I absolutely loved the original Ishar games. The lush forests and busy cities of Ishar and Ishar 2 generated the kind of atmosphere and environment that made me want to keep playing over and over again. So, I just couldn't wait to get my hands on the latest Ishar game.
Ishar 3 is the third and final part of the mammoth French trilogy, and some may need a little recap just to set the scene so far. In the original Ishar, you had to fight to keep the Kingdom of Kendoria safe from the evil wizard who was trying to overthrow the king and rule the land. If you made it through that one, then in the second one you took part in a daring raid against the Wizard Shandar, in a perilous adventure over land and sea which eventually destroying the Wizard in his own castle.
Or did it? After all, if he did actually die, then surely there wouldn't be room for another sequel, would there? If you haven't already heard, Shandar is alive and well and waiting to wreak his revenge, albeit without an actual physical presence to carry it out with. Long before he passed away, Shandar created a spell that would allow his vital energy and consciousness to survive and adapt after the destruction of his original body. Now he has found a new body to inhabit, one that will make him the biggest threat the world has ever seen. He has chosen to inhabit the body of Wohratax - the last surviving Great Black Dragon.
According to local legend, the Black Dragons were used by the evil armies when they challenged the white knights some 2,000 years before this game. The battles got greater and created more and more casualties, until the great war itself happened and all the Black Dragons were destroyed, with the exceptions of Wohratax himself. In reward for his victory, Wohratax was crowned Lord Of Sith, and given the gift of Invincibility. No wonder that Shandar wants to get his hands on him really!
There is a tiny flaw in the plan, however, and this is where you come into the game. You have to step in and destroy the dragon before Shandar can take over Wohratax's mind. This changeover of minds between Shandar and Wohratax can only happen during the planetary conjunction of the two moons, the sun and the planet Ishar. So you have to make sure that you destroy the dragon before this happens.
If there is one thread that has carried through the Ishar games since Crystals Of Arborea, it is the fact that in each successive adventure, Silmarils take the travelling element a little further. In Ishar, you were restricted to walking around a single large island. In the sequel, you travelled around all the islands on the planet, sailing between each whenever you had finished the puzzles and problems each island had to give you.
In this sequel to the sequel, you travel in time between the islands, popping backwards and forwards through time gates to be in the right place at the right time. As you can well imagine, this adds a lot of variety to the game, putting you in all sorts of strange locations against all manner of unusual opponents, from oversized spiders and bees to tigers, zombie guards and, interesting enough, real people!
You will have already noticed from the screenshots dotted around this review that Silmarils have really gone to town on the visuals for Ishar 3. Coming on six disks, there are far more graphics in the game than ever before, and as a result the realistic effect the previous two have generated has been increased ten fold.
Take the major city, for example. In most games of this ilk, all locations look more or less the same, or if you're lucky, certain parts of the city will look different to others, if only because the buildings are a slightly different shade of red. In this game however, every single location has its own flavour, and the city actually looks and feels like a real city. You can actually recognise locations fairly easily, and once you've walked around it couple of times, you'll know your way like a native.
THE CAT ON THE MAP
Ishar 3 contains an extremely useful map facility, enabling you to cut out all the usual aimless wandering and lets you get on with just solving the adventure. When you arrive in a city, you can view a complete street plan of the place, with absolutely none of the major buildings and locations marked. As you visit places, coloured arrows appear to show you where taverns, inns, shops and other important places can be found. Carry out a thorough search of the city and you'll never be more than a couple of streets away from the equivalent of a Seven-Eleven shop.
Going back to the graphics, one of the major enhancements is the use of actors to make up the inhabitants of the city.
Although the well-drawn fantasy figures of the last couple of games did the job perfectly well, Silmarils have gone a little further and actually photographed people in costume, which just makes the game look all the more realistic. When you enter someone's house, you actually watch a real person talk to you, instead of another 32 colour barbarian or wizard.
Of course, to do this those loveable French rogues have had to try and define the dress fashions of the city, and I can't honestly say they've done the best job they could have. Muscle-bound barbarians stand next to what can only be described a woman dressed in Elizabethan garb, and the image just doesn't quite work. The dogs and horses work well though.
As far as the game itself goes, there have been few enhancements from the last one. Anyone who can play Ishar 2 will feel instantly at home with this as it contains all the same controls and icons as the last. There are some who will say that this is just more of the same, but as far as I'm concerned Ishar 2 was such a great game, there isn't a need to change anything about the controls. Why fix what isn't broken?
At the end of the day, this is a great game. All the right elements of the last two games have been kept, the plot has been improved and the game looks simply incredible. I'm sure that adventure nuts will go just as mad over this one as they have done over the last two.