[Acorn Gaming]


The Tales of Mystery

[ 5/5 ***** 5/5 ]

Artex Software first appeared on the Acorn games map last year with the well-presented, innovative and involved space-based strategy game, Exodus. When Artex announced two further projects, expectations were therefore high that they could repeat their success with more high-quality games. The first of their second-generation games has now been released - a point-and-click adventure game, Ankh.

[Ankh logo]

Ankh is similar to other point-and-click adventures that have gone before, such as Simon the Sorcerer. As is typical for such games, the player moves their mouse pointer around the screen to see what they can examine, pick up, open and so on, and moves from screen to screen solving puzzles. The puzzles stem from working out what to do with the objects that are found, as well, sometimes, as actually finding those objects on the screen in the first place, and in choosing the correct choices when talking to the inhabitants of the game.

[Pharaoh's palace]Initial impressions of Ankh are excellent. It is sold in a large, professionally colour-printed cardboard box, with a striking gold-on-black cover. Inside the box is a normal CD case containing the game CD, which is also inlaid with professionally printed colour imagery and instructions. Considering the standard low-budget presentation of most Acorn games, this is almost certainly the most physically professionally presented home-grown game to date.

The game must be installed onto a writable disc, and so requires a fairly large chunk of harddisc space - the music and the introductory movie are played direct from the CD but everything else is installed. The game offers high and low-resolution versions, catering for both newer and older Acorn machines; these require around 55Mb and 20Mb respectively. Installation is fully-automated and easily performed - it even installs the necessary Risc PC mode files for you (but you can tell it not to if you want). The high-res version runs in 640x400; the low-res version halves the vertical resolution. Running in 32,000 colours at 640x400 certainly gives the game ample opportunity for some stunning visuals, and I'm pleased to report that Ankh takes advantage of this.

[Artex logo spinning on]When run, Ankh begins with the Artex logo flying onto the screen in pieces, spinning and blurring complete with a bright light and artistic use of flare (pictured left). Next up is a movie clip in which the camera flies around a fairly barren desert whilst game credits appear on screen, and more dramatic flare is used - at the end of the clip the camera flies into the sun and the Ankh logo fades out of it. Attractive stuff, and it certainly sets the scene.

[Ankh intro movie] [Ankh intro movie]
Pictures from the introductory movie

And so to the game proper. The actual aim of the game isn't really that clear - it starts with your father telling you to go and get some green pigment for him, but this isn't the ultimate aim of the game. There isn't really a definite story, but rather you must perform the tasks which are set before you as you progress through the game - which includes giving hamburgers to Lybian terrorists, as the game's advertising proclaims, and also seeking an audience with the Pharaoh.

The game uses two different styles of graphic. The first sort are those used for the majority of the scene and all the objects. These are all beautifully drawn, and most have been created through the skilful use of 3D graphics tools. In particular, some of the textures are very convincing, and the lighting on some of the indoor scenes is stunning - they really are incredibly professional. The second sort of graphic are those used for the characters, which are a strange hybrid of styles - these are all hand-drawn, and are mainly brightly coloured but with shading, turning them into something half-way between realism and cartoon. I wasn't impressed with them to start with, but after playing the game for a bit they grew on me - most games go for a definite cartoon style, simply because using anything more realistic simply looks poor unless it is incredibly well detailed and animated, but Ankh manages to go somewhere in between. It can't use the same style as the background, firstly because it would be much more complex to render realistic-looking characters than backgrounds, and secondly because it would show up the fact that the characters don't cast any shadows, unlike all the other objects in the scene! The mix of styles in Ankh works well.

[Meeting some traders and their camels]

There is a clear distinction between the game characters and backgrounds, then, but despite this they manage to fit well together, with the scenes often consisting of various foreground elements which the characters pass behind, such as palm leaves and pillars. The main character, Domi, also moves in and out of the screen fairly convincingly, and all the characters are pretty well animated (the camels are especially good!). The scenes are often mostly static, but this does suit the game well, since it is set in a dry, desert town where luckily no wind happens to be blowing! There is enough movement from the characters to bring each location to life, and some scenes do have animations running, such as rippling water - these do tend to slow down the speed of the game, however, which can be a little annoying, although it isn't really that noticeable (and it won't happen at all if you have a StrongARM).

[At the base of the Sphinx]Background music plays direct from the CD, so if you don't have a suitable audio mixer connected up you won't hear any, although since the "music" is infact only used for atmosphere and doesn't contain anything that could be called a 'tune' you won't really miss much. It's also very repetitive and featureless. Obviously generated by a synthesiser, one of the tracks even uses a high-pitched badly-looped flute-type sound which sounds so appalling that you can't help wondering if the composer uses a faulty hearing aid. Generally speaking, however, it's fine for atmosphere but it's obviously not intended to be listened to by itself. It sounds like it was all written in an afternoon.

