AR-K - Chapter 1: Gone With The Sphere
Episode 1’s are important, if
you want people to play the rest. I will do so, but not on the strength
I feel compelled to cut to the
chase. If there is a game with more convoluted, illogical, and opaque
puzzle solves, I haven’t played it. I am more than willing to
acknowledge that my aging brain cells missed a clue, but for that there
need to be clues to miss. Several walkthroughs confirm this lack, and
several reviews lead me to believe I am not alone in my response.
There are no manner of problems
with the puzzles. Sure, these types of games have some fanciful, rather
than straightforward, solutions, but these take the cake. Some are just
silly, the “pick” probably being the second of four items for a hangover
cure. The unresponsive inventory, in terms of examining items, doesn’t
Some solves are also downright
horrid. I can take a little vandalism and have no problem with cartoon
violence, but goading a depressed person to actually jump from a window
is a bit much. Not funny in my view.
The plot revolves around Alicia
Von Polish, who was set for a stellar career in the police following in
daddy’s footsteps, only to have to resign in disgrace, all because of a
golden sphere. She is now studying journalism, because as she says if
she can’t solve crimes she will report the truth. We first encounter her
in a dishevelled state in an even more dishevelled bedroom, having
clearly had a very good night, with her primary task to sort out just
how good of a night it was and with who. The sphere however makes an
The plot didn’t advance much
more, except for a rush at the end. In between, the tasks are generally
sidelines to the main event.
It also wasn’t clear to me until
the very end that we are in fact on a space station. No real effort is
made to bring the world to life, and while the presence of non-human
characters clearly indicates something other than current day earth,
what and where we are is distinctly lacking. Perhaps it will come in
subsequent episodes, and perhaps I am overly impatient, but I did think
it would have helped to have grounded us in the environment.
I didn’t care much for Alisha,
and it had nothing to do with her skin tight jeans, busty physique, and
overtly sexual ways. It just seemed to be all about her, and damn the
rest of everybody. Again, I might be springing to judgement a little
quickly, but let’s see.
She swears too, so be warned if
that bothers you.
Oddly, the “how to play the
game” menu item indicates that there is a narrator who appears top left
of screen, and can provide insights into the puzzles if stuck. He in
fact doesn’t exist, although he is present in Chapter 2. I can’t tell
you any more than that at this stage, save to say that he explains his
sudden appearance on the basis that “Chapter 1 was a little confusing”
so it was thought that having a voice over that let people in on what
they were thinking and why couldn’t hurt. I certainly agree with that.
He also says he is there to class things up a bit, in contrast to
Alisha’s potty mouth. A potty mouthed response follows.
Whether he works or not and how much it
improves things I will let you know in Chapter 2.
Chapter 2: The Girl Who
Well, things have improved, if
only a bit.
Starting where we left off, the
narrator spends most of his time bantering with Alisha, much like a
Greek chorus as far as the rest of the game world is concerned. While he
says he will offer a clue if you show him an item, in fact he won’t. He
may however proffer some suggestions if you show him stuff from Alisha’s
PDA (at least I assume that’s what it is), an adjunct to the inventory
which stores bits and pieces of, well, stuff. It might be an icon of
another character, or of a task yet to be completed, or of something
learned, which might generate a bit more information about what to do
when shown to the narrator. Alisha will also comment on these things if
right clicked, again perhaps shedding some light on events or just the
The inventory though remains a
closed book. No amount of clicking or dragging will lead to any
information whatsoever about the item. A few elicit some information
when first gathered, but you are then on your own.
For some things this matters
little – a crowbar is just that, and we all know how it works. However
there are items which do things which you will only know by randomly
trying to do things with them. You won’t do those things for any other
reason, however fundamental the action is to moving forward.
You will also need to try things
just because you need to do something. Which may then result in a
cutscene or an outcome which indicates why you did it, but there is
unfortunately nothing beforehand to suggest that you should do it.
