AR-K Review

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Meet Alicia van Volish, the daughter of a decorated police officer. Her own career in the forced ended prematurely when an incident involving a curious golden sphere ended with her dishonorable discharge. Now a journalism student, Alicia wakes up after a night out with one heck of a hangover and  no memory of what had happened. As she works to piece together the events of the previous night, she uncovers a mystery which seems to intertwine with her troubled past.

AR-K (pronounced simply as “ark”) is an episodic point-and click adventure game, planned for a full 4 episodes, but currently only the first one is available, with the second nearing completion. Quest for Infamy didn’t quite manage to crush my love of adventure games, so let’s get into it and see how we fare.

The eponymous AR-K is an outer-space colony; a supposed utopia home to both humans and aliens from all over the galaxy, boasting a slick futuristic aesthetic, and a number of colorful characters. That said, it does feel a little sparse for a bustling space metropolis – NPCs are mostly kept to the bare essentials and many of the game areas are quite small.

Gameplay follows pretty traditional adventure gaming conventions, with a few interesting conceits. The first of which is Alicia’s dog, Ambar, who will faithfully accompany you throughout the game She’s not fully controllable, but Alicia can issue some commands to her and she proves handy in solving some of the game’s puzzles. In addition, AR-K doesn’t bother with the classic SCUMM Look At/Talk To/Ask About commands. In your inventory, each object and many of the characters have their own icons, and you can simply drag whatever you want to talk about onto whoever you want to talk about it with. It’s very convenient.

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I got a real kick out of watching Alicia cram large objects into her tiny belt pouch. It’s a gag other adventure games have used before, but I find it amusing every time.

As is commonplace in the genre, occasionally AR-K‘s puzzles do not provide sufficient clues to work out what you’re supposed to do without a good deal of trial and error. Most of the time you should get by if you can put two and two together, but sometimes you’ll come up against something of a brick wall. Again, it’s not something specific to AR-K, but I find it frustrating when games adhere to old methods of game design without much reason.

Graphically, AR-K‘s style is somewhat reminiscent of Clone Wars, with somewhat cartoony character models mixed in amongst sci-fi backdrops. It’s not the most amazingly detailed style or lifelike animation in the world, but, hey, I can pretty much tell what everything is and it definitely works for what the game is trying to do.

The voice acting is fairly decent. Nothing stellar; no real standout performances to be had here, but nothing that’ll make your ears bleed either. Alicia is suitably sassy, snarking her way through the adventure. I kinda like her.

At one point, Alicia flips someone off, and her finger is blurred out. Which, like, okay, pretty normal. Only they fucking bleep it too. They bleeped a hand gesture. I don’t know if that was an intentional joke or my game acting squirrelly again, but it’s probably the funniest moment in the whole thing.

Everyone else is pretty unremarkable, but since Alicia is the one who carries the game, it’s not a big deal. The one exception to this is the walrus-like alien in the university lobby, one Mr Wallruce. Wallruce manages to sound one hell of a lot like Alan Alda, and, well, I like Alan Alda. He’s amusingly miserable, as well.

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However, throughout the game I experienced pervasive audio fuckery with the voice tracks. The lines would often cut out for a split second enough times in the same sentences that it just stutters along robotically. More annoyingly, there was also an echo effect where a voice clip would start playing over again before the first had finished. So you’d end up with the same line played twice overlapping itself, turning every last conversation into a round.

While playing, I found that the game would often crash, freeze, or simply load forever. I got in touch with the developer and his thought was that it was likely a conflict between my antivirus and my graphics card. Once I’d got the game running in Windows 98 compatibility mode, the problems mostly ceased, save for the audio hiccups mentioned above.

Furthermore, at times I was unable to select or interact with items both in the game world and in my inventory for no discernible reason, which lead to a number of restarts until I got lucky and the game decided to work again.

I’ll admit that I’m not very well-versed in the techy part of PC gaming, so I can’t say for certain if that problem was indeed an issue with my hardware or something wrong with the game. Searches through Google and Steam turned up nothing similar to what I experienced, so I’ll give AR-K the benefit of the doubt. Make of this what you will.

AR-K doesn’t quite measure up to the work that studios like Telltale have proven themselves capable of, but that’s not to say it’s an awful game. There’s a good deal of potential here, seeds that could grow into something greater. In its present form, it’s plagued with technical difficulties and can be frustrating at times. Even so, if you’re a fan of point-and-click adventures and you’re looking for something off the beaten path, you could do a lot worse that AR-K.