There are some incidental sound effects in the game, but it could do with quite a few more, and what there is could have done with a bit more subtlety, too. By the time you've heard the same few flute notes repeat a hundred times whilst you try and work out what to do on a particular screen you're probably just about ready to throw your speakers out of the window. But mostly what's there is well done and does add to the game.

[The far bank of the Nile]A game like this revolves entirely around the design of its puzzles. If they're too simple then the game becomes easy and boring; if they're too hard then it becomes dull and frustrating. Finding somewhere between the two is a difficult balancing act, and yet Ankh does actually manage to do it. Almost everything has a purpose, and the game allows you to solve many puzzles in whatever order you like - it doesn't use a restrictive linear flow, except for a few of the big events which the various puzzles ultimately lead up to. Indeed, one puzzle which you could solve within two moves of where you start I only solved after several hours of play, such is the freedom built into the game. It also manages to pack a lot into a pretty small number of locations - this might sound bad, but it's actually very good, because it means you never have to waste ages trudging to and from different locations to try out your latest idea. It also limits your options to a feasible number of possibilities.

The puzzles manage to be logical and yet not obvious, and the game does give you some hints if you're "nearly there" in the solution to a puzzle, so you often know what you're supposed to do, even if not exactly how to do it. I didn't come across anything which made me think how unfair the game was, which is unusual to say the least. Perhaps it could do with a few more hints from time to time, but you can usually work out what you're supposed to do if you're logical about things (and you assume that if you haven't used an object or location yet then you probably will at some future point!).

[Meeting the Pharaoh]

The in-game text is surprisingly witty, and it does raise a smile from time-to-time. It's also beautifully rendered on the screen, in a gorgeous font complete with a smooth black outline which makes it stand out from the backgrounds, each character having their own colour of text. I've never seen on-screen text so well rendered before, although Acorn's anti-aliasing software must take some of the credit. Text flashes up, several words at a time, and you can control the speed at which it appears - there's no option to step through it at your own pace, but since many of the chunks of text are so short I think it would be annoying to use if there was. Critically, each chunk of speech is carefully tailored to be neither too short nor too long - many games like this (particular Discworld on other platforms) bore the player with long reams of allegedly-witty conversation, but Ankh is never guilty of this.

[Some pyramids]Each of the mouse buttons is assigned to a different action, with the middle button acting as either pick-up or talk-to depending upon context, which is nice. The interface, then, is easy to use and works with you, not against you. It's a little fiddly to scroll through the list of objects you currently have (and slow on my Risc PC 700, too), however.

There are a few minor bugs in the game, but nothing which makes it harder to play or even impossible. I did encounter a couple of crashes, but Artex are about to release a fix for these. In any case you can save at any point, via use of your 'magical Ankh' object - this also lets you load positions and quit the game. I also have a few niggles with the desktop interface, but Artex tell me they are fixing these too (it doesn't return to the desktop mode you were in before, for example, when you quit).

There are also some occasional minor problems with the in-game text, but they're so infrequent that they're basically insignificant. At one point some brief use is made of a certain four-letter 's' word, so parents beware (Artex say they may provide a patch to remove this on request); it does jar with the rest of the game, however, and so is poorly judged. I would also like to have seen more reactions to 'obvious things to try', such as trying to give a map or compass to some people who are lost. The game just gives you a standard "that's wrong"-type response - it would have been nicer to have had more intelligent replies for things which are logical but not the 'correct' thing to do.

[The near bank of the Nile]

When you consider the relative budgets of this game and other similar point-and-click adventures on other platforms, and then look at what has been achieved, Ankh really is quite remarkable. It may not have millions of frames of animation and a movie-clip background for each scene, but what it does have is excellent design, well-written text and some absolutely stunning use of high-resolution, 32000 colour graphics, and a highly attractive price of only £25. For the first few minutes of play I had my doubts about Ankh, but having given it a chance I became completely enveloped in its charms, and couldn't wait to get further in the game. I thoroughly recommend that you give it the chance to ensnare you in exactly the same way.

[ 5/5 ***** 5/5 ]

Technical Requirements

Ankh requires:
  • Low-resolution mode: 4Mb RAM, CD drive, 20Mb harddisc space
  • High-resolution mode: 8Mb RAM, 1Mb VRAM, CD drive, 55Mb harddisc space

Demo Version

A demo version of the game is available from Artex's website.


R-Comp Interactive
22, Robert Moffat, High Legh, Knutsford, Cheshire, WA16 6PS
Tel. (01925) 755043; Fax (01925) 757377; Email rci@rcomp.co.uk
Koala Soft
PO Box 157, Winmalee., NSW 2777, Australia
Tel: +61 2 4754 1481; Fax: +61 2 4754 3259
Acorn Computer Enterprises
Baroper Bahnhofstrasse 55, 44225 Dortmund, Germany
Tel: +49 (0) 321 72 74 260; Fax: +49 (0) 321 72 74 261

You can also order the game from any Acorn dealer. R-Comp Interactive offer online credit card ordering.

...this page last updated: 12/7/98...
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