The first big video game announcement of the year is… Indiana Jones?

Early January isn’t usually a good time for big announcements as folks are still getting back to work and school after Christmas and New Year. But 2021 is different with lockdowns and such, so perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise to see a new video game announcement!

Bethesda Softworks – the company behind The Elder Scrolls series which was recently acquired by Microsoft – has announced their latest project: a new Indiana Jones game. In addition to Bethesda and legendary producer Todd Howard on the publishing side, the game will be developed by MachineGames, the studio responsible for the recent Wolfenstein titles. Obviously there’s a lot that we don’t know at this stage about the project, which was announced with a cinematic teaser and little else, but any title featuring Indiana Jones has the potential to be fantastic.

Doesn’t it?

Despite being a successful film series (alright, three successful films and one crap one) Indiana Jones hasn’t been anywhere near as successful in the interactive medium. Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures back in the SNES days was the last time any game featuring the scrappy archaeologist could be considered a hit. There have been a couple of Lego games and a couple of original stories during the 1990s and 2000s, but although Indiana Jones has inspired some fantastic games and game franchises, it never really took off as a game series of its own.

Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures on the SNES.

The likes of Tomb Raider and Uncharted owe a lot to Indiana Jones, but those series have gone on to far outperform and eclipse their inspiration, at least in the gaming realm. Since the mid-1990s no Indiana Jones game has felt like anything other than an afterthought; a second-tier game picked up by some fans but soon afterwards found in bargain bins. What can Bethesda and MachineGames do to stand out and make sure their new project doesn’t suffer that ignominious fate?

Because it’s been a while since there was an Indiana Jones game, and with the films’ standing remaining high, there will be a lot of interest in this game whenever it’s ultimately released. In fact the reputation of the Indiana Jones films has only grown, such that some people even consider Kingdom of the Crystal Skull “watchable!” With a new film in the works too, it would be great to see the series end on a high note.

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was… interesting.

The new film may have been the catalyst for this game’s creation, but there’s no indication at this stage that it will be a direct adaptation. As I’ve said before, the days of the film tie-in seem to be long gone, and in some respects making this new game a tie-in would arguably reduce interest in it, such is the low regard for film adaptations in a general sense.

So what can we expect from this game? At this stage, very little is known. MachineGames’ previous titles have all been first-person shooters, so perhaps a first-person perspective could be on the agenda. But Indiana Jones films have always been more about adventure than guns-blazing action, so I wouldn’t expect a game using this setting to simply be a shooter.

If I had to guess, I think what I’d say is that the new game will draw inspiration from those very games that Indiana Jones inspired years ago: Tomb Raider, Uncharted, and the like. We’ll get a third-person action-adventure game with puzzles, mystery, and plenty of villains to outmanoeuvre and defeat. But I could be completely wrong on that – it could be a multiplayer-only kart racer for all we know at this stage!

Indiana Jones inspired the Uncharted series of video games.

Right now, the hype around this project is almost entirely built on name recognition. Both the Indiana Jones brand and the studio and publisher behind this title have reputations that are generally respected – although it’s not unfair to say that Bethesda has been through the mud recently, especially with Fallout 76. Nostalgia for the Indiana Jones films will certainly help drive sales, but as we’ve seen from some recent projects – including one that was also part of a franchise created by George Lucas – nostalgia alone isn’t good enough. Sometimes too much nostalgia can even do harm, taking away a potentially-interesting story’s own merit.

So Bethesda and MachineGames will need to tread carefully. Indiana Jones has never really proven itself a colossal money-making success in the video game realm, and while the generally good reputation of (three of) the films and the nostalgia many folks have for them will bring a degree of interest, the game will have to offer more than that. It will have to be… a good game.

Shock horror! A game will have to be good in order to sell? I’m afraid so. In fact, “good” won’t be good enough. Any game using nostalgia as a hook will have to go above and beyond in order to make good on players’ and fans’ lofty expectations. A redux of Uncharted but set in the ’30s with Harrison Ford replacing Nolan North will not cut it. We’re in a new generation now, and what this game needs is something different and next-gen to really push the boundaries of action-adventure titles, setting a new precedent for future titles to look to.

A glimpse of Indiana Jones’ hat, whip, and other accessories as seen in the new game’s teaser.

That seems like a high bar. But no one forced Bethesda and MachineGames to pick up the Indiana Jones license. If they wanted to create their own unique adventure game, perhaps an Uncharted knock-off would be seen as good enough. But there’s power in brands and names, and while Indiana Jones has arguably never been a franchise that truly made it to the pinnacle of cinema or geekdom in the way Star Wars did, for example, it still has a cadre of fans who won’t settle for anything less than a unique and exciting experience. There’s a lot to be excited about from this game – and a lot that could potentially go wrong or be disappointing.

There’s no information currently on when this as-yet-untitled Indiana Jones game may be released. I’d be surprised if it were this year; Bethesda has previously announced games years ahead of time, and the cinematic teaser we got didn’t show off anything close to gameplay, which is usually an indication that a game is early in its development. Perhaps 2022 or 2023 might be when we’ll see it.

I’m interested to learn more, and if this game seems like my cup of tea (i.e. not a massively-multiplayer thing) I daresay I’ll check it out when it’s available. If we get any significant news between now and then I may cover it, so be sure to check back from time to time.

Indiana Jones is the copyright of Disney and LucasFilm. MachineGames and Bethesda are owned by ZeniMax Media, which is in turn owned by Microsoft. Some screenshots above courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.