Developer:  neo Software
Publisher:  THQ
Year Released:  1999

Review by Gordon Aplin (August, 1999)
rah.jpgRent-A-Hero is an amusing, third-person perspective adventure game in which you control the actions of Rodrigo who runs a Princess Rescue Service on the island of Tol Andar. Unfortunately, rescuing Princesses, or even the odd Prince, from marauding dragons doesn't guarantee fame and fortune in the overcrowded market of Hero-for-Hire. In fact it doesn't even pay the bills, of which you have many. What you need is a case you can really get your teeth into ... like saving the world.

Pirates at large
As luck would have it Tol Andar is besieged by ravaging pirates who have somehow rediscovered the ancient power of the 'gloomstones' and are threatening to plunge the world into darkness. This is a job for a real hero, unfortunately, you are not considered for the position. You are not even first choice for rescuing the wife of a dwarf from the pirate's clutches, it's just that the other fourteen heroes he approached before you all turned him down. Still, a job is a job and it will bring you into contact with the pirates and who knows what that may lead to, saving the world, perhaps?

What a promising scenario, and what a shame the game didn't live up to my expectations as I do like this type of cartoon-style humorous adventure. The graphics, music and sound effects are all wonderful, as we have come to expect from European developers, but the game is really too short to be truly satisfying. This is not to say that I didn't have fun playing it only that I was disappointed that the ending came so quickly. Normally I wouldn't hesitate to recommend such a title to novice adventurers as it is easy to play, but it also has a couple of quirks that may frustrate newer players and more experienced players too, if it comes to that. (Warning! Discussion of these quirks below may contain some mild hints)

Deceptively simple
Rent-A-Hero is a deceptively simple point and click adventure. The cursor changes to a cross when you can interact with a character or object in the game world and hotspots are identified with a text tag. Rodrigo, too, will offer his own description of certain items. Navigation is straightforward, simply point to where you want Rodrigo to go and click the left mouse button. If you double click he will run to that spot accompanied by the quite delightful pitter-patter sound of his footsteps. Conversing with other characters is also very easy, just click on a character until the dialogue starts to repeat.

Your inventory appears at the bottom of the screen and you only have to click on an item for Rodrigo to use it if he can. This is not overly satisfying as it means you may solve a puzzle quite unintentionally if you are in the correct location for the use of that item. I much prefer to have a specific purpose in mind when I select an inventory object for use. On the other hand, the ease of use and the in-game help suggests that the game is primarily aimed at novice adventurers, in which case, perhaps I am being too harsh.

The quirks I mentioned above relate more to the actual gameplay in that sometimes you will need to click on an object in the game environment two or three times before Rodrigo will actually do something. And there is no in-game feedback at these points to suggest you are on the right track. This seriously breaks adventure game conventions and most experienced adventurers may try something once or maybe twice before rightly concluding that they don't have what they need for that particular problem. Admittedly, there are only a few instances in the game where more than one click is necessary, but unless you know where they are you will be repeatedly clicking everywhere, just in case.

Usually, though, the inventory-based problems you encounter are fairly easy to solve, but there are one or two that may have you scratching your head in bewilderment even after you have solved them. Perhaps the worst example was not being able to get some leaves until I had used what seemed to me to be a totally inappropriate item to initiate a cut sequence. If there was a clue to do this somewhere then I confess I missed it, or perhaps something got lost in the translation.

Also, don't think because you have thoroughly searched a location that there is nothing more to do there. On two or three occasions an item you need will mysteriously show up in a previously searched area, but only after you have carried out the actions to trigger their appearance. So, if you are stuck, the best advice is to search everywhere again, click on hotspots in the game world two or three times and talk to everybody.

Perhaps my biggest disappointment with the gameplay was that I wasn't allowed to find certain items for myself. For example, early in the game I knew that I needed a disguise. One item I got during a cut sequence without first identifying that this was an item I might be interested in and two others were also presented to me in a non-interactive sequence following the successful completion of a totally unrelated quest. I would have much preferred the more traditional method of identifying the items needed in the game world then overcoming obstacles to obtain them by the most devious and imaginatively tortuous routes possible. But perhaps that's just me. This at least would have increased the length of the game and given the player much more to work on.

On a more positive note, and despite what I have just said, I did quite enjoy playing this game while it lasted. In a similar vein to Discworld, Monkey Island and Simon the Sorcerer it has a silliness to it that I appreciated, but it does lack the length and puzzle complexity of those games.

Rent-A-Hero was originally released in German towards the end of last year. The recently released English version uses British voice actors with varying accents and, fortunately, the game does allow the option of enabling on-screen text. The game comes on two CDs with the first disk containing all the installation files and the opening and closing sequences. The whole game is played with just the second disk in the drive.

I do hope that neo Software continue to produce adventure games as the potential is clearly there even if it wasn't quite realised with Rent-A-Hero. rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1999. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
100% Windows 95 or Windows 98 DirectX6 compatible Computer. Windows 95, Windows 98 or Windows NT 5.0. PCI Graphics Card with a minimum of 2MB RAM. Pentium 133 or faster. 16MB RAM (system memory). 6x CD-ROM Drive or faster. 100% Direct X6 compatible Sound Card. 100% Windows 95/Windows 98/Windows NT 5.0 compatible Mouse and Keyboard.