When playing Ashen, the new gothic first-person shooter from Torus Games, it's hard not to be reminded of classic id Software shooters like Doom and Quake. Considering that Torus Games has brought good ports of vintage shooters like Doom II and Duke Nukem 3D to the Game Boy Advance, it's not too surprising that some of that stuff rubbed off on this Australian studio. But while much of the visual style and sound design in Ashen pay homage to id Software's brand of devil enthusiasm, the game itself is neither as inspired or technically accomplished. But on its own merits, the game does a decent job of bringing first-person shooting to the N-Gage.
The premise behind Ashen is pretty boilerplate: evil ancient prophecy, deserted city, demons, and ghosts. Mix them all together, and you have just enough motive for a lone gunman to run around corridors and courtyards, killing anything that moves. It would be more interesting if there was more stuff to kill. However, Ashen doesn't throw more than three or four enemies at you at once, and you can expect a decent jog between enemy encounters. Aside from the occasional switch-flipping, there's not much in terms of ancillary activities to distract you from the relatively sparse action. One of the minor twists introduced to the otherwise standard FPS action in Ashen are the ghost vision goggles, which lets you clearly see ghostly enemies that would otherwise be only faintly visible. It's not the sharpest gimmick to begin with, and the fact that a keen set of eyes can usually spot a ghost without turning on the goggles makes this a less integral mechanic than it could've been. Other than the goggles, your arsenal is pretty standard issue and it includes a handgun, two handguns, a shotgun, a machine gun, a Gatling gun, a grenade launcher, a rocket launcher, and some kind of peculiar alien energy weapon.
Ashen's default control scheme makes some odd choices in terms of button placement, but it puts just about every button on the N-Gage's 12-key pad to use; after a few levels you'll be hopping around and circle-strafing with the best of them. Though, based on the incredibly forgiving area of attack afforded by the game's auto-targeting system, it's apparent that Torus understands that the N-Gage control options aren't optimal for a first-person shooter. Once you've exhausted the game's eight levels of single-player action, you can get within 10 to 20 feet of three of your friends and get some deathmatch and team deathmatch games going with the N-Gage's Bluetooth capabilities. Like much of Ashen, the multiplayer options aren't very inventive, but they work.
A wayward glance at Ashen could easily put you under the impression that some crazy home-brewing programmers had figured out how to squeeze Quake onto the N-Gage. The color palette is nearly identical to Quake's, trading largely in the same shades of brown and gray. The environments aren't massive, but there's good variety, some well-thought-out geometry, and surprisingly sharp textures. The enemies you'll face aren't quite as well-conceived--many of them appear as some kind of chunky half-lava monster, half-demon thing--nor are they as varied. Because there are a little over a half-dozen different enemies in the entire game, Ashen tends to dole out new enemy types fairly slowly. The biggest issue of contention when it comes to Ashen's visuals is the frame rate. The frame rate doesn't ever hit 30 frames per second; however, it is consistent when you're just running around. But get a couple of enemies that are up close and throwing projectiles at you and the game will chop up pretty badly.
The soundtrack for Ashen borders the line between techno and heavy metal, and it ends up appropriately sounding like a Nine Inch Nails knockoff, which actually fits pretty well with the rest of the game's atmosphere. The in-game effects aren't quite as striking, though it's worth noting that some of the weapon reports are identical to the public domain sound effects that Doom was built on.
It's pretty easy to get down on Ashen because of its derivative nature and its frame rate issues, and if you've been exposed to modern PC or console first-person shooters, Ashen will seem extremely underwhelming. On its own terms, though, it's really not a bad game. Furthermore, when Ashen is compared with the abominable Red Faction--the only other FPS currently available for the N-Gage--Ashen is definitely a more appealing alternative.