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Heart of China (DOS)

100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  אולג 小奥 (169089)
Written on  :  May 08, 2002
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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Shuo zhongwen ma?

The Good

Heart of China is one of the three early games (together with Rise of the Dragon and Willy Beamish) made by Dynamix. Those three adventures break some new ground and stand solidly and independently without cloning popular Sierra concepts.

Heart of China is very similar to its older "brother" Rise of the Dragon, building upon its main gameplay-related ideas. Like the earlier game, it focuses on dialogue choices that advance the story. There are only a few puzzles, and the main challenge lies, essentially, in not screwing up: follow your logic, trust your senses, and you'll get through this without combining a toy rabbit with glue in your inventory in order to make a saxophone.

That sounds simplistic, and perhaps it is. However, just like its predecessor, Heart of China is remarkably satisfying despite its seemingly casual approach towards gameplay. Where most Japanese adventures - to which Dynamix's works bear some similarities - fail with their redundant conversations and bad pacing, Heart of China succeeds in being truly fluent and cinematic. Its gameplay is integrated into the plot without sticking out; instead of a game full of contrived devices we have an adventure that flows and entertains without you noticing how it does it.

But don't think Heart of China is just a nice movie without any gameplay concept or replay value. A more close analysis reveals that the game does a lot of neat tricks to make up for the simplicity of its gameplay. You can inspect many objects that do not play any role in the plot and receive text comments from the game. Dialogues are handled with tense realism: say the wrong thing and you'll fail the game - or, perhaps, there will be a way to undo your error. There is quite a bit of non-linearity in the game: sometimes more than one solution can be applied to a problem. When this happens, the game also gives you a sign, so that you'll be able to mark down this place for future replaying. In that respect it even improves upon Rise of the Dragon and utilizes its gameplay format more carefully.

Visually, Heart of China has a distinct personality, with even more beautifully designed backgrounds than Rise of the Dragon, and faces of real actors nicely filmed and integrated into the game's graphics. There is also more variety in the locations as you travel from Hong-Kong to Istanbul via a few interesting areas. The action minigames are somewhat more detailed - but of course you can skip them just like before. The campy plot is handled with fitting negligence and the characters are complete stereotypes - which fully falls in line with the game's 1930's setting and its "colonial" atmosphere.

The Bad

The game shares most of its problems with Rise of the Dragon. As fresh as the game seems in the beginning, there isn't much depth in the gameplay. It's nice to have realistic dialogue options, but the constant reloading can get repetitive very quickly. What's more, one of the most unforgiving parts in the game comes right in the beginning, when you have to make a certain character accompany you. Most of the dialogue options lead to dead ends, and it becomes annoying to reload all the time for what is essentially trial and error.

Like its predecessor, Heart of China is too short. Do yourself a favor and play it slowly, enjoying the detail - just rushing through the game when you know the solution greatly diminishes the fun. It is a pity that Dynamix never really expanded upon its interesting gameplay concept. More locations - particularly busier indoor areas - could have worked wonders.

The Bottom Line

Lack of substance is clearly felt in Heart of China, and those expecting an improvement over Rise of the Dragon will be disappointed. However, there is more to this game than meets the eye. Wonderful presentation and intuitive gameplay that escapes the fate of being completely dumbed-down make it a worthwhile experience.