Blood. Sacrifice. Fire.
You are the voodoo priest Akuji. Claw your
way through the vast 3D underworld to exact
your revenge on your murderous brother.
Savage your enemies with razor sharp claws.
Incinerate them with primal voodoo spells like
hell blast and spirit strike. Sometimes death is
only the beginning.
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With Legacy of Kain on the horizon, Crystal Dynamics has taken a turn into the dark underworld. Its latest action title, Akuji the Heartless, delves into the creepy world of Voodoo, while Kain will go on to explore spirits and death.

Utilizing the game engine from Gex: Enter the Gecko, Akuji couldn't be a further cry from the bright, cartoonish camp of Crystal D's staple  mascot's previous adventures. Instead, Akuji travels darkly lit passages leading through the bowels of the Hell searching for a way to return to the overworld and wreak vengeance on those who murdered him. Not exactly Saturday morning kiddie stuff, but Crystal Dynamics has carried off the transition incredibly well.

Traveling through a long series of
imaginatively designed and beautifully realized levels, Akuji is able to wield
various spells and slash away at surprisingly intelligent enemies. Puzzles
figure into the gameplay in the form of the usual switch-hitting and
item-collecting, but the way in which each area is designed, the task never
seems too tedious. Visually, the game is a dark wonder with Crystal
Dynamics taking the rarely traveled path of a colorful, but highly atmospheric
vision of hell, rather than the typically gloomy, gothic architecture used in so
many current games dealing with the afterlife. It's this fresh approach to the
standard platform adventure genre that gives the game a boost in the right
direction.

On top of the interesting level designs in the game, the AI of the enemies is
also a notable improvement over the usual robotic behavior in most other
console action games. The enemies will often dodge attacks and provide you
with a challenging fight, rather than the simple repetitious hack 'n' slash
methods that are typically employed in this type of game. The intelligence
and wonderfully creative character designs set Akuji apart even from
Crystal's other current offerings.

But the game does have its share of problems, most notably in the controlling
of Akuji. With a rough amount of animation lent to moving around,
movements appear sloppy when jumping or too slow when he's running. This
problem translates into tough precision jumps and a tricky time
outmaneuvering certain enemies. The camera, while highly improved over
Gex: Enter the Gecko's bizarre angles, still comes up too slow to stay ahead of
the action at a considerable pace. But with a one-button over the shoulder
view, the cameras are never as much of a problem as the sluggish controls.


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