Everybody think green: reduce, reuse, and recycle.
No no, I'm not campaigning for greater environmental awareness, but highlighting a new and perhaps unavoidable trend in adventure game development. Instead of plastics, cardboard, and glass, it's all about art, assets, and technology. The more existing content and code that can be revisited from one game to the next, the faster and cheaper a new game's production cycle can be. And in an industry of spiralling costs, budget restraints become a very real obstacle, so anything that saves resources is a good thing for developers. But in a genre that's already so conventional in nature, is even more repetition good for the games?
While most noticeable in the growing number of episodic series, Ankh: Heart of Osiris is another game that has embraced the notion of recycled elements. Originally billed as an "expansion" to last year's Ankh, the new game is actually a full-fledged, standalone adventure with an all-new storyline, but it doesn't take long to realize how heavily it draws on the materials of the original. It's not unusual for a sequel to share similarities with its predecessor, of course, but Heart of Osiris is so alike that it's virtually indistinguishable from Ankh, from graphics to characters to interface and more. In fact, since the first couple hours of gameplay take place on the identical streets of Cairo (albeit now in an attractive twilight), if you didn't know any better you'd think you were still playing the first game. Fortunately, the same lighthearted nature and whimsical charm have also carried over, preserving the strengths of the last game and ensuring an equally enjoyable experience this time around. On the other hand, many of the same mistakes and weaknesses have returned unresolved as well, leaving the game feeling once again like a brief but entertaining romp that falls short of its own potential to join the comic adventure greats that so clearly inspired it.
Picking up a mere three weeks after the events of the first game, Heart of Osiris begins with a hungover and scraggly-bearded Assil awaking in a back alley with no sign of his treasured ankh. The first task, then, is to track down and reclaim the artifact before it falls into unscrupulous hands. (Here's a shocking plot hint: too late!) This time around, however, good old Osiris, Egyptian god of life and death, isn't content with just the ankh. With a winner-take-all Battle of the Gods on the horizon, Osiris must also be reunited with something he hasn't needed for a while: namely, his heart. And so, giving new meaning to the term "finding a pulse", the race is on to beat Osiris to the palpitating prize.
As in the first game, Assil needs plenty of help in order to succeed, even if he doesn't know he's getting it until late in the game. The beautiful but feisty Thara also returns as a playable heroine, possessing her own banana-throwing revolutionary reasons for getting involved once again. Meanwhile, one new addition to Heart of Osiris is the introduction of the Pharaoh as a third playable character. Still self-absorbed and clueless as ever, the Pharaoh finds himself a reluctant participant in the current events in order to protect his own power-grubbing interests. For the most part, each character progresses alone through their individual linear segments, oblivious to what the others are doing or how their efforts are connected. Only in the game's fifth and final chapter do their paths merge, and Assil and Thara must once again work (though not travel) together. At that point, you can freely switch between the characters, though you won't need to do so often, as the cooperative aspect is fairly understated this time around.
Apart from Osiris and the playable trio, there are plenty of other outrageous characters populating the game. Many are returnees, from the hopelessly-nearsighted tailor to the dancing security guard to the Rasta...umm...ferryman. Most of these characters are given fairly short shrift, being limited to small cameos that add very little other than some unnecessary continuity with the first game. Fortunately, a few new characters are introduced as the game progresses, offering a welcome breath of fresh air. Easily the most memorable addition is a desert bush with a tendency of overheating, if you all catch my mighty drift. Initially I cringed at the utter lack of religious sensitivity, but the whole sequence is so completely (and deliberately) over-the-top preposterous that you can't help but laugh at the absurdity.
For a comic adventure, laughing isn't something you'll do a whole lot of in Heart of Osiris, however. The game shares its predecessor's delightfully cheery tone and playful scenarios, but other than the occasional amusing lines and sight gags, once again there are surprisingly few outright laughs. On the plus side, the new game seems more comfortable with this limitation than Ankh did. It still tries a little too hard in places, but for the most part it seems content to be more "fun" than funny, not forcing the issue and failing awkwardly quite so often. And that's okay. It reminded me of daytime television cartoons in that way. I mean, a few notable exceptions aside, does anyone really laugh at those? Probably not often, but they're always good for a carefree diversion and a few goofy smiles, and this game offers the same.
Thinking of cartoons is easy to do while playing Heart of Osiris, as the bright, stylized 3D graphics make the game feel all the more like an animated TV feature. The high-resolution visuals aren't overly detailed and suffer from a case of the jags, but they're colourful and charming and set the stage beautifully for the game's enthusiastic atmosphere. They may not win any converts from the "2D forever!" diehards, but they more than hold their own. One of my deep-rooted fears for any new game that visits ancient Egypt for the umpteenth time is the monotony of a desert location. And while there's plenty of sand to be found in this game, particularly during a lengthy segment set in a quarry, fortunately there's enough scenic variety to keep things visually interesting, particularly when the game finally breaks free of its reliance on old locations. There are a few graphical quirks and flaws that should have been ironed out between games, such as animated interactions still magically completing themselves, but while the game could definitely have benefited from more polish, overall the experience is generally positive.Continued on the next page...
What our readers think of Ankh: Heart of Osiris
Posted by Houie on Nov 24, 2013
A good sequel to the original and improves it also.
Good length. Quirky humor serves a good break from reality. Some of the puzzles are quite interesting. Lacks polish (mostly in terms of the dialog and voice acting). I like the unique settings that the game takes place in. This is probably the best of the...