Release Date: May 2007
This one snuck up on me. Or, rather, these three. “Ankh: Heart of Osiris” is the second game of what is now a three-part series that began in 2006. A:HOO (not to be confused with “Achoo!”) apparently was released in 2007, a year after the first game, called plain old “Ankh.” Now, there’s an Ankh 3 or “Ankh: Battle of the Gods.” There’s also a DS version of the first one labled “Ankh: Curse of the Scarab King,” but don’t ask me about other platforms. I have enough trouble getting games to work on my PC.
Until Ankh 2 landed on my review desk I admit I hadn’t heard of any of them. Not that my knowledge is exhaustive, but I’m at least usually aware of the commercial titles floating around. Moreover, this is the kind of game I would have been interested in had I only known about it. Seems like the Ankh folks may need a new public relations firm – or, more likely, it’s another of those games that everyone knows about in Europe but was given nominal exposure in the U.S. It now feels a little strange reviewing a two-year-old game, but maybe A:HOO is new to you too.
As with all the Ankhs, apparently, Heart of Osiris concerns itself primarily with the doings of a hip young man who dwells in ancient Cairo by the name of Assil. Except this is ancient Cairo as it would be portrayed in “The Flintstones,” you know with drive-in camel washes and other anachronistic shenanigans. Even the art is strongly reminiscent of Fred and Barney’s world. The art of Osiris, however, is one of the game’s strong points. Whatever the 3D engine is, it offers a gorgeous world of bazaars and temples and rock quarries and what-have-you, all in rich cartoon hues.
The basic story of all the Ankhs has to do with our pal Assil stumbling across, of course, an Ankh. But not just any ankh. This is the god Osiris’s own personal Ankh and the fate of the world depends upon it. And now young, impetuous Assil is the Ankh’s “guardian” and doesn’t that make you feel secure about the fate of the world? Well, of course, that’s where all the comic romps stem from – Assil gets Ankh, Assil loses Ankh, evil henchmen get Ankh, evil henchmen lose Ankh . . . etcetera. It’s a bit like a volleyball game with an Ankh. Heart of Osiris, in fact, ends with a big soccer game. Really.
If you don’t count what the bad guys are trying to do, there are at least two subplots underway in Ankh 2. The first is a romantic one involving Assil and his on-again-off-again girlfriend Thara; the second has Thara and a bunch of her young Cairo pals trying to bring down the Pharaoh and his oppressive rule with bananas. The story is divided into five parts and Assil is the lone protagonist in only two of them. In one of the others Thara takes the lead; in the big finale Thara and Assil both are maneuverable – it’s up to you the player to decide which character should do what when. There’s a small character icon in the lower right corner during this act to allow you to switch back and forth between them.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, even the Pharaoh gets into the act, as the “hero” of one section. Strangely, this is one of the best looking and most interesting parts of the game. Both Pharaoh and Thara were, to me, more attractive and amusing characters than Assil. Poor Assil. He can’t make up his mind whether he wants to be a real hero or a drunken layabout. His real problem, though, is that he’s been designed to appeal to young male players – he’s supposed to be a real hoot and a scamp, but unfortunately he mostly comes off as a real jerk. He’s like a cross between Larry Lovage (Leisure Suit Larry’s even more hopeless nephew) and King Graham of the King’s Quest games. One minute he’s a standup comic, the next he’s the Caped Crusader. Doesn’t really mesh, guys. It’s no wonder the game designers drop him from top billing whevever they get the chance. On the other hand, this is not the way to build a strong franchise. You really need a very attractive main character and he or she needs to command the stage pretty much the whole time. Think Guybrush Threepwood. Elaine is appealing, but it’s Guybrush’s show.
I enjoyed playing A:HOO but there was just something slightly off about the whole affair. It has a bit of the feel of a B movie, or a summer TV rerun. Enjoyable but kind of overly familiar, or insufficiently surprising. It’s like a game that appears to owe almost everything in it to other, better games. Or, worse, one of those games strategically designed to appeal to “the kids.” As in, “the kids’ll eat this one up! It’s got all kinds of irreverent stuff!” In other words, it’s a cold hard soulless businessman’s idea of what “the kids today” would like. Well, I liked it anyway. It may not be “cool,” but it is entertaining. On the other hand, I’m no longer a kid and the marketing team probably doesn’t give a damn what I like.
It took me about fifteen to twenty hours to complete A:HOO, which these days is standard length. In terms of difficulty, it’s the kind of game you’ll be zipping along in and can’t believe you got stuck on something. A:HOO has the feel of a game that should be easy, but the mostly inventory based puzzles can turn your head around every now and then. That is, you can lose track of things or forget to try to combine everything.
I was delighted to find there’s no in-game help system – that alone probably dates the game to several years ago, before such help became de rigueur. You can, however, hit the tab key at any time and get a list of your current game goals. This actually is helpful, as opposed to infuriating, like most current help systems. I didn’t use the tab key myself because the game I downloaded didn’t come with a manual so I was flying blind a bit. Usually, I prefer it that way. It makes me feel observant when I stumble over the game controls. For instance, it took me a few minutes of wild clicking to realize that you have to not only select inventory items with a right click, but must right click them to use them on the main screen or to combine them with other items. I did find a pdf version of the manual online later.
A:HOO also occasionally tosses in a different kind of challenge. Early on you have to figure out how to keep the occupants of a bar happy – with little smiley faces hovering halo-like over their heads indicating your progress in this regard. Apparently, or at least according to that manual, the original game came with a color wheel which you used to solve another early copy-protection-like puzzle. Like the manual itself, the wheel and this puzzle were completely absent from the version of the game I played. They must have scrubbed it. The best thing in the game, though, is that big finale. Assil and Thara working alternately in different parts of the palace to foil the fixed outcome of the big game is cleverly designed – if only the whole game had been like this.
I did not play the first Ankh and though every character in Ankh 2 appears to be returning from that earlier escapade I had no trouble figuring out what was going on. The game is fully voiced, with subtitles, and the acting varies widely from excellent to cringe-inducing. The actor who voiced God should seek atonement, posthaste. As is so often the case with games translated into English, typos abound. The game also has a few other rough technical edges. If I walked too far in one direction in some scenes I ended up looking at a solid blue field. There were a few other minor glitches, like subtitles superimposed over each other. But nothing that really dampened my enjoyment too much. The music and sound effects were neither stellar nor annoying. Do people really care about the soundtrack in a game? To me, that’s a bit like caring about the colors of the uniforms players are wearing. It’s not that you don’t notice it, but it’s still just window dressing.
One of the more interesting things about A:HOO is its availability. I noticed a Mac version from Runesoft online, and a version available (at the time of this writing) from Steam for ten simoleons. It appears to be gettable from lots of places now. This is an interesting development in its own right. Think about it. Back in the days of brick-and-mortar gaming stores a title like Ankh 2 would have a few weeks at best to prove itself on the racks – it if made it that far at all. But, now, thanks to online marketing and downloads, there’s no limit to any game’s shelf life.
Ankh: Heart of Osiris is a visually attractive game that tries a little too hard to be hip but nonetheless succeeds in being entertaining. It has the feel of a game that you recommend to someone if they’re looking for something else to play that’s like it. So I will. If you like other big commercial cartoony adventure games, you’ll also probably like this one. Only probably not as much. Overall, I give Ankh 2 a grade of B plus. Actually, it plays like a B all the way until the end – but it scores big during that finale soccer game. Go Nile Crocodiles!
System Requirements (PC):