Review: AR-K: Sex, Lies, and Classwork: Chapter 1

AR-K: Sex, Lies, and Classwork is an episodic game by the Spanish Gato Salvaje Studios. Chapter 1 is currently out, with three more planned. The game was originally to be funded via Kickstarter, but that campaign only raised $15,488 of its $150,000 goal. The developers continued on a self-funded basis, and Chapter 1 is the result.

Plot

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Our heroine.

According to the official site:

“Alicia, a journalism student who lives in a utopian society, lives a series of events that make her consider her lifestyle and the society where she has grown up. Through the riddle posed by finding a mysterious object, she will be wrapped in a complicated web of research which reveals that the world she lives in is not what it seems to be.”

At the beginning of the game, you watch a cutscene that shows Alicia dancing with an unidentified man. When she wakes up, her main concern is to figure out who she hooked up with last night, because he is gone when she wakes up. Not the most epic of quests, but it is a quest. You’re also introduced to a mysterious incident in Alicia’s past that disqualified her from becoming a police officer like she wanted to be. This comes up later in the game, but solving that mystery seems to be reserved for further episodes. The game is not for kids, as should be clear from the title, and there’s also quite a bit of cursing.

Graphics and Sound

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The game was made with the Unity3D engine. It looks very cartoony, but the artwork is pretty nice, with the weirder things (like Frankie the minotaur up there) in particular standing out. The mouth movements don’t sync with what is being said at all, but I didn’t find that too distracting. Sometimes there were graphical errors, such as your dog Ambar disappearing for a moment, or Alicia/Ambar being able to walk through solid objects. The game also hung up a few times for no real reason, and on one occasion, I had to close out of the game and go back in to progress. A few hotspots were sometimes difficult to click on, with the cursor placement not quite lining up with the object itself.

The voice acting is done by an all-British cast and is decent enough. Sometimes the delivery is a little off, which I think can be attributed to the writing. There are a lot of little spelling/grammar errors in the subtitles that start to add up, especially if you’re used to relying on them. In at least two instances, dialogue options and subtitles were left in Spanish, and sometimes subtitles were not voiced at all. They are also color-coded by character, as has been the standard in adventure games since the 90s. The music was generic, with only a few tracks included, and nothing in particular stood out or impressed me very much.

Alicia’s character design left me a little annoyed. She seems overly gratuitous for no real reason, and her breasts definitely have a lot of jiggle to them, especially in cutscenes. There’s even a scene where you deliberately have to have her wear a dress that she doesn’t like wearing in order to seduce and distract a guard. It seemed out of place, as did the “Sex” part of the title. I don’t mind mature themes in games at all, but it didn’t really work here – I think it was added solely to titillate and not much else.

Gameplay

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I first tried to play this on the iPad, but it seemed buggy to me (even after updating), so I switched to playing it on the PC. Two bugs I ran into on the iPad version were a crash back to the home screen and being unable to click on my second saved game after it crashed. Also, the How to Play page was only in Spanish, and my one semester of college Spanish was only semi-helpful in translating it.

In the iPad version, you can save and load at any time, and on PC, your progress is constantly saved, so all you have to do is pick the continue option when you come back to the game. I prefer the method used on the PC, because I didn’t have to think about saving at all.

I found some of the writing to be a little odd. I am not sure if this was a deliberate stylistic choice or fuzzy translation, but it was prevalent enough that I found it difficult to get into the game because the writing style kept distracting me. I noticed one Monkey Island reference and one Star Wars reference, along with two instances of breaking the fourth wall. Other than that, the game isn’t either particularly referential or even funny, and I’m not sure if it was supposed to be or not. A few puzzles made sense, but for the most part, I was solving via trial and error, or completely by accident. I did end up turning to a walkthrough a few times due to the strange puzzles. One puzzle also involves making your friend jump out a second-story window, which I thought was in poor taste.

The game is standard point-and-click. On the iPad, you just tap the screen to do everything (but sometimes the game doesn’t register your taps). On the PC, you use the left mouse button. The right mouse button brings up your inventory. The PC also has the advantage of showing hotspots when you hover over them. Some people might not like that, but I didn’t mind it – it eliminated pixel hunting.

Your inventory contains people in addition to things you pick up, and you can ask about people by taking them from your inventory and using them with other people. This isn’t something I’ve seen used in adventure games (most questioning is done through dialogue trees), so that was something different. Something I found a little annoying was that you couldn’t just click on something in the inventory and then click on something else to interact/combine with it; you had to click and drag, which isn’t usual for an adventure game. You also can’t examine something that’s in your inventory, so if you don’t know or forgot what something is, you’ll just have to try using it randomly and hope for the best.

Walking is pretty slow for the most part (but there are a few rooms in the game where Alicia glides really quickly across the screen), and there’s no way to run. You’re also unable to skip over dialogue when someone has started talking, something I found really annoying (especially when I accidentally clicked on something more than once). You can, however, skip cutscenes, but I have no idea how to do that, since it happened accidentally when something fell on my keyboard. There is sometimes a delay between when you click on something and Alicia reacts/speaks.

New Kickstarter

Gato Salvaje Studios has created a new Kickstarter, with the goal this time around to fund episodes three and four (episode two is almost complete). They have set a goal of $100,000 this time, and they are just over 10% funded. If you’d like to pledge your support, go check it out. They seem to be aware of shortcomings in the first episode and are working toward improving the next three.

Final Verdict

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Score: D

Between the poor translation, illogical puzzles, and the short length, I wouldn’t recommend this adventure game. I don’t see myself playing any future episodes – I didn’t care enough about what was happening in this episode, and all of the characters were fairly shallow.

You can get the game for iOS, Android, PC, and Mac. You can get the PC and Mac versions on the offical website by sending an e-mail, and you can also find AR-K on Facebook. I would recommend the PC version over the iPad version – it seems to be more polished. As a note, the PC installer was completely in Spanish, but it didn’t pose a huge problem for me.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments!

[Disclaimer: A review code was provided for me to review this game.]

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