Inca. (computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May
Surge into the future, where you fight to regain the throne of the ancient Incan people in this stunning blend of folklore and science fiction.
Adrift in time and space, you awaken to fulfill a destiny written more than 500 years ago: savior to the lost Incan civilization. So begins one of the year's most audacious and original games--an action-adventure born of a rich past, set in the unknown future.
Imported from French software developer Coktel Vision, Inca showcases the rising talent of designer Pierre Gilhodes, who gave Sierra's Gobliiins its distinctive punch. Gilhodes's latest combines many disparate styles and gaming genres, strung together with a thoroughly out-of-kilter story line. What in theory should never work unfolds with singular grace and clicks in our imaginations.
To fully appreciate Inca, you must immerse yourself in its unusual background, based equally in fact and fable. The story begins in 1525, as an aging Incan ruler named Huayna Capac foretells the fall of the great Tawantinsuya empire. He predicts floods, earthquakes, and the arrival of "beared savages"--Spanish marauders lured by tales of "the gilded one," El Dorado. According to legend, El Dorado was an Incan chief who would cover himself in gold dust for ritual celebrations. As a sacrifice to the god of nobility, he'd wash off the gold in the waters of Lake Titicaca. Followers would also toss gold into the lake to appease the sun god.
In 1532, Spanish conquistadors, led by Francisco Pizarro, waged battle on the mighty Incan warriors. Though the Spaniards were outrageously outnumbered, the Incan army, weakened by years of civil war, was soon defeated. Pizarro's men, however, found little gold. As Capac says, "The real treasure--Inca knowledge--will never be found."
>From this beginning, Inca blasts 500 years into the future, aboard the lost city Paititi, which is adrift in space. You're approached by the spirit of Huayna Capac, who welcomes your return as El Dorado. Your mission is to restore brilliance to the Incan sun by recovering the three missing jewels of Time, Matter, and Energy. To succeed, you must win the help of various spiritual protectors and defeat the powers of Aguirre, an evil force symbolic of the greedy, savage conquistadors.
Your journey unfolds along a linear path that's divided into three phases, one per jewel, of increasingly diverse and difficult quests. The game offers a satisfying mix of arcade and mental challenges, ranging from 3-D space combat and first-person shootouts to mind-bending graphic and logic puzzles. You must confront and overcome obstacles in a prescribed order. While unsolved puzzles merely stall your quest, failed arcade segments result in loss of life. Instead of traditional game saves, randomly generated pass codes allow you to restart the game at various milestones in your journey.
the cursor-driven graphic interface functions in two modes: cockpit and ground views. Behind the controls of your Tumi fighter, the cursor serves as both weapons crosshairs and navigational device. Some of the action you'll encounter includes asteroid belts, Star Wars-style trench combat, and deep-space dogfights. Your toughest (and most unusual) galactic battle kicks off the game's final phase, as you square off against authentic Spanish galleons. These huge, three-masted ships firing comet-sized cannonballs are as unsetting as they are deadly.
Ground exploration features a similar windowed display, with a visual inventory and limited online advice from Huayna Capac. Besides fighting, you also pick up and manipulate objects, which are key to solving the game's series of visual puzzles. Correct moves trigger dazzling audio and visual rewards, enticing you to press on. Other elements of play include multiple 3-D mazes and realtime duels to the death with Aguirre's space-age warriors, fought with plasma bolts instead of swords. These otherwise simple slugfests are heightened considerably with outstanding full-motion digitized video and sizzling sound effects.
The game's graphics are extraordinary--an opinion echoed at the 1992 Paris Supergames Show, where the title won honors for best graphics. Much of the game's visual appeal stems from its superb use of color as well as its sheer variety of graphic styles, from Gouraud-textured 3-D polygons to finely detailed scanned bitmap artwork. Complementing the animated actors is a full range of crisp, digitized speech, much of it delivered in the authentic Quechuan tongue. For those unfamiliar with this arcane culture, the main menu offers an online glossary of terms used throughout the game. Other sampled sound effects include goose bump-inducing footsteps and slamming doors as well as the atmospheric groans and creaks of the wooden galleons rocking in space.
Dynamic on disk, the game is absolutely stunning on CD-ROM, offering enhanced cinematic segues, full character voices, and stereo soundtrack. Inca's CD-ROM audio is unlike that in any other CD-ROM game on the market. It uses true CD audio, not just the computer's sound card, and the result is absolutely incredible.
Gilles Douieb supplies 14 pieces--over 40 minutes--of original New Age-style music, performed with authentic Incan woodwinds and percussion. Also included is the song, "Inca People," written and performed by J. M. Marrier. A minor hit on European radio, the song adds flair to the CD-ROM version's extended graphic intro. An audio interface, built into the main menu, allows instant access to any of the CD-ROM's music tracks. There's even an onscreen antara (bamboo panpipe) for those inclined to play along, available in both versions. Overall, Sierra's multimedia treatment transforms an uncommonly good game into a true work of art.
Despite the game's unusually rich graphics and sound, the game makes surprisingly minor hardware demands, running equally well on both low-end (80386/20 minimum) and high-end (80486/66) systems. The biggest price paid is hard drive space, which ranges from 16MB for the disk version to 33MB for the CD-ROM version. One nice touch: Sierra's CD-ROM installation offers four configuration choices, allowing you to transfer 100, 70, 25 or 0 percent of the game to hard disk. Because of the game's segmented story structure and effective memory usage, most users with reasonably fast CD-ROM drives (250- to 350-ms access time) can get by with minimal hard drive installation.
As with most bright gems, this one has a few minor flaws. One of the most annoying is simply the speed at which onscreen text--usually important clues or dialogue--appears and quickly vanishes. Given the game's eccentric nature and enigmatic prose, this loss of information can easily lead to confusion. The designers should've given players control of text flow or at least provided a way to pause the display. Also disappointing is the poorly implemented joystick routine, an arcade setback softened only by the game's well-designed mouse controls. Finally, once solved, the game provides little replay value. A possible solution would be to scramble some puzzles or to increase the difficulty level of the arcade sequences.
Inca's surrealistic blend of ancient folklore and science fiction will throw many players off guard. But those looking for a wholly original, multifarious challenge will delight in this fantastic journey of sight, sound, and imagination.