Azrael's Tear

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a game by Intelligent Games Ltd
Platform: PC
User Rating: 8.0/10 - 1 vote
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See also: Quest Games

Ladies and gentlemen of the game designing world, let me introduce you to an adult game. A real adult game. A game for mature audiences. It doesn't have half-naked bimbettes flashing their gazonkas (as I believe the current parlance has it) at us. It doesn't feature fmv sequences with people effing and blinding with every other word. It doesn't cough up more in the way of blood and guts than Hannibal Lector's salad bar. It's just intelligent, has a complex yet intriguing plot, and has hard - genuinely hard - puzzles. In the same way that you wouldn't take your kiddiwinks to see Leaving Las Vegas for the simple reason that the story is too mature for them, so the same is true here. Azrael's Tear is a System Shock-style adventure that treats its audience with such unassuming intelligence that it's both a delight to play and a breath of fresh air after all these so-called 'mature' games that take themselves so seriously and are about as mature as Shane Richie.

Their footwork impeccable...

The Holy Grail. The Cup of Christ. Source of immortality. Oh, and that wooden thingyummy wotsit in the last Indiana Jones film. For centuries man has searched for this most prized of relics and now man, one man in particular, has found it. The only trouble is he's run into trouble and so you've taken it upon your talented self to follow his lead and recover it. Why you? Because you, for your sins, are a thief.

A high-tech thief in fact. A thief of the future. A Raptor (yes, sad but true. Blame Jurassic Park, I always do), armed with technology and the kind of skills that would make David Niven look like Peter Sellers. The year is 2003 and you've been given directions to the ancient home of the Knights Templar, guardians of the Grail, a long-hidden underground mining complex called Aeternis. Your mission is to enter the lair and recover the prize, finding out what happened to your predecessor along the way. Work your way through a few rooms, solve a few puzzles and discover a few clues, although it soon becomes clear that there is a lot more going on than meets the eye.

I won't elaborate too much about the plot as discovering the characters and unearthing their schemes is what makes the game so absorbing. Suffice to say, you won't be disappointed. Many games throw characters upon characters at you while hinging them around all sorts of basic plots and loosely tied-in puzzles. The end result is usually a disjointed mixture that fails to cohere. Azrael's Tear melds everything together in a well told tale that, in terms of solid internal structure, rivals games such as the Alone in the Dark series.

Actually, as a quick aside, isn't it interesting to note that the only two releases of late to feature the Knights Templar in earnest have both been excellent adventure games? (Well, I really enjoyed Time Cate.) Hmm.. perhaps there's a message here...

Okay, so the plot's good...

The game itself works in a similar way to System Shock, which comes as a welcome surprise as not nearly enough games have been utilising this most wonderful of game engines. Sure we can have Dooms and Quakes and Hexerts erupting from every pore on our pus-ridden armpits (How charming - Ed.) but this is a slower, more thoughtful twist on the full motion first-person viewpoint. Unlike a lot of recent games you have total freedom of movement in each location. This means you can stand in any part of each room, you can look up and down at any part of it, and people, objects and things actually exist in it, rather than just being hot-spots that activate pre-rendered animations.

But this doesn't mean there's a lack of visual quality. Certainly you'll need a spec-hungry machine to get the most out of the free-moving svga graphics, but a nice feature - a really nice feature - is the ability to turn down the level of detail while moving, allowing the computer to turn everything back up Internet Web-page style when you stop again. Add to that some wonderful three-dimensional surround sound effects and you have a game that oozes atmosphere like a flu-ridden nostril oozes mucus into a handkerchief (You're just full of these graphic metaphors today, aren't you? - Ed.). I mean that in a complementary way of course.

Every silver lining has a cloud

In many ways, Azrael's Tear is System Shock 2 (or Ultima Underworld 3... or a cross between the two. A sort of System Underworld 4), and it's perhaps for this reason that I hesitate in heralding it as a milestone in gaming history. Other than its graphical talents, it doesn't really do that much to improve the engine. Indeed, it's actually taken some elements out - the crouching, lying down, looking around corners features are the most notable omissions - but the strange thing is that you don't really miss them now they're gone. Rather like the distant cousin from a family reunion who insisted on calling you Bob and showing you his tattoo. Sure, the game works perfectly well without them, but it still would've been nice to see it add something new.

The only other thing that grates is that you have to sit through a slight pause every time you go from one room to another. In spite of the proffered wallpapering excuse that you are only waiting for your helmet sensors to scan the area ahead, it's still very obvious that what you are really doing is waiting for the hard drive to poke the relevant monitor pixies to get them drawing. This pause is even more annoying in that your screen jerks your viewpoint around when it finishes loading, thwarting any hoped-for smooth transition. It's slight, but it's there nonetheless.

Industry take note

You can live with it though, and as a result the game's other individual components shine so brightly that nearby planets would be forgiven for thinking they've drifted into the wrong orbit by mistake. AzraeVs Tear is a yardstick title, a game against which other adventures should be measured. I mentioned atmosphere earlier in relation to the game's sound and graphic quality, but it's worth raising it again here. If game manufacturers should learn anything at all from a title such as this, it's that atmosphere is more than just the aesthetics. It's a synthesis of looks, sounds, dramatic content, interactive challenge, characterisation and solid internal structure, mixed together by a team that gives all of these elements equal consideration. And it's this kind of recipe that makes for a good game. Here endeth the lesson.

Download Azrael's Tear

PC

System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

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