Ark of Time (PlayStation) review
"But, no, that would imply that a light-hearted slant had been taken on the game. Instead, Richard's position and news story are SERIOUS BUISNESS! This leads him to undertake serious issues like helping a local fisherman find his rare white crab who jumped ship while he wasn't looking. Said fisherman isn't the sharpest knife in the draw, so just painting any old crab will suffice -- teaching you that newspaper writers are rife with treachery. "
Robert A. Heinlein once famously quoted "Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards." It's also a pastime that one can only improve by continually applying your craft. Betterment, and, thus, a banishment of shame, comes with time; a theory many a flourishing writer can find as fact by taking a peek at their works of yesteryear, and, had I not partaken in this little slice of nostalgia, there’d be little chance I'd ever revisit Ark of Time.
Back when I was a scourging grub in the great fields of GameFAQs, Ark was the very first review I wrote. It had barely-explained sections, awful jokes (including one about four fat men travelling up a steep hill in a tiny car with square wheels spread over several paragraphs to explain the speed in which the lead character moved) and, all in all, didn’t really explain a lot of the game. It even had those annoying ‘custom’ sections people randomly break out (frustration, in this case). Embarrassed by this, I long ago updated the review into something less joke worthy, but it’s hardly something I would say I’m proud of. It was a simple starter level review and I’m no longer a starter.
So it’s time to start again. Hand soap at the ready:
Ark of Time is a point & click game that has not aged well, and it's all too easy to dump blame on the cosmetics such as the clunky 3D graphics. This poorly-advised attempt at employing a modernistic look has robbed away the simple charm contained within better-aged games like Monkey Island or Broken Sword. These two games went against the allure of trying to push a modern look that would tire with each new generation of hardware released, and the more intelligent members of their genre followed suit. Ark didn’t play smart; released back in 1998, it employed poorly rendered polygons warped around a struggling graphics engine that looked like a brave but flagging effort from the generation previous. The void of competent voice acting doesn’t help matter much, either; protagonist Richard Kendal is supposed to be a small-time English reporter covering non-league football, which makes his clearly American accent all the odder. You can even hear pauses each time he has to say “football” while he mentally reminds himself not to say “soccer” instead.
For no reason whatsoever, Ritchie is pulled off covering the latest semi-pro match being played in a cow field somewhere (come on you ’Shots!) to report on the biggest breaking story in the world, because nothing prepares journalistic talent for the big time than watching non-league football. With the play-offs cruelly snatched away, Richard is thrown onto the rickety company plane and jetted across the world to a small tropical island. The story he's sent to chase? The disappearance of four people trying to track down the lost city of Atlantis.
His masterful knowledge of how to spring an off-side trap and being able to cuss out a linesman with the best of them should prove really handy traits.
But, no, that would imply that a light-hearted slant had been taken on the game. Instead, Richard's position and news story are SERIOUS BUISNESS! This leads him to undertake serious issues like helping a local fisherman find his rare white crab who jumped ship while he wasn't looking. Said fisherman isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, so just painting any old crab will suffice -- teaching you that newspaper writers are rife with treachery.
Being a graphical adventure, there just happens to be a landscape painter nearby who will happily trade you a tin of white paint for some fresh water with which to clean her brushes. And even when you have the paint, you need to find some way to catch a crab. There's one lounging around on the beach, but the nippy little bugger always high-tails it back into the sea whenever he spots you. A cunning trap consisting of crab bait and sticky maple sap will need to be employed before you can give the little fellow his whitewash.
Of course, none of this will come easy. Beneath the gaudy layer of low-res 3D graphics and the surreally-serious demeanour beats the clichéd heart of a real old-school adventure engine that lives and dies in inventory puzzles. The painter needs fresh water for her brushes? There's a tap outside the museum. That security guard that won't budge and let you take a closer look at that display you need? Dump the dirty water out the open window and right on to his shiny new car parked right outside. There's always a chain of events you need to fulfil to take another step up the ladder, and the puzzles are, for the most part, solid and logical. You know that messing up the guard's car will work because he won't shut up about it. You know there are secrets to be found in the museum because the clues are there for you to find. It's not spelt out in crayon, you need to work towards it, but it's all logical.
This all changes, however, as the game goes on. Yes, point & click games are supposed to be on a difficulty curve where the puzzles become harder and harder as the title progresses, but Ark of Time has less a difficulty curve as it does a difficulty 200ft plummet.
Imagine you've fought your way through the game. You've spoken to and interacted with every single racial stereotype under the sun (because racial stereotypes are the only thing Ark has), you've conquered the topical island starting pad. You’ve moved on and through the serene Easter Islands and have even spent more than your fair share at Stonehenge. A Stonehenge unlike the one I recently visited that allows people to stroll in and start digging around. When I was there, the mysterious stone structures weren't three feet away from an unlocked tool shed filled to the brim with stealable items either -- but, to progress, steal you must! Bypassing each means more than tipping a bit of dirty water out of a window and depends more on taking items out of your inventory and clicking them on anything and everything. Then wondering why the hell it's worked when a bit of scrap paper has yielded results when used on that tree.
Scratch head. Shrug. Continue Random Clicking™.
Which all combines to ensure that Ark of Time never does anything to make itself heard above the howling hordes of bigger and better adventure games, and makes it certainly not recommended as a starting block for anyone interested in stepping anew into the genre. It’s not so much that I regret playing the game – the pure, mind-blowing difficulty of the final aquatic stage’s completion came with a lot of swearing, pad-throwing and, eventually, pleading to the television, but few games have rewarded me with a greater sense of satisfaction once finally seen off. But that’s the problem; I didn’t feel fulfilled because I had challenged myself and came off on top but more akin to feeling like I had slain a gibbering demon that sat on my shoulder making derogatory comments on my intelligence or suggesting crude untruths about my sexuality. I didn’t complete Ark of Time as much as I slew it, gloated over its broken and bloody corpse, and then forgot it ever existed.
And would have happily continued on in life with this game firmly forgotten if not for a nostalgic look over my shoulder. Curse you, Heinlein!
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