When Indiana Jones and the Great Circle got its gameplay reveal at the Xbox Developer Direct showcase on January 18, audiences were surprised to see the action directly through Indy’s eyes. Since we've grown accustomed to the perspective of a camera bobbing just behind his left shoulder in adventure games, a first-person perspective comes as a bit of a shock.
The Uncharted, Assassin’s Creed, Tomb Raider, and Horizon series are perfect examples of titles that have all helped create this expectation that action-adventure games must use the third-person camera. Granted, the likes of Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora and Far Cry 6 still use a first-person perspective, but they are very much the exception rather than the rule. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, Alan Wake 2, and the Resident Evil 4 remake all use third-person cameras too. It's a prolific approach, making departures stand out by comparison.
However, scratch the surface and it’s clear that developer MachineGames’ pedigree of excellent first-person games as well as Indiana Jones’ chaotic and rough-and-tumble themes make the upcoming title perfect for this more traditional technique. The developer's previous titles have all made masterful use of the first-person view, not only to make the action feel more impactful and direct but also to heighten drama and storytelling. As The Great Circle's director Jerk Gustafsson put it in an interview on the Lucasfilm website, “First-person gameplay is part of MachineGames’ DNA, and we wanted to see how we could use this to create an immersive experience.”
Before Indiana Jones and the Great Circle, MachineGames brought us a reboot of the Wolfenstein series of iconic Nazi-killing first-person shooters. These titles were renowned not only for delivering the satisfying and brutal combat for which the Wolfenstein name is known but also for delivering a harrowing and meaningful look at a Nazi dystopia through the lens of a host of well-realized characters. All of this was made more intense though use of the first-person view, which forced players to confront the horror and discomfort of the setting through the eyes of someone living in it.
Neither Wolfenstein: The New Order nor Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus offer dialogue options or drawn-out cutscenes you might expect from role-playing games like Baldur’s Gate 3. However, their gripping stories are offered more intimately by the first-person camera - a sense that would be lost from a different perspective.
Spoilers ahead for Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus
In one particularly powerful scene, protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz must infiltrate a Nazi base on Venus by posing as an actor for a film that is to be produced by Adolf Hitler. From Blazkowicz’s perspective, we see the genocidal tyrant in all his horror. Onlookers are terrified by Hitler’s every move with constant mood swings and his fraying grip on sanity keeping you on the edge of your seat.
Seeing this scene directly from the perspective of someone there adds a powerful closeness to the scene. There’s no bobbing camera to separate us from the deeply upsetting and emotionally resonant event that’s unfolding in front of us. This technique is an important part of the MachineGames' toolkit and is a large part of how the studio was able to elevate the Wolfenstein series from a fun collection of action games to stirring works of dystopian fiction. This is why it’s the right move for the Great Circle. Experiencing intimate and emotional moments from Indy's prespective will connect us with the action and story in new ways.
Behind the eyes
While Indiana Jones and the Great Circle will likely be very different from the Wolfenstein series when it comes to the overall tone, Indy's adventures are no stranger to dark, scary, or twisted moments. Who could forget the literal face melting that took place in Raiders of the Lost Ark, or the infamous monkey brains scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom?
So while Indiana Jones may be a pulpy action-adventure, it also has incredibly gritty moments to break up the action. Director Jerk Gustafsson was keen to stress that our whip-toting protagonist is “not a superhero [...] When you overcome the numerous obstacles in your way, it takes a lot of effort and hard work.
“Combat should feel grounded and heavy,” he continued, “with a lot of focus on hand-to-hand fighting.” Combat in a first-person perspective feels raw and personal like the enemies aren’t just trying to pummel the main character, but they’re also trying to pummel you.
It’s certainly possible to create compelling hand-to-hand combat in third-person, but, by having us view combats through Indy’s eyes, the Great Circle will be able to get across that idea of ‘hard work’ more effectively and intimately. Enemies will seem far larger and harder to take down, keeping players on the edge of their seats. The towering Nazi goon we see for a split-second in the trailer at the 2:20 mark seems all the more threatening from a first-person point of view, as is Indy’s punch-up with a soldier afterward. It feels far more brutal and raw than it would if we were watching from a distance.
Combat aside, exploration will also be revved up by this more in-your-face perspective. The ancient temples and unexplored mysteries of the Indiana Jones world have always meant to feel dangerous and larger than life, a sense that's heightened by the immediacy of first-person.
To emphasize this point, Gustafsson made MachineGames’ goals for first-person exploration clear. “There is also a sense of dread, like you are just about to stumble over the precipice or the branch you’re holding is about to break.”
The first-person view will allow MachineGames to capture the 'dread' far more faithfully. Scary heights and precipices seem all that more real when it feels like you’re seeing directly through the eyes of the one who’s facing them, and where one wrong step will send you tumbling down. This sense of tension is harder to cultivate with a third-person view where players can more easily plan ahead. By contrast, Indy’s life is hectic and unpredictable - it makes sense that everything should feel more immediate in the Great Circle, too.
Indiana Jones adventures are known for being just as frantic as they are dramatic, and we fully expect all elements to be heightened by the Great Circle’s first-person approach. MachineGames is building on a rich tradition of first-person storytelling here; a choice that will pay off when the game releases later this year. We can’t wait to see how exactly Indy’s adventures look from this fresh point-of-view.
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Cat Bussell is a Staff Writer at TechRadar Gaming. Hailing from the crooked spires of London, Cat is an experienced writer and journalist. As seen on Wargamer.com, TheGamer.com, and Superjumpmagazine.com, Cat is here to bring you coverage from all corners of the video game world. An inveterate RPG maven and strategy game enjoyer, Cat is known for her love of rich narratives; both story-driven and emergent.
Before migrating to the green pastures of games journalism, Cat worked as a political advisor and academic. She has three degrees and has studied and worked at Cambridge University, University College London, and Queen Mary University of London. She's also been an art gallery curator, an ice cream maker, and a cocktail mixologist. This crash course in NPC lifestyles uniquely qualifies her to pick apart only the juiciest video games for your reading pleasure.
Cat cut her teeth on MMOs in the heyday of World of Warcraft before giving in to her love of JRPGs and becoming embedded in Final Fantasy XIV. When she's not doing that, you might find her running a tabletop RPG or two, perhaps even voluntarily.