There has been an interesting revival in the point-and-click subgenre of adventure games in the past decade, which may or may not be a good thing depending on who you ask. I fondly remember the interesting stories told through countless conversations with strange aliens, devils, criminals, pirates, and the other odd assortment of characters that always pop up in these types of games. Humor, too, was often integral to the story telling process with games like LucasArt’s Sam and Max taking the top of the list. However, there is a dark side to the genre that people tend to forget when looking at the past with the rose colored lenses of nostalgia: Convoluted puzzle solutions.
Sadly, it seems that Gato Salvaje’s newest installment of their oft-delayed episodic series, AR-K: The Great Escape, tries to bring back that classic feel of the genre but doesn’t learn from the mistakes that others have made while having a baffling tongue-in-cheek, fourth wall breaking nod every time one of these mistakes are made. Characters, who just seconds earlier have told a heart breaking story, will stop to have a conversation about gameplay mechanics. Inventory items will give you almost no clue to how they are going to be used and at one point, about halfway through the episode, I discovered a right-click mechanic that hadn’t even been mentioned in the rather short tutorial.
We’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves, however. The story goes like this. Earth is destroyed by an asteroid impact hundreds of years ago, but before it was destroyed humanity launched the largest structure they had ever designed into space: The AR-K. It simulates life on earth right down to the trees and sunlight. Our protagonist, Alicia, is born 500 years later. She is an ex-cop who becomes a journalism student, although not many details are given about this except in flashbacks at the beginning. She finds a strange golden orb that throws her into a huge conspiracy that could tear the AR-K apart if word ever got out. She is joined by her friend Franky, an alien who resembles a Tauren from World of Warcraft, and her dog Ambar. After attempting to infiltrate a police station while attempting to retrieve the mysterious orb, she falls through a trap door and land far, far beneath the surface in the mysterious District 8.
After losing the orb, again, Alicia must retrieve it while also uncovering the secrets behind District 8, a hidden area in the center of the AR-K. Unfortunately, she may need to consult the internet for a walkthrough, as some of these puzzles are a bit out there. Only through combining every item with every other item, clicking on anything that can be clicked, and talking to every single character twice just to make sure you didn’t miss anything, will some of the harder puzzles be solved. One puzzle in particular had zero hints about its solution, and only until I checked a walkthrough myself did I discover the logic behind it. Each puzzle solution is accompanied by a rather jarring cut to a pre-rendered animation, although these cutscenes are perhaps the best looking bunch in the game.
As much as I didn’t like the puzzles, I rather enjoyed the voice acting and writing for the multitude of characters encountered. Alicia herself is voiced by Ash Sroka who you may recognize as Tali’Zorah vas Normandy from the Mass Effect series. Award winning comic book writer Greg Rucka (Action Comics, Batwoman, Detective Comics) lends his talent to make the characters seem a little more real. The plot moves along at a steady pace, barring hair-pulling puzzle segments, and the character’s motivations are clear and concise.
While it may suffer from the same mistakes as the point-and-click games of yore, Gato Salvaje did seem to learn what makes those mistakes bearable: good writing, humor, and a good story. Any gamer longing for the old days of point-and-click adventuring should find themselves having a fun time with AR-K: The Great Escape, assuming you can get past the flaws that keeps it from true greatness.