Thursday 30 June 2016

Heart of China - Tanks for the Menageries!

Written by Aperama

Like always, Jake's problems involve planes and flying money

It's probably fair to say that my experience with Heart of China is 'confused'. It's not that I'm not enjoying myself – no, the game is definitely fun in and of itself – there's a certain something about it that does make it fun. But boy, it is on the 'bizarre' side of things. We left off with the cutaway to Kate Lomax being dressed up as an Oriental who.. uhm.. lady of the night. The game immediately moves to the time-honoured 'Indiana Jones line' form of transport on a little map. I nearly thought that there was actually some degree of choice allowed here, but I was very wrong – no matter where you click, Lucky begins to make his Yankee Doodle fly away towards the fortress of Chengdu where Kate is being held hostage. Makes sense, I suppose. The little 'flying dollar bill' thing really felt like it belonged in, I don't know.. a different game of some sort? But I can handle it. Why the game then offers dozens of false landing points and only allows one, though, I am not too certain of – it may well be for remembering the lay of the land later in a tank chase. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

This game really is pretty, too – it has this whole 'oil painting' vibe

The landing area is literally just outside the fortress – I find it almost hard to believe that the armed guards wouldn't have noticed it coming in, but perhaps Jake really is that good at flying his way in stealthily. It has both a cow calmly hanging around and a peasant who approaches from afar – he only speaks Chinese, again, so it's down to Chi to talk with him.. after he lassoes the cow. Yes, this game has gone from 'collecting bird poop' to 'ninja lassoes a cow'. Inversely, Jake is completely inept with the rope from his own plane. I get the idea that this is just the game's way of suggesting which character needs to be using what item – several of the items are literally identified with the word 'ninja' or talked about as being Jake's (e.g. his old revolver, or his lighter with the insignia of his WW1 fighter squadron) – but it feels a touch strange that the character whose belongings are being used aren't actually suited for them. But, indeed.. Chi obtains a cow in his inventory.

I like to think that the thought bubble is from the POV of the cow

Yes, that is a ninja leading a cow... even though it appears for all of the world to me as though it's a donkey

I didn't think to stay around in this screen straight afterwards – I was too enthused at the time, and rushed through to the fortress itself. We're given a 'through the bushes' look at a peasant walking a cow, proclaiming that he has brought the bovine in as part of the 'feast'. I tried to do this with Chi, but it turns out that the differential between the clothes of a peasant in rural China is somewhat different to that of an experienced ninja in full face mask. I even tried taking the face mask off – I mean, come on! That doesn't seem fair at all! Unlike the fantastic ending received by Jake, though, the end for Chi is not quite so peaceful and romantic as him discovering a new profession for himself. If you just try to run up to the fortress head on, or attempt to shoot the guard down with Lucky's gun, Jake shares his fate. I rather like Chi in spite of the dreadful stereotyping, though, so that's not going to happen!

A history lesson well learned, game! Wikipedia, is this true?

Chi pays for his.. well, my mistakes

Instead, with a little patience, a peasant ambles his way into the outcropping which Lucky landed in. I was, to be perfectly fair, not the fondest of waiting around to have some random person come upon Lucky and Chi – after all, it feels a touch hazardous to go near an enemy fortress and just wait for things to come upon you. Patience is key here though, as the nameless peasant is pretty quick to take Chi's side. All it takes is the explanation that what Chi intends to do is going to give a severe bloody nose to Li Deng, who isn't exactly the nicest landlord to have in the neighbourhood.. and that he can wait in the back of the plane wearing a spare pair of pants, eating as much food and smoking as much tobacco as he likes. This game was definitely made before the most recent tobacco laws here in Australia came into effect!

The peasant has a noble heart, just like Chi – he doesn't take too much convincing..

Particularly if you give him something else to enjoy in the mean time while he waits for his clothing back

Good thing that Chi is about the same size as the convenient bypasser!

It's probably worth noting that this is a 'plot point'. Chi and Lucky actually have an alternate way in without ever speaking to the peasant and capturing the cow – they can continue around the fortress, sneakily awaiting the guards to pass by and breaking into the sewers with the crowbar in the back of Lucky's plane. There's a problem with this plan, though – breaking in triggers a latch which closes up the latch which allows fluid out, slowly having the water level rise until Chi and Lucky can no longer breathe and suffocate. I didn't go this way as I literally couldn't work out a way to get up into the next room (which I can at least identify – there's a 'slop hole' for cooking refuse in the kitchen). The issue is that the hole is neither 'large' enough to fit Lucky or Chi, and I can't work a way out to climb the walls or use the grappling hook to climb out of that predicament. Doable? Almost certainly. How? No idea.

I really have no idea how to get out of this situation – but it's almost certainly not a dead end – the 'plot branch' suggests to me that it's a literal alternative way through. Maybe it's less appealing as Kate will find the pair wearing eau d' toilette?

