Ankh: Heart of Osiris
First posted on 03 June 2007. Last updated on 07 September 2009.
Ankh: Heart of Osiris, developed by Deck13 Interactive and published by XIDER Games, is the sequel to Ankh, a game more or less in the zany cartoon tradition of LucasArts' classic adventure games such as The Secret of Monkey Island or Sam and Max Hit the Road. Ankh: Heart of Osiris continues the story from the first game, taking the player back to Ancient Egypt to match wits with the evil Osiris, God of the Underworld. Along the way, the player will control 3 different characters: the brash young Assil, the stunningly beautiful Thara, and the dopey Pharaoh himself, and deal with plenty of interesting characters in amusing (if sometimes grim) situations. Overall, Ankh: Heart of Osiris is a fine game with plenty to offer adventure game buffs. The production values are high, and the voice acting is excellent. However, the game is plagued with technical bugs. It also features some infuriatingly non-intuitive puzzles that can frustrate even seasoned gamers.
Ankh: Heart of Osiris begins when Assil wakes up in an alley. He is hung over and saddened by his recent breakup with his girlfriend Thara. However, what is far more serious is his loss of the sacred Ankh, which must at all costs be kept away from the evil Osiris. There is also the titular Heart of Osiris, an item which the player learns is even more important than the Ankh. If Osiris gets the Heart and the Ankh, the world will quite likely be destroyed. As the story unfolds, the player also learns of an anti-Pharaoh revolutionary movement led by Thara, Assil's former girlfriend. Thara's movement is stymied somewhat by her 3 dim-witted compatriots, but she eventually invents a plan to disgrace the Pharaoh by stealing a soccer trophy donated by her father, an Arabian Ambassador. In a nice twist, Thara's mission and Assil's coincide, and they must frequently work together to achieve their ends. Meanwhile, the Pharaoh is captured by Osiris' henchmen and ends up as a slave in a massive quarry. His throne has been usurped by an obvious pretender, but nobody (including his bubble-headed daughter) seems to realize it. The game culminates in a soccer match, which has been rigged by Osiris' henchmen. Assil and Thara must ensure that the right side wins the match. Throughout, there are several references and allusions to the first game, and players may want to complete the original Ankh before playing this sequel.
The overall production values of Ankh: Heart of Osiris are excellent, though there are a few glitches that will annoy some players. On the positive side, the settings are well rendered and, for the most part, the characters look and move realistically (though a few more polygons may help even more). The music is quite vibrant and endearing, and the voice acting ranges from good to excellent. Unfortunately, the lip-syncing is pretty far off, but this may have been an artifact of the game's German origin. Some lines also seem to fall flat, as though the actor appears to be unaware of the context of the line.
While there were several great gags and jokes in the game that had me laughing, several were almost painful (particularly when playing Assil). I had the constant impression that the developers were trying too hard to be funny, and expected me to love these characters much more than I actually did. Again, perhaps my experience would have been different had I played the first game. My biggest frustration with the game, however, occurred when I tried to run it under Windows Vista. Although my computer met the recommended system requirements listed on the packaging, the game constantly crashed at certain points when running under this operating system. Eventually, I was unable to progress further in the game, and was forced to reinstall the game under Windows XP and transfer over my saved game file. After that, everything worked well, though I felt a bit cheated.
Although there are several fine puzzles in Ankh: Heart of Osiris, and plenty of fun scenarios (making couscous, in particular), there are also some highly improbable puzzles that will leave even experienced players baffled. An example is a puzzle that involves operating a pair of shackles on a stone tablet. Apparently, this somehow results in a wrecking ball, which must be affixed to a hook and used to break through a brick wall. Needless to say, players hoping to complete this game without hints must follow the "try everything on everything" approach, no matter how insensible it seems. Thankfully, the interface is quite simple and intuitive, though some mild pixel hunting is required at times. There are other aspects that simply do not make sense. For instance, on the back of the Pharaoh's throne is a "plate holder", which is used later to suspend a metal platter vertically. Why does a throne have a plate holder, much less a throne that holds plates vertically? There are other examples, but suffice it to say, there are many elements in Ankh: Heart of Osiris that are most improbable. Of course, players can always view these elements as part of the comedy. A built-in hint system and more useful dialog will be appreciated greatly by many players. What are less forgivable than the occasional illogical puzzle are the many sloppy typos and misspellings; even the code wheel has an error ("corcodile" for "crocodile").
Speaking of the code wheel, this game incorporates that rather old-fashioned form of copy protection. The code wheel is used quite early in the game to solve the cocktail puzzle. Of course, this "puzzle" serves little purpose other than to punish players who, for whatever reason, do not have the code wheel (they will not be able to advance any further in the game). The code wheel is flimsy and rather delicate. Obviously, anybody purchasing this game second-hand will want to make sure it is intact, and collectors will want to take extra precautions not to bend or warp it. Honestly, I cannot fathom why such a cumbersome copy protection method is warranted, since the cost of printing such a colorful and complicated wheel may very well exceed the losses incurred by illegal distribution.
Overall, Ankh: Heart of Osiris is a fine game, and I recommend it to any gamer who pines for the glory days of classic adventure games. Players will enjoy getting to know these characters, particularly the charming female character Thara. Indeed, the game may even be better if her character is featured more prominently, since she is much more interesting than Assil or the Pharaoh! At any rate, I recommend that players complete the original Ankh before trying this sequel. Although Ankh: Heart of Osiris is not perfect, the game has quite a bit going for it, and I look forward to seeing Deck13 Interactive's next offering in the Ankh series. This is definitely a team worth keeping an eye on.