Release Date: January 2010
This whole Ankh thing might just be getting out of hand. The official website, in addition to the two languages (English and the new Lingua Franca of the adventure game universe, German), is now hawking five games. What's next, a theme park? Employees dressed as Assil and Thara wandering around asking visitors if they want to buy smoked camel on a stick? No, wait, smoking camel sticks would garner a gamier ESRB rating for wanton tobacco use. (And rightfully so. You kids stay away from those sarcophagus nails.) There's now the three mainstream PC Ankhs alongside an Ankh DS, for your Nintendo, and Ankh: The Hidden Treasures, a hidden-object game. (The graphic adventure game community has spent the past twenty years whining about pixel-hunting and now -- there's an entire game genre devoted to that very excruciating activity!)
But you don't want to know about any of this. You just want to know if Ankh: Kampf Der Gotter, or, uh,Ankh: Battle of the Gods, is worth plunking down your fifteen to thirty smackers for the download on Steam, or RuneSoft (yes, there's a Mac Intel version! Ach der Lieber!) or any of the other digital game marketplaces you can purchase this baby. There are so many it’s hard to keep track, but, as of this writing, some sites appear to be selling the game as though it were one of those big "Flash-y" shareware casual releases. You know, download the entire game and then get an hour of play before the steel gate rattles down and the word "BUY?" appears in 192-point bold type on your monitor.
Well, I can tell you that Ankh: Battle of the Gods is not a casual game. It is a full-length, expertly produced, mainstream adventure game. The type that only a few years ago you would have purchased in a cardboard box. It is also just as much fun as Heart of Osiris. Ankh 3 has the same luscious cartoony graphics as its predecessor. It has the same quirky but not unfamiliar inventory and dialogue puzzles and character quests. I would say it's somewhat easier, overall, than Ankh 2, but the production values appear (to me) to have been bumped up and best of all, Assil, your third-person game hero, is a much more appealing, and mature, fellow. I think the developers (somebody named Deck 13) probably heard the criticisms of the second installment and eased up on the puzzle difficulty and streamlined the story and the characterizations.
Oh, right, the story. I haven't played the first Ankh, but I believe its story dovetails right into the start ofAnkh 2. And I know that Ankh 3 starts where the previous entry left off. Which is that Assil and his feisty gal pal Thara finally get married. Well, at least they start off living in a new house together, in bed asleep. If they weren't married, the ESRB rating would burn through that cardboard box. Though the only jewelry in evidence is the titular Ankh still strung around Assil's neck. Heretofore, the Ankh, though supposedly mystical in nature, was simply a hunk of metal. Now, the Ankh speaks! It has the soul of some unknown god with the same patter and accent as a Borscht Belt comedian circa the Eisenhower administration. In fact, the Ankh does nothing but speak, at great length on occasion. The saving of the Egyptian (and surrounding) world is still, incredibly, up to our friend Assil. Not that Assil has gotten any happier about this duty. Nor has Thara become any less of a nag.
You see, as the game begins, so does the Battle of the Gods. And the only human who can stop the nonsense is Assil. Because he's the Ankh bearer. Assil has to bear the Ankh out of his burning house, down to a Las Vegasy Luxor, and on to the mystical plane of the Egyptian deities. What is the name of the Egyptian heaven anyway? The Greeks had Olympus. The Norse had Valhalla. Oh well, never mind. Because when you finally get there, about halfway through the game, all the other heavens are suburbs of the Egyptian one. In fact, one whole section of the game takes place in Ancient Viking land. How about that for a twist?
One of my complaints about Ankh 2 was that the writers were trying to have it both ways. For Assil to be a genuine hero as well as a cutup. Here, they get the balance of story and horseplay just about right. Assil is still a bit whiny, but understandably so. He remains in his beatnik-y sad-sack character throughout. The story now is wild and amusing, instead of wild and corny. The one aspect of the game that plays worse than previously is Thara. In Ankh 2 she was almost a third of the game play, on her own and teamed up with her boyfriend. Here, she really only appears in the first scene in the house in Cairo, and she's largely a spectator. You can still switch over and play "her" for some of the first scene, but there's little need to. After that, she vanishes for most of the game save for a cameo appearance at the big climactic end. That's a shame. Because she can be funny, despite her nagging, and the switching back and forth between Assil and Thara to complete tasks and puzzles in Ankh 2 was the best part of that game.
Okay, let's see how quickly I can get through this technical stuff. Once again, the game is cartoon third-person in 3D. The voice characterizations, the music and the sound effects are all of professional caliber. The standard mouse controls are still reversed: left click to look, right click to use. Help comes via a keystroke ("x") that momentarily identifies the hotspots on any screen as well as via a handy list of Assil's current objectives when you press the tab key. Hit the space bar to bypass cut scenes (though they are well done). The game ran smoothly without serious glitches on my bargain-basement computer, which means it'll probably work on yours. Though there’s still some trouble with subtitles overlapping. The Mac version, as I said, apparently requires an Intel processor. Yes, you can click through dialogues (though many are amusing). I never ran out of save slots. You can double-click to make Assil run, not walk, or to exit most screens. There's is nothing particularly objectionable content-wise, unless you're likely to be scandalized by the sight of scantily clad cartoon Egyptians.
Like its predecessor, Ankh 3 is a fun, expertly made, 15-20 hour adventure game of the talk to everyone, pick up everything, and be prepared for wacky puzzle solutions variety. In the previous game it was obvious the designers were trying to make a LucasArts comic-strip romp. They came close last time; they've come closer this time. Special mention must go to the one "Hotel of the Gods" chapter that takes place in an Escher-like giant room that can be rotated this way and that to solve. Puzzle-wise, it's the standout of the game.
Even though I think Ankh 3 has even better graphics and a more coherent story and game play than Ankh 2, I'm still going to give it a B plus. Largely because I thought the puzzles, in toto, were better in the previous game. However, this series, if it keeps getting better, is threatening to become an episodic classic in the old King’s Quest and Space Quest vein.
(Bonus educational material: Evidently, the Egyptian heaven is something called the Tuat. As in, "Tuat do I owe this honor?")