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SummaryDynamix's excellent farewell to the adventure genre
The GoodHeart of China is one of three games that were created by Dynamix, the same team who brought us Rise of the Dragon, a cyberpunk adventure set in the future. HoC is the opposite of this, as we are taken back to the past – to 1920's China. These two game share the same engine. Both are presented in first-person and have the same VCR-style menu.
WWI air ace “Lucky” Jake Masters is called upon by multi-millionaire E.A. Lomax to rescue his daughter, Kate Lomax, who faces imminent danger somewhere in China. He is given $200,000 up-front, but he is deducted $20,000 for every day that he is late rescuing her. Lucky employs the services of ninja Zhao Chi to help with the rescue. Lucky plans to return to Hong Kong and deliver Kate to her father, but things get complicated, and the three characters end up traveling through Asia and dealing with the locals, which may help or hinder them.
Jeff Tunnell, the director, wanted HoC to feel like an interactive movie, and it was so close to one. A cast of over eighty actors were used for the production, and whoever participated had to wear clothes that match the 1920's China setting. Each of the actors were filmed in front of a white screen and then superimposed onto hand-painted backgrounds. Due to a tight budget, the actors were limited to Dynamix employees and their families. Damon Slye, who was the co-founder of Dynamix as well as bringing us Stellar 7, played one of the British officials, for instance. The entire shooting process lasted for over a year, and that coincided with the development of the game system.
They did a good job with the final product, but the only thing missing was spoken dialogue and animated close-ups that go with it, similar to what you see in the CD version of The Adventures of Willy Beamish. They didn't have any trouble with developing an interactive movie, since they first tried it with David Wolf: Secret Agent.
There is also another engine at work called 3-Space, which kicks in when you play the game's first arcade sequence. This is where the graphics are presented in 3-D polygons and the gameplay is reminiscent of Stellar 7. There is another game that takes place on top of the Orient Express, but I just found that difficult unless I go into the VCR menu and set the difficulty to Easy. HoC even lets you save before attempting an arcade sequence. This means even if you finish it, you can go back and replay it if you are sick of adventuring for a while. The hand-painted backgrounds look amazing, and most of them blend in with the oriental setting. Both the Chengdu countryside and the view of the Himalayan mountains are breathtaking. Sound-wise, the music and sound effects are good enough, but they sound absolutely great if you are using the Roland MT-32. Using this device gives the game more of an oriental feel to it.
I enjoyed playing taking turns playing multiple characters, and these mean that there is more than one way to solve a puzzle. In Chengdu, for instance, you have to find a way inside the fortress by posing as one of the peasants (as Chi) or using a secret passage somewhere in the sewer (as Lucky). Unlike Rise of the Dragon, where multiple paths also existed, the game lets the player know that that puzzle could have been done differently. There is more than one ending, but whatever ending you get depends on the relationship between you and Kate.
Usually, all your actions are performed using the mouse, but you can also play with the keyboard or joystick (if you can put up with the slow pace). The only situation where I could play with the keyboard is when I am playing the arcade games, where controlling your vehicle/character is much easier.
The BadIf you exactly know what you're doing throughout the game, it can be too short. Also, certain characters remember how you treated them, so choose the wrong dialogue choices and you will have no choice but to restore your saved game and try again.
The Bottom LineThe roots of Heart of China can be traced back to David Wolf: Secret Agent, Dynamix's early game which also has digitized actors and multiple paths. The hand-painted backgrounds are amazing, and the sound is excellent. The multiple paths/endings in this game make the game replayable, so try to go back and play it again and select different choices that will achieve a different result. As for the endings, the bad ending is hilarious, while the good one provides some satisfaction (and uplifting music).
It is a shame that HoC wasn't released on CD-ROM. it could have benefited from spoken dialogue; extended introduction that would have replaced the long, text one; and some other features I will not mention here. After HoC's release, Dynamix decided that adventures were not their thing, and decided to focus more on simulation/strategy games.