Aztec: The Curse in the Heart of the City of Gold / The Sacred Amulet

Developer:  France Telecom Multimedia
Publisher:   Cryo Interactive
Year Released:  1999

Review by Rosemary Young (June, 2000)
Like previous Cryo titles such as Versailles 1685 and Egypt 1156BC, Aztec: The Curse in the Heart of the City of Gold is an edutainment title combining both educational content and adventure gaming components. In telling a story set in the Aztec Empire it transports the player back into the past to sample a slice of Aztec life and culture.

You play the role of Little Serpent and one fine day when out on a particularly successful hunting expedition you stumble into trouble. You witness a nobleman being attacked by a warrior and as you tend the dying man his last act is to pass on an ornate necklace requesting that you deliver it to the poet, Tlatli, who lives in the marketplace near your village. The warrior then returns and accuses you of the murder. Flee you must, back to your village where you discover that your parents have been imprisoned, that the Poet you seek has been murdered and that many villagers are being struck down by a fatal illness. Thus you become embroiled in a maze of political intrigue involving sickness, strange necklaces and unbridled jealousies.

Play and learn
The story runs strongly through the game and gives a good introduction to Aztec political rivalries and power struggles even without the accompanying educational component. Still, the educational component is equally strong as there is information catalogued on numerous aspects of Aztec history, culture, language and everyday life. This information can be accessed from the opening screen; from the 'documentation' icon during gameplay, or by simply selecting tagged objects throughout the game. For instance, everyday objects such as baths or kilns may be tagged as well as people and places including significant buildings. By selecting any one of these tags the player calls up a documentation file where there is relevant information on the selected topic and further hyperlinks to related topics.

With so much extra information it's potentially very easy to get sidetracked and go off on a tangent reading something or other. But, never fear, the game keeps you well and truly on track with a diary that chronicles all important happenings and a particularly astute character who knows exactly what he should be doing. Try to deviate too far from the story and Little Serpent will quickly set you back on track by reminding you of your present goal. Because of these helpful ingredients the pathway through the story is very clear and extremely simple to follow.

Puzzles and interface
You can die in Aztec if you make the wrong choices but it isn't a regular occurrence and it's very easy to restore to your last saved game. There are no arcade sequences, just a couple of puzzles that require relatively quick reactions, but nothing too daunting. Most of the time the problem solving revolves around detective work, ie listening carefully and learning what should be done to progress in the game. There's a good selection of characters to chase up and interrogate and you may need to carry out a few chores to gain their cooperation. Other obstacles include two or three activities or abstract puzzles such as making an ornamental shield of feathers, manipulating rows of skulls on a wall and sorting out a very easy maths problem.

The interface is also very simple and intuitive with a cursor that clearly indicates movement, action and dialogue options. In addition to this it changes to a 'listening' mode for eavesdropping on conversations and a question mark for accessing information in the documentation. The voice acting is nothing spectacular but it is adequate and very clear. There's also the option to call up text for conversations but the text doesn't appear in eavesdropping mode and nor does it work for the all-important introduction when the whole story scenario is set.

A right mouse click provides easy inventory access where all items are labelled and some items can be held over the eye icon for a closer look. Movement is smooth and moving the mouse spins your view around 180 degrees and tips the perspective up and down to search in every direction. As well as providing options for subtitles and adjusting sound levels the game also allows adjustment of panning speed and either automatic or manual saving.

Expert guidance
Aztec was produced in consultation with a team of archaeologists so as well as telling an interesting story it recreates some fascinating Aztec environments to explore; everything from humble dwellings to prestigious temples and palaces where information can be found on all sorts of objects. As with other similar titles, the player can choose either to enter the adventure game or to simply explore the game world in 'Visit' mode. This latter mode allows access to all locations simultaneously and offers the chance to leisurely sight-see and read all about anything that looks interesting.

Because of its relative simplicity (this game really does take you by the hand and lead you gently through the story) Aztec is best suited to younger players who will find some interesting and entertaining challenges and learn about Aztec life in the process. Conversely, more experienced adventurers will likely find it too easy and too simplistic as an adventure game, although the chance to leisurely experience a little of Aztec life might just be that relaxing diversionary trip that you're looking for. As for me, I was fascinated by the character with the title of 'Woman Serpent' who turned out to be a man. I have to find out more about that because the game only whetted my appetite! rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 2000. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
Win 95/98, Pentium 166 (PII 233 recommended), 32 Mb RAM, 8Mb hard disk space, SVGA 2Mb 6500 video card, Sound card, 8x CD-ROM