Review by Scout
"Atlantis. Many Have Searched for it and Failed."
In 300 BC Plato framed a cautionary tale about the downfall of
a once-noble race by setting it in an imaginary land he called Atlantis.
A proud, mighty people, the Atlanteans became so corrupt that the
gods had no other choice but to send the whole mess to the bottom
of the ocean. Things remained peacefully submerged until the 1870s,
when Jules Verne's Captain Nemo rediscovered Atlantis in 20,000
Leagues Under the Sea. Edgar Cayce checked in soon after, claiming
that the Atlanteans had possessed atomic power and death rays. The
rush was on. Plato's innocent lesson in civic manners somehow captured
the imagination of a century of storytellers and hucksters. Atlantis
has turned up in movies, books, theology and advertising. There
are Atlantis Soaps, Atlantis Snowboards and Atlantis Diaper Stackers.
Atlantis also happens to be a favorite setting in adventure games.
It's the crescent wrench of adventure game settings, the place every
other adventure game hero wants to find, where anything is possible
and phantasmagoric undersea creatures drift through ruined buildings
and nest in strange mechanisms whose functions are a mystery to
us mere mortals. And by the way, what's that humming sound I hear?
Is it Plato spinning in his grave or just my computer laboring to
deliver the 800,000,000,000,009 Google hits on my "Atlantis
Computer Game" search?
Ark of Time, developed by Trecision in 1997, is all about
Atlantis. Or more accurately, the search for Atlantis. You play
Richard Kendal, a sports reporter for a London newspaper. One day
Richard gets called into the editor's office and handed an assignment
to track down and locate Professor Caldwell, London's latest crackpot
academician on the trail of the Lost City of Atlantis. Never mind
that both the football-obsessed Kendal and the editor have heavy
American accentsin fact don't mind the voice acting, period,
but more about that in a minute. To be fair Kendal later admits
to being American, but in the UK football is soccer and ... well
... it didn't seem very convincing. Kendal's boss gives him a plane
ticket and a bottle of rum (?) and tells him to get down to Rum
Cay Island in the Bermuda Triangle and find Professor Caldwell.
The game is on.
The interface is straightforward. Point and click. Pick up items
you find laying around, talk to everyone you meet, make your way
from location to location. The hotspots are conveniently tagged
with white text that appears when you run the cursor over them.
The save slots are limited to twelve, though it never felt restricting.
You can't die and there are no action scenes requiring jumping,
shooting or fighting. You can left-click through the dialogue and
after the first few listens-through your index finger will be itching,
not because the dialogue is long but because it is so awkwardly
delivered, especially the main character's.
"Poor, Poor Me!"
Richard Kendal is the sort of hero who taps life on the shoulder
and clears his throat. Here's what I mean. Mismatch inventory items,
and Richard will mourn that he "can't do anything right."
Try again and he wonders out loud if "he's the right man for
the job." Again. He's "wasting his time." Or "it's
a useless attempt." All of these lines are delivered in an
adenoidal, whining tone that grated on my nerves. And it's not just
the character's tone. It's the execution. I had the text option
on throughout the game, and time and time again the pauses in Kendal's
voice dialogue coincided perfectly with the slugs of text appearing
on the screen, leaving me to conclude that the actor was reading
his lines directly off the monitor. Add to that the odd stresses
on random words and the off-kilter translation from Italian to English,
and you better start finding ways to appreciate the overall weirdness
or you will not like this game. In the end I decided to decide that
the voice acting was "whimsical." Once I had rearranged
my thinking in that regard things smoothed out.
"What Is This? A Bizarre Mix of Colour and Emotion?"
The graphics are well done though obviously dated. The colors are
like cake icing, sweet and sometimes cloying. There's a dreamy quality
too, all held together with a smooth airbrushed feel. The characters
resemble volumetric shapes, filled with air. Body parts hinge in
the oddest places and the characters all move as if they are underwater,
but this isn't as distracting as it might seem. The sound effects
are great, adding a much-needed extra layer to the game. I especially
appreciated the way the audio track was used to introduce a scene,
fading in a beat or two before the graphics. It wasn't long before
I could identify a location by the audio cues even before it appeared
on the screen. This made the game more fun.
