Adventure Gamers Awards
If there’s one word to describe the Ankh series after three different installments, it’s “consistent”. Or more specifically: consistently playful, charming, colourful, silly… and oh-so-consistently flawed and brimming with unfulfilled potential. That each game so reliably delivers its often delightful brand of ancient Egyptian adventuring fun is a testament to the developers, Deck13. At the same time, with the release Ankh: Battle of the Gods, it’s hard not to wistfully wonder what might have been been had each new title had actually built on the foundation of its predecessor, like the pyramids featured so prominently in the games.
It’s been almost two years since we last saw Assil, Thara and the rest of the Ankh gang in Heart of Osiris. Only two months of game time have passed, however, when Battle of the Gods picks up. The two protagonists have now settled down in their shared home, ready to live happily ever after, when disaster more or less literally falls from the heavens. The Egyptian gods, tired of simply hanging around in their Silver Age superhero costumes, are getting set for their millennial battle for world supremacy. Unfortunately, Seth has nefariously tilted the odds in his favour, and it’s bad news for everyone if he wins, so it’s once again up to our hapless hero Assil to save the day, this time by warping around various dimensions through sand-powered portals.
Well, technically it’s the titular ankh that holds such power. Little did anyone previously know that Horus had managed to get himself trapped in the sacred artifact-turned-bottle opener in the last clash of the titans, and at the beginning of this game, he’s awakened to help Assil on his quest. Or nag, I should say, as he’s never any real help. The addition of an ever-present “sidekick” should have provided plenty of comedic and even strategic opportunites (as much as a limbless instrument allows), but the benefits are pretty much squandered. Though permanently hanging around Assil’s neck, you can’t ever interact with him, and Horus so rarely says anything that you’ll forget he’s there until his next interjection, which adds nothing more than the last one. When he does, he speaks with an inexplicably street-smart New York accent. Egyptian gods must visit modern-day Brooklyn a lot. Who knew?
The addition of Horus as a character isn’t the only strange decision in Ankh 3. As in the first two games, Thara is a playable protagonist at times, but she's terribly underused here. The opening section sees the couple escaping a burning building, and it’s both engaging and well-orchestrated, requiring each character to play their part, even working together at times, with character-switching a mere icon click away. And then… that’s it. Much of the rest of the adventure is played as Assil alone, and when Thara does reappear later, she’s never used interactively, merely standing in place while Assil does the leg work. Just to emphasize the point, one of the tasks is accessing a ladies’ bathroom, which you can’t ask Thara to do even though she’s standing right beside it. Thara does get one last playable role late in the game, leaving Assil twiddling his thumbs idly, almost as if the developers remembered too late that they’d forgotten all about her.
Although disappointing, these issues don’t make the game worse, of course. They merely turn it into yet another game of largely single-character adventuring. In that regard, the game will feel very familiar to Ankh veterans, for generally better and occasionally worse. The point-and-click controls are intact from before, with simple left- and right-clicks performing actions and making observations (still curiously reversed from most adventures), double-clicks causing characters to run, and easy access to inventory. The task list is also back, just as vague and unhelpful as ever, only ever giving you main objectives rather than anything resembling substantive guidance. One welcome addition is a hotspot highlighter, and although you’ll never face pixel hunting for obscured items, some areas are so full of non-essential hotspots that you’ll appreciate the option. In fact, the game would have seriously benefited from cutting out a lot of the extraneous details. I’m all for added interaction, but so little of it actually benefits the game here. The highlighter often reveals multiple hotspots for the same background objects, and rarely does clicking on anything lead to any relevant or even otherwise entertaining commentary.
There is certainly entertainment to be found in Ankh, though as with the previous games, it’s more “comic” and less “comical” overall. While always lighthearted, the dialogue rarely reaches laugh-out-loud status. The odd translation foible doesn’t help, and the spoken lines can vary quite drastically from the subtitles for some reason, but three games in now, it’s become clear that the series just isn’t particularly funny. If not ideal, once again that’s okay, as it’s not filled with gags that fail so much as it comfortably settles for less riotous humour to begin with. Battle of the Gods isn’t one of the more dialogue-intensive games to begin with, but you’ll still encounter plenty of faces, both old and new alike, none of which are particularly memorable. Recurring characters include the likes of the Volcano the fire-breather, the three hippie revolutionaries, and even Assil’s ol’ pal the toothless croc. Among the newcomers are a faux-French chef, a smattering of lounge-about deities, and a suspicious cart-crash investigator, whose “I’ve got my eye on you” gestures represent some of the game’s few genuinely amusing moments.Continued on the next page...
What our readers think of Ankh: Battle of the Gods
Posted by Houie on Nov 24, 2013
Good follow up. Could have been better, but still good.
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. The game follows the same style as...