HEART OF CHINA / Sierra / PC
Heart of China is one of a small handful of unique, idiosyncratic graphic adventures made by Dynamix (while they were under the ownership of Sierra) during the early to mid 1990s. The game is set in the 1930s, and casts you as "Lucky" Jake Masters, a former WWI flying ace who now runs a small cargo transport operation out of Hong Kong. When a young American nurse is kidnapped by a Chinese warlord, Jake is rather forcibly "contracted" to rescue her by her father (who happens to own the majority stake of Jake's operation).
What's unique about Heart of China is the first-person perspective, and the graphical style. No other adventure games of the period, save perhaps Sierra's Manhunter series, utilized a through-the-characters-eyes view like this. That by itself perhaps isn't so remarkable, but what is (again, for the period) is the use of digitized VGA characters interspersed over the hand-painted backdrops. While the low framerates may look primitive compared to today's 3D technology, it was really quite a pioneering use of graphics back in 1991, when VGA (256 color graphics) was still new. Even today, it conveys a sense of "being there" that most games don't - in the real-looking activity in the backgrounds, and in the way characters will glance at you and look away periodically as you stand around in a particular scene.
The game is overall rather short, and on the easy side. The most challenging area is actually the very first, where there are a number of surprising death traps and time-wasters waiting if you make a wrong menu choice in conversation, or simply enter the wrong area at the wrong time. The game consists of a sequence of six short, self-contained areas that you do not travel backwards to, and in the later going there are actually fewer opportunities to inadvertently do something dumb (even as Lucky's situation progressively gets more dangerous). Because of the way the game is structured, there are a limited number of items to be found in each area, and thus most of the puzzles are fairly obvious with only a little trial and error. This is a game that you will want to have multiple save files for, however, as it will happily let you progress forward while missing some key item that cannot be returned for later. Your biggest problem, as in other Dynamix titles Willy Beamish and Rise of the Dragon, is your characters mouth - Jake is a stereotypical rude American, and conversations often boil down to trying to figure out what the *least* offensive of the available dialogue options is.
The game has a decent adventure-film sort of story, though it is a bit one-dimensional and relies on a lot of cliches (copping quite a number of elements from Indiana Jones). "Heart of China" is a bit of a misnomer, as you actually spend very little time in mainland China, instead mostly bopping around the countries bordering it and eventually winding up in Paris. I'm assuming that the writers didn't have you spending a tremendous amount of time in China as, well, they really didn't seem to know all that much about it. The first big tip-off is that you have a Chinese ninja partner ... even in 1991, I'm pretty sure it was fairly common knowledge that ninja were a Japanese phenomenon. The game also opens with a quote about the one Chinese truth being "This too shall pass", which I would imagine Westerners would actually be more familiar with as it comes from King Solomon, not Chinese philosophy. The game also has a fair bit of Western-centric stereotypical portrayal of Asians in general, although to be fair, we are playing as a cocky jerk of a pre-WWII American who would be expected to see things that way, and an ongoing theme of the game is that he actually tries to be less of a jerk about these things (the Asian supporting cast usually outsmarts him and proves to be more competent than him anyway, kind of a whole Big Trouble In Little China thing going on here).
It's short, and definitely rough around the edges, but on the whole I think this game is worth checking out (especially as you'll likely just be downloading it for free anyway, and it's only about 5 MB). The visual style is striking and impressive, and is worth the price of entry alone, but the adventure also proves to be quite a decent one.
* Gameplay video
* Full tank arcade sequence
* Entertaining deaths