The game world opens up slowly, and early on some of the verbal
triggers required to bring up a new location pass by so quickly
you don't notice them. It's only by checking your map that you will
find a new area is available for exploration. And once you arrive,
there often isn't a lot to do. Much of the gameplay entails returning
to other locations and checking and rechecking that you have picked
up everything and done everything and talked to everyone.
"Is this a Real Rock or Just Another Part of an Enigma?"
The puzzles are of medium to hard difficulty. In retrospect I realized
that there were a lot of verbal clues that I missed the first time
around. Several times I thought I had done everything possible only
to be told that I hadn't. So back to all the locations I wentback
to the inventory, back to the desert and the island and the English
countryside, and back to poor Richard's ceaseless whining. I was
especially frustrated trying to prove a hapless desert prince innocent
of murder so his jailers would free him, so he would give me the
magic words that would open a critical location.
This game can be hard in places. In fact there's a mini walkthrough
for the first few scenes in the manual to get you started. I managed
to do without it, though I spent a lot of time trying everything
with everything in the game world as well as in the inventory. Speaking
of inventory, there's a right and wrong way to combine certain inventory
items. Use A with B and nothing happens. Use B with A, however,
and you have success. I was stumped a couple of times before I figured
this little trick out. The puzzles are logical for the most part
and in a few cases they are ingenious. There appeared to be a dead
end at one point, though I didn't play on long enough to find out.
Being the paranoiac I am, I backed up and restarted from a previous
save. There's also a tricky part at the end involving drawers as
a means to climb up to a pipe that seemed more an interface glitch
than any operator error.
Ark of Time is a DOS game. I played it in DOS. If you prefer,
there's an autoplay function that will automatically drop you from
Windows to DOS, but after that it's DOS all the way. Also, the word
VESA appears nine times on a single page in the manual so your video
card should probably be VESA compliant or come with a legacy driver.
I have Win 98, so I don't know if it's playable in XP's compatibility
mode or not. It's an old game.
"A Big Fish. A Glowing Fish. A Prophetic Dolphin."
There's a sly humor running through Ark of Time. In a time
capsule recording, one of the Atlanteans identifies himself as Bizze-R.
Two mobbed-up bad guys banter hilariously in some of the most over-the-top
voice acting of the game. A shaman dives into a lake and emerges
with the sought-after sacred items and a rusted beer can. The magic
words to open a locked door turn out to be taken directly from a
bad Arabian Nights movie. Nothing overt or scene-stealing, but time
and time again I found myself smiling at a remark or reaction.
Only the last fourth of the last act takes place in Atlantis and
other than a few murky glimpses through portholes, you're restricted
to a single area and a few rooms. With a few script changes this
could have just as easily been a pyramid in Egypt, a deserted space
station or a haunted house. There's no real reason you end up in
Atlantis other than you do. The fun in this game is in the getting
there. You visit the desert of Algiers, stare up at the giant heads
on Easter Island, climb pyramids in the Yucatan, find secret pirate
booty on Rum Cay Island, recharge your lithium crystals at Stonehenge,
visit a ruined church in the English countryside, milk a cow. It's
like a 40s sci-fi road movie where all of the actors are cast from
the local asylum and the locations picked from a travel brochure.
I was on the fence forever with this game, and in the end the quirky
dialogue, nice art and the few bits of "sang-froid" surviving
the translation from Italian to English all succeeded in nudging
the rating up from a reluctant stinky egg to a hesitant thumb up.
I liked it. I would say play it. Just don't ask me what it all
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Release Date: 1997
Four Fat Chicks Links
8 MB RAM
2X CD-ROM drive
Super VGA/VESA video
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