Akuji The Heartless

a game by Crystal Dynamics, Inc.
Platform: Playstation
Genre: Action
Editor Rating: 7/10, based on 2 reviews
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Akuji the Heartless, as you're no doubt aware, is being developed by Crystal Dynamics--the very same chaps who brought us Gex in his varied guises. Gex=3D action game, Akuji=3D action game... Akuji=Gex with different graphics? Well, urn, no (thank God)--but it does use the same graphics engine.

Fortunately the team at Crystal has completely overhauled the engine from Gex: Enter the Gecko so much so that you'd be pretty hard-pushed to tell. It's not quite the complete hot-rod job that the forthcoming Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver is, but it is noticeably improved. Akuji's levels are filled with atmospheric lighting, moody effects, dark and foreboding crevices, and spooky bits--certainly not the kind of ambience that damn wise-ass gecko ever managed to generate. Akuji's characters and environments are also far more solid-looking with some detailed textures creeping up throughout. Underneath it all, it's still a run-around, jum-on-things and (in this case) hack-them-into-tiny-little-pieces-before-stomping-on-them job, but it does have a style of its own.

What sets Akuji apart from the deluge of similarly styled games set to hit the shelves this November is the subject matter. Something that a lot of games due for release this winter will suffer from is simple overkill. There are so many character-based 3D games kicking around that it's reached the point where as soon as a game is released, it's forgotten about. To try to ensure that doesn't happen here, Crystal has eschewed the usual cute, fluffy bunny approach to 3D action titles and has gone for a somewhat more, shall we say, "aggressive" tone.

Take the story for example. Akuji is about to get married to a girl from another tribe--their union will ensure a lasting peace in the land of Mamora. For an unexplained reason, Akuji's brother doesn't like the sound of this so he sets about killing everyone at the wedding in the messiest way possible (the intro shows the aftermath of the massacre with blood and goo everywhere) before ripping Akuji's heart out in a voodoo ceremony (the "heartless"--geddit?) Nasty huh? Akuji is then banished to hell--which looks uncannily like a 32-Bit 3D action game--where he must hook up with the souls of his ancestors, and I dunno, chug some beer with them or something. Oh no, he's got to use their power to break the barriers between hell and Mamora.

The gameplay itself is pretty much what you'd expect: 3D environments, big spooky monsters, power-ups, simple "puzzles" (pull this lever, hit that switch) and lots of voodoo-inspired violence and magic. It may not score many points for originality, but at least it carries it off with a certain amount of style.

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Game Reviews

It would seem that the "3D free-roaming action game" is the next genre of choice for the majority of developers. Still inspired by the success of Mario on the N64, the search for something of equal caliber continues on the PlayStation. After last year's slew of "almost, but not quite" titles, it would appear that we're finally going to see not only games with comparable technology, but also some interesting skews on actual game content.

Crystal Dynamics has a powerful game-creating tool in the shape of the engine used for Gex: Enter the Gecko, and throughout the course of 1998 and beyond we should see this (and further incarnations) put to effective use. The first off the blocks is this--a game that is a bold step away from the wise-cracking, movie-parodying antics previously favored. Fueled by voodoo imagery and dark, macabre violence, Akuji is a 3D action game where the emphasis is definitely on the nastier side of things.

Playing the role of Akuji, the story begins as you are murdered by your evil brother, a powerful voodoo priest, in order for him to steal away your bride. However, Akuji isn't just murdered--he has his heart ripped out (...the Heartless, get it?) and is then banished to hell. There--told you it was dark and nasty.

As you'd expect then, the majority of the game concerns Akuji's quest to avenge his death and escape from hell. To do this he has to 4 explore the 3D environs of hell and locate the spirits of his ancestors while he accumulates voodoo powers in order to escape and return to the material world.

The game employs the enhanced Gex graphics and gameplay engine extremely effectively-and while the gameplay mechanics are what you'd expect from a 3D action game (run, jump, shoot and lash out with nasty fist-mounted blades) the integration of realistic contextual Al where the bad guys seemingly "respond" to different things you do makes the whole environment more believable. Gone are the days where the bad guys just zero in on you regardless...here we encounter a more pensive and seemingly "intelligent" assailant. Having had the chance to play an early version, it was impressive to see creatures backing off and quite obviously being "aware" of the player's presence.

Add to all of this behavioral science some gorgeous lighting and polygonal morphing effects, and you have a PlayStation game that is most certainly a step up technologically from similar titles in the past.

  • MANUFACTURER - Crystal Dynamics
  • THEME - Action
  • NUMBER OF PLAYERS - 1

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