me, though, the trailer’s most striking image is that of Indy sliding his hand into a dark, narrow void – only for a tarantula to crawl out from the shadow and up his arm. It’s a sequence that reflects a similar skin-crawling scene from The Temple of Doom. But when seen from first-person, the moment is even more unsettling. The perspective really does half-convince your brain that this digital hand is your hand.
Indiana Jones and the Great Circle – First-Person Screenshots
But what can we expect from Indiana Jones and the Great Circle’s perspective beyond just the immersion that it brings? The trailer hints at some exciting things and there’s a lot of Wolfenstein here. The dig site shown at the trailer’s mid-point features a labyrinth of elevated walkways and stairs, and acts as a rustic reflection of Wolfenstein’s industrial Nazi bases. Similar to B.J. Blazkowicz, it appears that Indy will be able to use stealth to get the drop on Hitler’s gangs – in the trailer we see an archaeology tool being flung at an unaware soldier, and in the Developer Direct we were shown how Indy’s whip can be used to distract and confuse foes. This level and encounter design is also reminiscent of MachineGames’ more distant past too, with echoes of Escape from Butcher Bay.
We can see more of Starbreeze Studios in Indy’s whip too. Gustafsson worked on The Darkness, in which players used supernatural tentacles to flick enemies into the air and tear them apart. This was all done from the first-person perspective, which not only provided a very immediate and visceral thrill to the violence but also both looked and played unlike anything else back in 2007. Whips are not an easy thing to convincingly animate from this perspective, which may explain why we’ve rarely seen one in a FPS since. But from the many, many whip-cracks shown in the trailer, I think MachineGames’ wants to shout loud and clear that The Darkness’ tentacles are back and better than ever.
Finally, there’s solid evidence of MachineGames’ cinematic flair here too. One of the trailer’s most memorable moments is Indy leaping from one flying plane to another. Wolfenstein provided these Call of Duty-like (and, of course, Uncharted-like) moments in spades, and so we know that sense of excitement and adventure is practically guaranteed. While these big action set-pieces are a staple of the action-adventure genre, there will be something particularly white-knuckle about seeing them all through Indy’s eyes, watching your own finger-tips barely hold on…
Of course, MachineGames recognises that Indiana’s silhouette is important and so the camera will occasionally pull back into third-person for activities such as climbing and zip-lining. It will be in the cutscenes, though, that we get our best look at the studio’s handsomely-detailed digital Harrison Ford. And to look back once again to Wolfenstein, the shooter series really demonstrated that MachineGames’ is among the best in the business when it comes to storytelling through cinematics. The visual and directorial flair in The New Colossus is particularly notable and so I think we’ll still be seeing plenty of Indy’s face.
There’s another upshot to the limited use of third-person, too – a near-zero chance the Great Circle will be plagued by microtransaction skin sales. I don’t expect an in-game store to be selling The Last Crusade bundle with Henry Jones Sr.’s hat as a bonus.
An increasingly loud community opinion and a slowly decreasing number of first-person games suggests that the perspective has fallen out of favour in the AAA space, especially when it comes to narrative games. It used to be considered the gold standard for immersion, in part thanks to the groundbreaking advances made by Half-Life and Deus Ex, and the qualities those games emphasised remain true of first-person today. The value is still there, even if many people prefer the more traditionally cinematic lens of a third-person camera. It’s fantastic, then, to see MachineGames continuing to wave its first-person flag in a genre that has become so entrenched in a very specific, Sony-like viewpoint.
MachineGames is a studio responsible for some of the best FPS games of the modern age, staffed by veteran developers who have experimented with the perspective in games that are much more than just meathead shooters. It will be an absolute treat to see them blend the genre tenets of action-adventure with the strengths of first-person games. If nothing else, we can be confident that Indiana Jones and the Great Circle won’t be the Uncharted replica that so many expected by default.
Matt Purslow is IGN’s UK News and Features Editor.