There are also puzzle solves
which continue to be completely opaque or even obtuse, and others that
are overly convoluted. I accept that part of the attraction of these
types of games is that not every solve is straightforward – e.g. start
fire by lighting a match – but there are solutions here that are too
fiddly for their own good (the exam cheat is a good example). Assuming
of course you have worked out your need to fiddle, which won’t always be
Fundamentally, the game remains
let down by its puzzles. Which in this type of game is not a good thing.
I did quite like the voice
acting, and I do like the look. It and the characters remind me a little
of the Sims. I also liked the way Alisha stuffs things in her inventory,
a little bag attached to her belt. There was a wry smile or two at some
of the dialogue as well.
I still haven’t warmed to
Alisha, and her mannerisms and colourful speech continue. I will keep
you informed how that goes.
I did get the odd graphical
glitch (a character sitting on a balcony was suddenly floating above the
stairway; a big crimson rectangle appeared in one scene), and the act of
walking leaves a bit to be desired – Alisha glides while moving her
legs, and sometimes a little side-on rather than straight ahead.
The story still doesn’t take us
very far, but sinister conspiracies are clearly in play, and the end
suggests we may well find out a whole lot more in the coming chapters.
I haven’t yet mentioned the
gameplay, which is third person and all point and click. You can fast
forward through dialogue if you are reading ahead on the subtitles or if
you are repeating dialogue, but don’t try and do it during a cutscene –
it will jump to the end of the cutscene and you may well miss your only
chance to learn stuff. I would also recommend you do it sparingly with
dialogue in any event. You may jump to the next sentence but you may
also jump to the end of the particular character’s conversation, again
missing stuff you might need to know.
You can’t reveal hotspots or run
or double click to jump to an exit, but those things aren’t really
necessary. The world isn’t a big place, and each scene is pretty much a
single screen, so walking isn’t a chore, although interestingly Alisha
does comment on being sick of it at one point. This elicits commentary
about using the terminals to jump from here to there, which you may have
missed given they were present but not active in Chapter 1. Suffice to
say they are far more integral to a puzzle than they are necessary for
getting around, but they can save a little traipsing.
The game saves automatically
when you exit, and you simply continue when you next play, which would
be fine except it’s the only save point. You can’t go back and if you
start again, then you erase where you are up to. Seems unnecessary to
me, but then I don’t know how difficult that stuff is to design.
Onward to Chapter 3!
AR-K - Chapter 3: The Great
Clearly the developers have been
While some puzzles are still
somewhat opaque, Chapter 3 does a much improved job of providing clues
and information, making this the most enjoyable chapter. I still
scratched my head as to why I would ever do that for a few conundrums,
but by and large it provided a much fairer fight.
Some puzzles were downright
good. There was a “whodunnit” in the form of a logic puzzle, which I
have always enjoyed, and one with the answer in plain sight, provided
your brain is thinking the right way.
It also seemed more polished,
the cutscenes in particular, but perhaps that was just my improved
demeanour across the course of the game.
The narrator is gone, but
Frankie now sits in the top corner, communicating with you via your PDA.
Show him stuff with the PDA and he might have an insight or two to
offer. We also have little graphical images for conversation topics,
which will turn opaque (or occasionally disappear) when there is nothing
more to say on that matter. The little ice cube image was a nice
“icebreaking” conversation starter. Next to Frankie sits a map, for
convenient hopping to any location you have been before.
Right clicking inventory items
will also elicit a response about what it is, again an improvement over
what came before. The overly complicated PDA has gone, and we have a
straight forward inventory, accessed by clicking the little tab bottom
We also learn something about
the Ark itself this time, and the storyline has started to become
interesting, and I confess to looking forward to seeing what happens in
While I liked the whodunit
puzzle, it was a little “tacked on”, and the I thought the scavenger
hunt that accompanied it whereby you embark on a complicated trade fest
in order to get one (seemingly) simple item was a tad too much. It
tended to overbalance what had come before, making the latter parts seem
a little bloated, but if that is my main gripe, it’s a mark of the
improvement in this Chapter.
All up, much better all round.
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