“The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” barely made it out the door before most of Sierra Entertainment’s slate was canceled following the merger of parent company Vivendi Games with Activision. If it was any further away from release, this uninspired, by-the-numbers action game would surely have gotten the axe. Sierra couldn’t have picked a more forgettable swan song than an adaptation of the latest iteration in the blandly epic Mummy franchise that’s as dull to look at as it is to play. Sales won’t come close to matching the pic’s solid bow.
In lieu of anything noteworthy, developer Eurocom does a little of everything, and none of it very well. “Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” is two parts “Tomb Raider” clone, one part mindless punch fest, one part shooting gallery, and one part repeating boss battles. The Wii version throws in a few motion-sensing gimmicks (Pull doors! Yank chains! Turn cranks!) for an extra bullet point on the back of the box.
The puzzles are old hat to anyone who’s laid hands on a game controller, consisting of dangling, jumping, shimmying and lever pulling. Puzzles aren’t puzzles so much as dull busywork to open doors. It’s almost always obvious what needs to be done and how to do it.
The action follows the set pieces from the movie, alternating between control of Rick O’Connell (voiced by film star Brendan Fraser) and his son Alex. In between are cut-scenes that will make no sense to anyone who hasn’t seen the movie. The only surprising moment comes when the player takes control of an abominable snowman who has trundled down from the Himalayas to mercilessly pummel some Chinese soldiers. After that, fighting a three-headed dragon is kind of anticlimactic.
The gunplay is simply trigger mashing combined with hands-off auto-targeting that rarely locks onto the right thing, although the challenges are easy enough that it doesn’t matter for about three quarters of the game. But then the difficulty level spikes dramatically as enemies progress from relatively squishy Chinese soldiers to terracotta warriors, many perched on high walls and firing down arrows. Without an easy way to target these bad guys, later battles are sloppy and overbearing. Since the game doesn’t save any progress within a level, players will have to power through these sections — as well as the challenging final boss battle — all at once or not at all.
Given that the Playstation 2 and Wii are “last-gen” systems, the animation and graphics are passable, at least until they try to present the epic battles from the end of the movie. But as long the game sticks to simple corridors or caves, it looks as good as can be expected. If “Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” were a better game, the challenges to upgrade the weapons might have given it some replay value. But that’s hard to consider without having much play value the first time around.