Due to my confusion in this much, I'm instead going with the 'plot branch' which leads us through the main gate. Chi immediately leaps out of his peasant clothes, figuring that being dressed in all black in the middle of daylight is somehow going to be a better alternative for hiding. I'm kinda not going with him on this one – I think he could at least get away with the 'I'm just a stupid peasant who doesn't know what he is doing' excuse far better than wearing all black is going to hide him against drab grey stone walls which are shining yellow for the reverberation of the sun. In fact, I'm almost certain that this is a poor decision – but again, I am forced to defer to he whom has the 'ninja knowledge'. Chi enters with the plan to let Lucky in, but only after he scouts out the area. To the right hand side, we find a 'tank room' – the left has a guardhouse with nondescript keys (which we naturally take). Entering the fortress has Chi sneak up to overhear a conversation between Li Deng and his lead henchman, Tong. It turns out that E.A. Lomax's plan to hire mercenaries (including 'Lucky' Jake Masters being named individually) has already been noted by Deng, so he's already alert for a rescue attempt on Kate. That's good – things have simply felt too easy up to this point!

If you immediately try to let Lucky over the wall, they don't mention this even though nothing seems to directly change – this game is full of those 'minor touches' that help make it feel fleshed out. We also hear that the 'tank is out of service awaiting a part due to an oil leak', which misleadingly suggests that there's only the one...

They spend a little longer than I feel I might have in showcasing Chi stealthily flinging the grappling hook over the wall

After a touch of banter (Lucky thanks Chi, but Chi is quick to complain that dragging Lucky over the wall felt like 'lugging up an ox'), Lucky and Chi begin their assault on the fortress of Chengdu. This is probably a little more linear than I might possibly like it to be – any time in which you attempt to go somewhere you ought not to, the game immediately kills off both Lucky and Chi for going away from the game's plan. The correct path is to go through the dining hall, taking a bottle of liquor on the way through to the kitchen. The kitchen has a huge dog calmly eating scraps inside – but unfortunately, Fido isn't so fond of us going up the cook's private staircase. I wasn't really sure what the pair of roast chickens above it were for (he ate them before I reloaded because who knows when you might need a roast chook), but the fact that the rice wine in the dining room literally says 'drink too much of this and you'll go to the dogs' kinda gave it away – I gave the rice wine to the dog, who lapped it up, curled up and happily.. fell asleep. Phew. At least I didn't kill them! (I hope..)

I kinda agree with Lucky here (even though Chi says no)

Why did I knock over the oil lamp? Because it could be done. Well, that and the fact that otherwise the guards are all flooding the upper floor

I particularly like the look of complete apathy and slight constipation on the man on the left's face

Doggie, you're a drunk!

I also want to mention that the centre left of this previous image is clearly where you would have come through in the 'alternative' way into Chengdu. The following area was a little less interactive. See, if you make the mistake of hitting 'exit' in the bottom side of the area after setting fire to the curtains, turns out that you're being chased. Who'da thunk it! (I had already set fire to this beforehand, so I just used the fact that there was a short cinematic of Deng's henchmen telling them that 'Lomax's men are here'. The little step up through the kitchen's back room leads into the cook's private room, where we find a knife. To go with the rope? Adventure game item royalty, right here! All I need now is a jetpack! The fire is set to hide Lucky and Chi's egress to the chamber where Kate is being hidden. She is in a pit. Of snakes.

News flash: Li Deng has a leopard!

No, really. A pit. Of snakes.

So, I was thinking as to how we could get her out. It's not that there weren't plenty of ideas in my head – I was sure that Chi could do a ninja snake charming thing, or perhaps I could throw a roast chicken at them, or I could just snatch them right out of the air – but all of those ended in Jake's horrible death. I could really make an Elvira-esque list of the assorted deaths that have hit him at this point, though the deaths are far less graphic – it's usually just pictures of the thing which kills you. Instead, Lucky shoots one of the snakes. The other one bites her, we hoist her away, Chi fights off the baddies as we heroically leap off out of the building with a rope attached to the bannister, leap into a tank and run our way out and back to the aeroplane! Then, there's a tank action sequence which takes far too much effort to manage to run through. It's painful, but fun in its own way. The tank blows up two other tanks, runs down a mountain, bypasses a farmer moving a herd of cows and gets back to safety, flying away with the sneaking suspicion that Kate may well need some help for her snake bite...

This game doesn't like to play gentle, either – see what I mean about the 'image of what kills you'?

Session time: 1 hour 30min
Playing time: 2 hours, 30min

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There’s a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!


  1. I also used the method of cow & clothes to enter the fortress. Regarding successfully going through the sewer route, I looked online for an answer just now and apparently gurer'f n ybbfr ornz ba gur frpbaq frjre fperra, jvupu lbh hfr va gur ubyr.

    1. I peeked as I don't really plan to go back - that's quite silly. The sewer area is timed (the water keeps rising) and you already need to interact with each room to use a lighter to first light the room then the torch. I wouldn't have thought to double check in there - if that had been the only way in, I'd have bashed my head against the wall looking through the untimed areas around.

  2. I skipped the tank sequence. Speaking of action sequences in adventure games, I finished yesterday Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter. It was a really disappointing step down from the previous installment in the series (Crimes and Punishments): Badly designed QTEs, stealth sequences and minigames galore, Holmes looks and sounds like a bum, Watson received an equally bad "edgy" "hip" reinterpretation, cases and puzzles are more lazily designed, and there was this awful bratty daughter subplot tacked on to finish a plotline from Testament. (Still a better father-daughter relationship than Clannad though.) I was hoping Frogwares would keep on improving their games with each new release, but sadly not this time.