Home grown point-and-click adventure game from Artex Software. Reviewed by Alasdair Bailey and Graham.
High-resolution version: RiscPC with 1MB VRAM, 8MB RAM and 50MB hard disc space
Low-resolution version: 4MB RAM and 15MB hard disc space.
Both versions require a CD-ROM drive but since the game installs to hard disc and only plays audio from the CD during the game, a very slow (eg. 2x speed drive) is perfectly sufficient. The game will also happily install and run from an Iomega parallel Zip drive, if you have one, with no appreciable speed decrease.
Please note that both reviewers were using RiscPCs with 1MB VRAM so these reviews concentrate upon the high-resolution version of the game which is only suitable for RiscPCs with VRAM and 50MB spare hard drive space. If you will be running the low-resolution version (for computers with no VRAM or less than 8MB RAM including Archimedes series), jump to the low-res opinion.
Alasdair and Graham...
Ankh is a point-and-click adventure game, and despite Alasdair not normally playing this sort of game, the impressive looking artwork made it an extremely enticing prospect to review. All of the backgrounds in the game are superbly drawn - much use of a good rendering package and a good 3D artist are in evidence - and are very crisp due to the game's use of a high resolution 32,000 colour screen mode throughout.
The style of the characters in the pre-release demo came under much criticism a few months ago but Artex have now improved the animations and look of the characters. Despite this, we have to say that the animation, especially of the key character, Domi, remains jerky and could have really done with a good few more frames. The poor animation really doesn't do the static graphics justice.
One of the great things about previous efforts in the genre (such as the LucasArts and AdventureSoft titles, Monkey Island and Simon the Sorceror) was that actions from the characters, such as turning a monkey into a monkey wrench or using a voodoo doll, were extremely graphic and at times highly amusing. Ankh lacks this depth of design, in that all actions produce a single animation - either Domi's hand waving in the air or him bending over, and then the object in question miraculously appears where it should be.
Another niggle about the graphics is that, in a few scenes, Domi seems to disobey the laws of perspective as he walks towards the back of a scene. This is especially apparent in the second market scene when Domi walks towards the Pharaoh's palace; at one point he becomes taller than the surrounding buildings!
This all at times looks somewhat bizarre, and it all can't help the 'feel' of the game, but one eventually becomes immune to the various eccentricities as the game progresses - players of classics like Angband should have no problem blotting out the odd bit of 'shonky' graphics.
Ankh includes a nice intro sequence featuring the Artex logo coming together and a film-style credits movie but these are not up to the standard of many PC/Console games which achieve full screen intro films whereas Ankh only has a rather poor quality 320 by 240 film. Some people have had problems getting this film to run at all; Alasdair's computer managed fine, but Graham's locked during the intro, and Escape had to be pressed to enter the game.
The dialogue in the game is excellent as far as gameplay and progression is concerned. The sections of speech are not long and boring as in some games (players of Discworld will be aware what a pain it can be) but are short and concise with a peppering of humour. The jokes in the game are unsophisticated (perhaps they lose something in the translation from German) but wry on occasions. Without giving too much away, a certain drainage worker had us very worried at one point towards the end of the game but it turned out it had all been a wind-up. Artex have done a surprisingly good job with the humour in Ankh as the jokes in the pre-release demo were, to put it frankly, appalling and have benefited greatly from their re-phrasing by a native English speaker.
Whilst still on the subject of dialogues, there is always a pointless side track available in the conversations like the option to ask the attractive market trader, Armadine, what she's doing tonight (although perhaps it lacks the hilarity of some moments in Monkey Island II, like when you have to ask the pirates for the bucket at least 20 times before they give it to you...), and other point-and-click classics like discussing how awful the game and authors are are present in abundance.
Alasdair: "One thing I liked about Ankh was the way in which each character had a distinct personality. The souvenir trader is able to grab nearly everyone's attention and will always try selling you things, your father consistently treats you as a child and the terrorists are rather dumb throughout! This consistency of style in the characters makes Ankh what it is, there are so many people who really stand out as funny or weird and at times, Domi seems to be the only 'normal' one in the game."
Ankh's music is played in the background from audio tracks on the installation CD and almost all of it is of a very high standard and acts as very good ambient background music, this is a first for an Acorn RISC OS game. However, there is one track with a very high-pitched flute-like sound that sounds very much as if it's not being played quite right. There are seven audio tracks on the CD and each group of scenes has its own music score so the change in music is quite refreshing once you've finished one stage of the game and move onto another. Other sounds are played at certain times throughout the game when objects are used or important events occur but more sounds could have been added to add to the game-play of the game. Anything from footsteps to clucks, rumbles, rustles, hisses - Ankh lacks them all and continues in relatively reverent silence, aside from the odd sample (which despite there being few of, are of high quality)
Some of the puzzles in Ankh are very taxing and require a great deal of thought but others are fairly simple and can be worked out quite quickly. We would say the game is pitched at just about the right difficulty level even if we did have to seek the assistance of a few friends in order to complete the game (that is, Artex software themselves!)
Maybe a bit more time should have been spent on the dialogues in the puzzle solving area since many actions which are logical yet are not correct just return the standard old "I don't think that would be very useful" response whereas some sort of meaningful hint would have been better. Examples include trying to wear the wet crocodile skin and giving your compass to the traders in the desert. Also it is not made clear that things have changed in scenes you have already visited - the game is split up into parts with distinct missions in each, and between these, the people and objects in the scenes occasionally change, with great significance to the game. Without knowing that these changes might tiake place, you could wander round the map for ages not realising that the key to your problem is sitting right back at the beginning, without the slightest clue that it may be.
One thing which we should point out in this review is the inclusion of a slight bit of 'adult language' (swearing) in the game which a few sensitive parents perhaps wouldn't want their children to be exposed to. Having said that, the language is no more than could be overheard on the average bus ride or walk through a town centre so is nothing to be too concerned about really. Rest assured, there's nothing explicit or blasphemous, but nevertheless, Artex are looking into providing a 'kiddie patch' to remove all the offending words so it would be worth contacting them if you don't want your little ones exposed to the old four letter word beginning with 's'.
Overall, Ankh is a very entertaining game and is definitely a good buy at its price of only £25. The graphics and overall feel of the game add to the gameplay tremendously and will make this game a future Acorn classic.
If your computer doesn't have VRAM or is pre-RiscPC, you'll need to install the low-resolution version of Ankh which comes on the same CD as the main version but features greatly cut down graphics but is, otherwise the same game. This version of the game runs in mode 15 (256 colour low-resolution screenmode) and is minus the intro sequence and movie simply because movies don't look good in mode 15! Although the quality of the graphics doesn't directly effect the game-play, I think Artex could have done a better job of scaling the background graphics down to mode 15 for the low-res version. Many of the scenes look very dull and badly coloured when compared to those in the high-res version so I think more time should have been spent on the conversion.
To sum up
- Beautiful scenery
- Well planned, flowing story
- Plays well
- Faults in character animations
- More sounds would have been nice
- Some spelling and grammar errors