Ankh: The Underworld

Osiris is the only god we see in this game, and he’s basically portrayed as a demon — immensely powerful but trapped, and summonable with the right rituals. His interest in the Ankh is simply that it’ll let him return to the mortal world and escape the endless paperwork of processing all the dead souls of Egypt — although, apparently only Egypt; when Thara shows up in a sort of Han Solo Death Star moment, he has no power over her because she’s Arabian, not Egyptian. A convenient way to mix mythologies, this notion of limited jurisdiction! The game doesn’t delve into the implications, but I suppose the sequels might.

When Assil tells Osiris how he overcame the obstacles on the way to this place, Osiris says “So, you think you’re really clever, don’t you?” — to which Assil replies “Well, yeah. A little.” The thing is, though, he didn’t need to be all that clever to get that far. The Underworld is built up as this terribly difficult and dangerous place where you’ll face great trials, but when you actually get there, it’s just about the easiest section of the game. It’s a bit anticlimactic. Now, I’m all in favor of things easing up at an adventure game’s climax, which is a bit counterintuitive — the obvious approach is to put the greatest challenges at the end. But really, the ending is where you want to keep momentum. There’s few things worse than getting stuck right when you were on the verge of wrapping everything up. But I think this game carries that a bit too long. It isn’t just the final confrontation that’s easy, it’s the entire final chapter.

Alas, the bugs are a larger obstacle. I haven’t been talking much about the bugs in this game, even though they’re all over the place, because they’ve been minor cosmetic things — a pop in the animation here, a dialogue that can be hit out of sequence there. Exits that can be clicked from the wrong side. The occasional permeable wall. The very first thing you see in the game is the “walk to” cursor appearing briefly before the main menu comes up. Just little things like that, things that I’d want to iron out before shipping if I were working on the game. Here in the endgame, though, for the first time I hit a bug that actually interfered with my progress and made me load a save. (Fortunately, I’ve been keeping multiple saves. In fact, that’s one of the bugs: the option to overwrite saves instead of creating new ones doesn’t work.) What happens is: If your confrontation with Osiris goes wrong, the game resets to just outside his lair, with Assil excusing the whole thing as just a vision. But it doesn’t always reset things as thoroughly as it should, and one time the camera stayed inside, making it impossible for me to click on the stairs into the place. You’d think that the “Anniversary Edition” remake would be an opportunity to fix this sort of thing, but heck, maybe it introduced it.

As to the ending, the Pharaoh’s daughter is basically a non-character, just a thing that has to be retrieved. Assil and Thara basically wind up together, which, okay, by that point they’ve kind of earned. I mean, they’ve literally been through hell together. Confronted an actual god and defeated him, which is actually in character for Thara, what with her anti-authoritarian streak. I was kind of afraid that the story would demote her from Independent-Minded, Self-Willed Rebel Woman to mere Hero’s Girlfriend, but it really doesn’t do too badly on that score, given that this is still a story centered around the male hero.

I have mixed feelings about this game. It’s definitely not as polished as the design deserves. The humor often fails, or perhaps just isn’t pitched at my level. Even after I learned to run, there was still way too much walking around. But it could have been a lot worse.


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