Monday, October 02, 2006

Ankh Review

Ankh, developed by DECK13 Interactive and published by Viva Media.
The Good: Lengthy with a good number of puzzles, moments of humor, canned figs
The Not So Good: Generally nonsensical combinations, fixed camera angle despite 3-D graphics, cut scenes can’t be skipped
What say you? A tiresome combination adventure game that will only appeal to fans of the genre: 4/8

I have played some truly horrible adventure games in my time. This has soured my opinion of the genre, as point-and-click titles have not interested me very much. Something about being required to catch a cat with a green bag and let her lose to knock over a bait bucket to make the fisherman leave so that you can take his rod and spare bucket and collect salt from the side of a boat and grind the salt up on an indention of a tombstone and throw the salt on a concrete structure to make it collapse just doesn't sit well, as puzzles that make no sense cause me to stop playing very quickly. So it was with some trepidation that I received Ankh, an Egyptian-themed adventure game where you go on an adventure in Egypt. Will Ankh's cartoon atmosphere, gameplay, and hard to pronounce name change my opinion on the genre? Let's hope so, for my sake.

Ankh features 3-D graphics, which is somewhat unusual for a point-and-click adventure game. The graphics look good from afar but less detailed with close-ups of the characters. The environments are detailed and look good, but the characters are fuzzy and consist of low-resolution textures that you can really see when zoomed in close. Most of the close-ups only occur during cut scenes, so you won’t notice it during normal gameplay very much. Despite the fact that Ankh is in 3-D, the game still features a fixed camera angle. This is highly annoying, as parts of the level are obscured or off-screen a lot of the time, making it difficult to select certain objects during gameplay. All they needed to do was to let your rotate the camera view a little bit, and I would have been fine with that, but Ankh imposes some arbitrary restrictions on camera movement. The sound is just average, with average voice acting and average musical numbers during cut scenes. While Ankh has better graphics that most classic point-and-click adventure games, I want more flexibility in my viewing options.

Ankh is a point-and-click adventure game where you click on objects and combine them to form useful solutions to the game’s puzzles. This means that there is generally just one way to solve each puzzle, and I dislike being pigeonholed into a solution, especially when the solution is irrational. Examples: using a fishnet stocking (get it?) to pick up a fish because it’s too slippery; using a lobster to cut a banner; making cocktails with umbrellas. Not all of the solutions are like this, but it only takes one absurd puzzle to stop you dead in your tracks. Plus, objects are usually not used immediately, so if you forget to pick up some arbitrary object from three levels ago, you’re out of luck. This is why I hate adventure games: ridiculous inflexible solutions to puzzles that don’t make any sense. At least controlling the game is simple enough: left-click to move or look, and right-click to use. The mouse icon changes according to what objects can be selected, which cuts down on the amount of hunting you’ll have to do. In another stroke of genius, you can’t skip any of the cut scenes. Personally, I don’t care what the background story is and I just want to play, but Ankh makes you sit through all of the musical numbers and occasionally witty dialogue between the characters. None of the cut scenes are required to solve any of the puzzles, so I’d just like to press escape and move along. The game does eventually introduce some “advanced” puzzles involving two characters that you have to switch back and forth between, but this really just adds to the confusion of the game.

There’s only been one adventure game I've played with reasonable puzzles, and Ankh is not it. Ankh falls into the time honored adventure game tradition of unreasonable puzzle solutions that only the developer and a select few will be able to figure out, and I just don’t find that level of frustration fun. And you’re supposed to be having fun while playing games, right? I can honestly say that I never had fun while playing Ankh. The puzzles are tedious, and since this is the core of the gameplay, that pretty much ruins everything else. The graphics aren’t bad for an adventure game (although you shouldn’t look too closely), the game does include a bunch of puzzles, and Ankh tries hard to be funny, but most people will get frustrated starting with puzzle number one. Only the true fans of adventure games should wander into the Egyptian landscape of Ankh.