There is an inherent limitation in stories that only involve humans. The problem is, humans are just so darn neutral. They can be good, they can be evil. They can be handsome and heroic, or repulsive and demented. If you were to be told while exploring a foreign land that you were approaching a "tribe of humans," you would realize how uninformative that was. Animals, however, are a different matter; even though they are not able to naturally communicate with us, we have assigned them certain characteristics. Coming upon a tribe of lions, you would be a little fearful, as lions are proud and protective creatures. A tribe of pigs, and your only fear would be getting mud on your cloak.
Inherit the Earth: Quest for the Orb takes place not in a fantasy world, but in our world, many years in the future. Humans are creatures of the past, spoken of only in legend, and the world is now run by tribes of animals, who are anthropomorphic--meaning they walk, talk, and steal like humans. The rulers of the immediate area are the noble Elk tribe. Their nemesis are the Boar tribe, a slothful and mannerless bunch with a great deal of brawn, and a great lack of brains. The Dog tribe are slow-witted and buffoonish. In one of my favorite moments from the game, they even get a little liquored up and play some poker, allowing you to sneak right by them.
Our hero, Rif, is a member of the Fox tribe. The game opens with a very well-done introduction sequence, during which it is discovered that the Orb of Storms has been stolen. This is bad, because whoever possesses the Orb could control the weather and use it for evil. Because foxes are known for being cunning and occasionally deceptive, Rif is immediately suspected of being the thief, and only when he promises to hunt down the true thief himself is he not taken into captivity. The Boar do not trust Rif, so they send one of their own; the Elk do not trust the Boar, so they do the same. You will play Rif throughout the game, and your two companions will simply follow you around. Occasionally you can get a nudge in the right direction by talking to them, and in a couple sections they will be essential puzzle solutions; make no mistake, though, Rif is the important character and the one real hero of the game.
Inherit the Earth is full of positives. The characters and backgrounds are all very well drawn, and the voice acting is wonderful. A great deal of care has been taken in assigning personality characteristics to each of the tribes, and the writing reflects those attributes well. The best part of the game, though, is the sheer amount of charm; the mannerisms and speech patterns (and voices) of the tribes is always enough to bring a smile. The dialogue is extremely well-written, and really makes you appreciate it when authors of fantasy stories like this really take time to distinguish the various characters. The Elk talk in ways that only members of their tribe talk; same with the Ferrets, and all the other tribes. It would have been easier, certainly, to make them all just talk like humans, and the extra effort by the game's writing team pays off.
Those looking for a family-friendly adventure will find one here. In fact, as Joe Pearce told me, the game had a slightly more edgy tone and was polished down to the harmless final product. Whether this resulted in a weaker game, we'll never know, but the product we eventually got is simply a delightful game to play. Parents have no need to fear any adult elements of any sort. There may be a bit of intrigue, and the plot revolves around theft, but that's as intense as it gets. Puzzle-challenged gamers will also be happy to know that the game is very rarely difficult. If you're like me, and going five minutes without using a walkthrough is akin to ignoring a hot plate of cinnamon rolls next to you, you may have finally found the game that will not present enough of a challenge to ever push you in that direction.
The one challenge you will find, though, is not to get frustrated with all the walking that must be done, and this is the one serious weakness of the game's design. Many of the areas you will visit are very large, and unnecessarily so. A good example is the Ferret village. There are only two buildings of importance in the village; these unfortunately do not stand out in any way from the other ten or so meaningless buildings, so you'll find yourself just opening doors at random until you find what you're looking for. Once you've found it, though, getting back will be a huge challenge because of the uniformity of the village's design. This is a problem in many areas in the game, where you'll be walking forever across unnecessarily massive towns just to get where you're going, often getting lost and having no idea how to get back where you came from or how to get to your destination. Unfortunately, this is before adventure designers thought to include a "run" option. The overhead map is similarly swollen, which will lead to lots of backtracking if you ever realize you've gone the wrong way. To top it all off, there is a very tragic maze right in the middle of the game. I guess there's a certain fun aspect to mapping out mazes--heck, I was one of the biggest fans of Madmaze on the Prodigy network--but this maze comes at such an urgent time in the plot, it serves just as a huge distraction. I would expect this game to provide 12 to 15 hours of playing time to the average gamer who leaves the voices on--and at least one full hour will be spent just walking your character around. This can definitely try patience.
If you're able to get past that quarrel though, what you've got is an intelligently written, immediately accessible, and generally charming classic adventure. It's never mindblowing or genre-defining, but the story told is very interesting, especially as the game nears the end and we begin learning a bit more about the origin of this world. The end sets up a sequel perfectly, leaving all kinds of questions. When The Dreamers Guild went bankrupt five years ago, it looked like a sequel would never materialize; thankfully, Joe Pearce and his new company Wyrmkeep Entertainment have acquired the rights and re-released Inherit the Earth for only $20--and the best news is, it runs perfectly on the most modern XP machine, showing none of the signs of processor clock deterioration that Golden Age Sierra games are infamous for. Depending on the sales of this new version, we very well may see a sequel soon, and learn more about what happened to the humans, and what the motivations of this first game's villains were. If you purchase a copy of this classic adventure--and I highly recommend you do--and don't fancy yourself too macho of a gamer, you'll very soon find yourself deeply invested in the fascinating world of the animals.