Release Date: July 21, 2014
Publisher (Developer): Gato Salvaje Studio (Gato Salvaje Studio)
ESRB Rating: “Rating Pending” for Language and Lyrics and Violence
There couldn’t be a better time for point-and-click adventure games thanks to Telltale Game’s The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. Developer, Gato Salvaje Studio, attempts to pay homage to classic point-and-click adventure games with the first two of four chapters of AR-K. It ends up being a reminder as to why that genre went silent for so long with its poor presentation and frustrating gameplay.
One night stand.
AR-K is a game clearly in need of the help of noted comic book writer and novelist, Greg Rucka, who takes over writing duties on the third and fourth chapters. AR-K heroine, Alicia Von Volish, gets drummed out of the police academy for being in possession of a stolen artifact and turns to college to get into journalism. Nobody knows why. It doesn’t matter why. Not yet at least, as Chapter one thrusts the player into solving the mystery of who Alicia slept with the night before. I wish I could say AR-K starts out with something more meaningful, but it doesn’t. Any attempt to make Alicia a strong female lead is undermined by her initial, indiscriminate promiscuity. There’s nothing wrong with the concept if there’s something valuable for her character to build on, but her motivations are selfish and tiresome.
With such a weak setup, I wish I was more impressed with the puzzle logic since that’s probably the most important aspect to a game like this. AR-K disappoints by giving players very little indication of what to do or where to go thanks to some of the most obtuse puzzles I’ve ever seen. I’m supposed to charge this object with energy before I use it on something else? How was I supposed to know that, if it was never brought up in any sort of context within the game? It’s all so vague. Players have one of two options. Walk through the game interacting with everything, hoping to stumble across a solution by dumb luck, or seek out a walkthrough. Option one will likely yield few results.
It’s 1995 all over again.
Budget limitations couldn’t be any more evident than in AR-K’s graphics. AR-K’s pre-rendered sci-fi environments are dull and lifeless. The character designs and animations are rudimentary and feel like they came straight out of an early PlayStation One era game, which was not a particularly remarkable time for graphical fidelity. The grainy, low resolution cutscenes are the complete opposite of some fairly good, hand-drawn stills used in the game’s introduction sequence. Why couldn’t the entire game have been done in this style?
It gets worse. AR-K is a technical mess. It suffers from all sorts of audio and gameplay bugs. The most egregious issue was the inability to finish either chapter due to game-breaking snags that would not allow me progress. I’d give it the benefit of the doubt if the bugs each happened once, but twice in separate chapters? That’s inexcusable, especially in light of the fact the game autosaves for you. There are no options to load the game from an earlier save. The only solution is to start over.
If there is one redeeming quality about AR-K, it is the surprisingly well written dialogue and voice acting. Ash Sroka, who you might recognize as Tali’Zorah in Mass Effect, does a great job voicing Alicia. The same can’t be said for most of the rest of the cast, though. Sroka can only do so much with a cast that includes a mumbling kid with a mouthful of hamburger, a fourth wall breaking narrator introduced in the second chapter, and assorted minor characters that sound like they recorded their parts in a bathroom.
I can’t review a game for what it might be, but AR-K needs all the help it can get. Greg Rucka writes strong, engaging characters, especially female, but he won’t be able to make up for shoddy programming, lackluster graphics, and uninspired gameplay. These things might have been passable if the game ran properly. In its current form, AR-K, isn’t worth the price of admission. Gato Savaje needs to take what they’ve learned from the first two chapters and throw it out. It didn’t work. Go back to the drawing board. Looking on the bright side, there’s nowhere to go but up from here.