Ladies and Gentleman, step this way please! Follow me into my humble nomadic reviewers’ tent, where today you shall feast your eyes upon a most precious object from a land far, far away. Gather around now, as I unveil this rarest of rare specimens: a genuine comic adventure! Ankh is the name of our game, and it comes to you from the fine folks at Deck 13 Interactive, all the way from Germany. As you might have already guessed from its name, the game is set in Egypt – the land of mighty Pharoahs, colossal Pyramids, and much sand. What’s that you say? “Buggerit! … not ANOTHER game set in Egypt!”? Ah, well. Sure you’ve played your fair share of Riddle of the Sphinx, Tomb of the Pharoah, Egypt II: The Heliopolis Prophecy, and The Egyptian Prophecy: Fate of Ramses. But I ask you, did any of these games require you to operate a drive-through Camel-O-Wash, fight toothless crocodiles in the Nile, and make stinky fish burgers for assassins? Settle down now, and take a long, cool sip of your sweet sherbets, as I recount to you my impressions of this spanking new adventure.
In its essence, Ankh is an old-school, point-and-click, comic 3D adventure in the vein of such LucasArts classics as Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, and Grim Fandango. Ankh is actually a remake of a game that was released eight years ago with the same title. Of course, it is highly unlikely that you will have come across the original Ankh. The game was released exclusively for the Acorn RiscPC platform which never really took off. Only about 500,000 RiscPC machines were ever sold, a majority of them in Great Britain where they were bought by British schools. The rest were purchased by private users scattered in Germany, France, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand (practically none were sold in the United States). Thankfully, releasing the game on the PC platform, the developers will have a much larger audience this time around. And it’s not the same-old game either – everything from the storyline to the graphics has undergone an extreme makeover.
Ankh tells the story of a young man named Assil. The son of an Egyptian architect’s, Assil breaks into a pyramid to party with his friends. Unfortunately, he accidentally knocks over some ancient urns and has a death curse put upon him by a furious mummy. It doesn’t help that Assil also ends up defiling a sacred artifact (an Ankh) in the tomb, using it as a bottle opener. The Pharaoh is the only person who can help Assil find a way to lift this curse. The game follows your quest to meet the Pharaoh, and get out of your cursed predicament. Of course, since this an adventure game, accomplishing the task will be anything but straightforward. You will soon find yourself bumbling through several totally unrelated side-quests and bumping into all sorts of odd characters, including cut-throat merchants, jive-talking ferrymen, retired genies, hungry assassins and well … what seemed like Israelite hippies waiting on the Exodus.
The interface in this game is a simple mouse-driven affair. The cursor changes to indicate you can perform an action when you bring it over an interactive object. Clicking on the left mouse button gives more information about the object being you are pointing with the cursor. You can also move Assil with the same button. A single click will make Assil walk whereas a double click will make him run. In order to use an item you will have to use the right mouse button. This will need a little getting used to, but you should have no problems after playing the game for a few minutes. Pressing the TAB key during the game pops up a reminder list which shows the status of the most recent and pressing sub-quests that you need to solve. Veterans and even newcomers to adventure games alike will have no problems cozying up to this intuitive interface.
As far as the puzzles are concerned, the game serves ample portions of the standard inventory-based ones which we’ve come to expect from point-and-click adventure games in the past. For the most part, you’ll find yourself collecting various items as you interact with characters and locations in the game. Sometimes you will combine these items in obvious ways. However, this will not always be the case. The game may often have you scratching your head. There are a few outrageously tough puzzles that defy common sense. Your only recourse will be to randomly combine items in your inventory until something clicks. I somehow got the feeling that the developers of this game did not spend sufficient time designing and thinking about how these puzzles would fit into the plot. When you do solve a puzzle, it will most likely be out of sheer luck, and not as a result of any kind of neuron exercising brainwork.
While the inventory-based puzzles might not be one of the game’s strengths, the graphics certainly muster up enough eye candy to make up for it. Ankh has gorgeous cartoony 3D environments and surprisingly expressive character models, which are sure to please even the most discerning of eye. The locales in the game are vibrant and colorful. The cinematics are top notch. However, the heavy reliance on 3D in the game also means an abundance of lengthy load screens. These might not be much of an issue initially, but when you’re walking from one end of the map to the other, and encounter several of these in a row, it can become quite bothersome.
The background music in the game is pleasant and gets the job done. The best compliment I can pay to it is that it is not annoying, even after listening to the same track for the umpteenth time. The voiceovers sound professional and capture the personality and emotions of the characters quite well. The voice editing and sound effects however, could have been much better. Sound effects are sparse at best, and oftentimes, when a character speaks, it feels as if voice samples have been clumsily spliced together, because the pacing of the words is so inconsistent. Many times, when more than one character on the screen speaks, the voices overlap into unintelligible sound bits.
For the most part, the storyline in Ankh is engaging and moves along at a fairly good pace. Towards the latter half of the game, you’ll even get to play as another character. The second playable character, Thara, is the beautiful and spirited daughter of an Arabian ambassador. She serves as the obligatory romantic twist in the tale. Switching between controlling Assil and Thara to accomplish quests was a lot of fun, although I did encounter a minor annoyance here: one of the characters would inevitably end up blocking the way for the other character when they were in a confined space, like a corridor, requiring switching control back and forth to remove the other character from the path.
The cracks on the surface begin to widen towards the end of the game. Characters start unintentionally running on walls and walking through solid objects, and voiceovers start to go missing. The endgame sequence is plagued with bugs and required a lot of patience and random trial-and-error before I could get it right. The game also wrapped up a little too quickly for my liking. Experienced players will likely finish this game within 8-10 hours. Nonetheless, I believe I’m nitpicking here and it’s not nearly as bad as it seems – I thoroughly enjoyed playing Ankh and loved the plot, and it certainly has its moments when you’ll find yourself grinning like a Cheshire cat.
Ankh is a charming old-school comic adventure which holds its own, courtesy of its beautiful 3D graphics and an engaging plot. It does not break any new ground, and it certainly has its fair share of issues which take a bit of luster off its polished appearance. But if you like adventure games, and particularly the comic-adventures from LucasArts in the past, you will overlook the shortcomings, and enjoy a fun, albeit short romp down memory lane. When all’s said and done, one can’t ignore the dearth of quality comic adventures as of late. Until the next Monkey Island or Grim Fandango comes along, Ankh will do for now.