To me Azrael's Tear is somewhat of an enigma. For 1996 it sports the kind of 3D graphics that would be impressive more than 5 after its release. It is dripping with the kind of atmosphere most games would kill for with a skillfully designed soundscape that truly draws you in. Even though there are action elements, it is primarily an adventure game with some puzzles that are so well thought out they fit perfectly in the world before you. The story itself is truly absorbing and thought provoking. With all these impressive elements of show, why does the game overall leave me cold?
Let's begin with the story. When you begin the game some ethereal words fade in teaching you absolutely nothing about the game. Then the game itself starts. You begin to question who you are, why you are there and why are there tiny dinosaurs running around. There's an easily missed page on the floor to your right which gives the date as 1194 AD, which is not the current year. Even the manual is frustratingly vague choosing to tell us about the history of the Knights Templar and the Holy Grail.
The story does eventually make some sense, especially if you're compelled enough to read every line of tiny text that appears on your HUD - a lot of which appears to be made up jargon. As you continue to play gaps are filled and questions are answered leading to a detailed yarn worthy of any novel. But it's this directionless beginning that's the first major flaw you come across. Perhaps Intelligent Games, the developer, knew about this as the manual includes a walkthrough of the first few moments by way of a short story (it still doesn't say why you're there). In case your wondering, you're a futuristic archaeologist searching for the Holy Grail which can save the post-apocalyptic world. Or something like that.
The other major flaw is with the interface and the control scheme. The HUD looks pretty enough but the complete lack of any kind of labeling leaves you stumbling over what anything does. Without memorising the manual, it took me a some time to get my brain to understand what each black button does. It's a design flaw that could've easily been solved prior to release, but one that can nevertheless still be overcome.
What still frustrates me every time I attempt a playthrough is the control scheme. It doesn't know whether it wants to be a point & click adventure game or a first-person action game and it excels at neither. You can move using the mouse, holding down the left button to go forward and swaying the mouse imprecisely in order to turn. This becomes useless as soon as you enter the second room in the game which contains some nefarious bridge placement. Using the mouse, I immediately fell off and died first time round. In fact, this is the most dangerous rooms I came across! You can use the direction keys to move as well, which is more precise and definitely the preferred method, but turning is much slower this way. Neither option left me feeling I had direct control.
If you can get past these flaws, what your left with is an impressive and atmospheric action adventure with some exceptional world building and puzzle designs. Even though I had issues with how it was presented, I found the story to be inspired and intriguing. Alas the control scheme was near game-breaking for me which is very disheartening considering almost everything else about Azrael's Tear is something I would normally find incredibly exciting to play.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox to bring the game to modern systems. Manual included. Tested on Windows 7.
Azrael's Tear is © Intelligent Games
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me