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Secrets of the Ark: A Broken Sword Game (PC) artwork

Secrets of the Ark: A Broken Sword Game (PC) review


"If it were a movie, Secrets of the Ark would be an “Indiana Jones” picture. It would be a huge success and earn a lot of money at the box office because it wouldn’t interrupt itself with inane puzzles the viewer had to solve. Secrets of the Ark feels like that movie, but you have to put up with sheer torture to watch each scene unfold."



I wanted to like Secrets of the Ark. In fact, let’s take that a step further: I knew I would. The Broken Sword series (which includes Secrets of the Ark) has gained itself a dedicated following. George Stobbart, the everyday man who finds himself the perpetual hero, is likeable. Fans say that the puzzles are devious but fair, the narrative thrilling and the dialogue downright amusing. Everything I heard suggested that the series and this game would be near-perfect. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

As Secrets of the Ark begins, George is working a dead-end job at a bonds office in Harlem. No one else would hire him. His coworker is affable enough, but the business as a whole is floundering. They can’t even afford to order out pizza. When George returns from an unsuccessful lunch run, he finds a beautiful young blonde waiting in his office. Upon his arrival, she launches into a dialogue about how he is the only one who can help her. He’s not interested and says so. Suddenly they’re interrupted by thugs coming up the stairs, dressed like villains and packing heat.

That’s when you take over and it’s when the game falters. A weak door shouldn’t keep your adversaries at bay for long, but here it does. Apparently, a doorknob is too much for hardened thugs. George has no time limit as he acquaints himself with his surroundings. He can check his desk, talk to his new companion, or just stand around staring. That’s useful to the gamer, but hardly realistic.

Naturally, the adventure won’t progress unless you start solving puzzles. George and Anna Maria (that’s the blonde) eventually head into the next room, where they notice the lift being summoned from the floor below. The gate starts to lower and Anna Maria grabs the door to prevent it from lowering. “Who could be trying to use the lift?” George densely muses, to which his new friend retorts “Who do you think?” Don’t worry; the dialogue gets better.

As Anna Maria holds off doom, you’re free to explore again. You can eyeball fuse boxes, the mysterious grate in the corner, a wooden crate… there are numerous choices, and again, no time limit. From the office where they were first surprised, the two heroes will eventually make their way through some abandoned rooms, up to a rooftop along a fire escape while oblivious thugs stand in the street just below, across a gap with assistance from a crane and into another building.

Along the way, you’ll encounter a gauntlet of puzzles you must solve with George serving your avatar. Sometimes it’s obvious what you should be doing, like when you’re climbing and dropping your way down through the building. Other times only a walkthrough can save you. For me, that moment came when I found a door tied against a wall by a stout string. I removed the string and added it to my inventory, but nothing happened. The door remained stationary. I shut it and slid a bolt in place. Nothing happened. I checked the door and George mused about how it was shut now. That wasn’t helpful, so I wandered around for awhile and found some live wires, frayed and sparking. There was a fuse box overhead, so I backtracked to it--a tedious affair, mind you--and tried pulling it into the ‘off’ position. That worked until I let go of it, but then the switch fell back into place and the wires below were again activated. Darn. I tried using the stout string to tie the switch into position, but George refused. You’re not allowed to get inventive unless the game expects it.

It turned out that--and if you want to solve this problem for yourself, skip this paragraph--I was supposed to kick the door in. Remember the one that I untied? Well, when I closed and bolted it, I was supposed to examine it along the top and if I clicked on the right area, I could kick the door and it would fall away from the wall along with some bricks to form a bridge that Anna Marie could cross. Then, she would hold the fuse up for me. However, she would only do so if I had already gone down to the wires and examined them. I found that out the hard way, as I had only looked at them from a distance, ascertained the danger they presented, and walked back up to find a solution. So I had to backtrack again, get close enough that George told me not to get too close, then walk back up to Anna Marie so that she would hold the switch and I could backtrack again and cross over safely.

The whole game works about like that. The puzzles in Secrets of the Ark are neither fun nor (in many cases) intuitive. They’re just… there.

Fortunately, almost everything else is just dandy. Environments are bland at worst but surprisingly detailed in many other instances. These aren’t stale environments where papers are stacked neatly on desks in an unbelievable sort of way. When you wander through an office, it looks like a slob has attacked. When you search through a trashed hotel room, it’s like someone really rifled through another’s belongings.

The characters also are intriguing. The sexy Anna Marie grows impatient if you take too long to solve a puzzle, as does George if you leave him standing in place. They’ll look around the room and act like real people. Not only that, but they’ll interact with other credible--often humorous--folk. That’s helped by perfectly voiced dialogue. Try not to laugh as you talk to a man about his obsession with geese, or as you verbally spar with an Elvis wannabe.

If it were a movie, Secrets of the Ark would be an “Indiana Jones” picture. It would be a huge success and earn a lot of money at the box office because it wouldn’t interrupt itself with inane puzzles the viewer had to solve. Secrets of the Ark feels like that movie, but you have to put up with sheer torture to watch each scene unfold. Despite my plan to thoroughly enjoy it from beginning to end, I finally just stopped playing. I couldn’t bring myself to face another puzzle and even the winning dialogue, environments, plot and characters couldn’t overcome that. Broken Sword may still be a great series, but after Secrets of the Ark, I’m skeptical.

Rating: 5/10

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Staff review by Jason Venter (June 06, 2007)

Jason Venter founded HonestGamers in 1998, and since then has written hundreds of reviews as the site's editor-in-chief. He also is a prolific freelancer with game reviews, articles and fiction available around the Internet.

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