Genre:   Adventure

Developer & Publisher:  Gato Salvaje studio

Released:  July 2015

PC Requirements:  

  • OS: Windows 7
  • Processor: Intel Atom
  • Memory: 1 GB RAM
  • Hard Drive: 3300 MB available space



by flotsam


AR-K - Chapter 1: Gone With The Sphere

Gato Salvaje Studio

Episode 1’s are important, if you want people to play the rest. I will do so, but not on the strength of this.

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 help.

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 early reappearance.

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 Wasn’t There

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 information itself.

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 the case.

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 Escape

Clearly the developers have been listening.

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 centre.

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 Chapter 4.

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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September 2015

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