The protagonist of a videogame is uniquely important. The player not only follows the protagonist of a game through whatever story is being told, but embodies him/her for the majority of the experience. It’s no wonder that games still sometimes opt for silent protagonists, . If the main character is assigned a personality and a player finds it grating, it can be very difficult to enjoy the rest of the game regardless of its quality. It’s no surprise that some developers prefer to play it safe.
One genre in which the protagonist is doubly important is in the classic point-and-click adventure game. In these games the player is expected to interact with characters and items in the game world in extremely specific ways, and each element of the narrative and puzzles is given description by the protagonist. Even in lieu of dialogue, most adventure games filter the world through the protagonists’ disposition making these characters some of the most thoroughly realized in gaming.
This brings us to AR-K, a new point-and-click adventure game that was successfully Kickstarted in 2013. The protagonist in this game is a college student named Alicia, and unfortunately, she has a tendency to drive me up the wall. Alicia embodies all the sass and self-centered world view that caricatures of modern youth mock. When you click on an object, Alicia will more often than not look to crack a joke about it, but never with a sense of self-awareness or depreciation. She makes fun of the world she is a part of as if she’s better than it.
I understand that there is a strong tradition of humor in this genre of game, but Alicia’s dispassionate, aloof snark just made me sympathize with the subjects of her scorn. It certainly doesn’t help that so many of her troubles are of her own making. Try this on for size—the game begins with her partying out late, sleeping with someone she doesn’t know, not making it to class on time, and telling her professor that he should make exception for her because she’s the best student in his class and he knows it. Trying to fix the fallout from that poor decision is the first obstacle the player faces in AR-K Episode 1 and it’s hardly one that inspired me to feel like I had righted a wrong when I completed it.
Not all is lost however. AR-K is an episodic tale and it’s not yet complete. If one were to discredit a story for a protagonist having character flaws at the beginning then one would miss out on a fair few great stories. It’s a different beast, this episodic structure—on one hand, the game is released and reacting to that is what players like me do. On the other hand, it’s necessary to always remember that maybe it will get better, change, or reveal a plan beyond my current foresight.
For what it’s worth, the central premise of the story is not just helping Alicia with schoolyard problems. The real issue at hand is a crime that Alicia was framed for several years ago that led to her expulsion from the Police Academy. The episode works into that fairly gradually, which I appreciate. Adventure games have never been big on linear storytelling and often it’s the digressions that best define them. I was happy to spend time exploring this oddball science fiction world before getting whisked away into the mystery of love, betrayal, and golden orbs that looks suspiciously like those balls the early Assassin’s Creed games revolved around.
The downside to the relaxed pace to the opening act is that this episode is free, intended as a sample to entice people. I imagine some curious players will be bored by the aimless wandering and small stakes that introduce the game without ever reaching the meat of it. Perhaps this episode does not represent a best foot put forward.
I guess the reason the aimless meandering and protagonist who acts like the world revolves around her bother me so much is that I’m fairly sure there’s a good game here to be found beneath all that. AR-K isn’t just made in imitation of great point-and-click adventure games; it reminds why they were so popular in the first place. Silly puzzle solutions, clever use of changing fixed perspectives, and personality that drips from every character and building? Check, check, and check. I wasn’t a contributor to this Kickstarter, but if I’d remembered just how satisfying these games can be when put together right, I may have been.
Ultimately that’s where I land on Episode 1: It seems a promising return to form for a genre I hadn’t realized I miss, just presented through the eyes of a character who bugs me. I’ll be checking back in with later episodes for the site so my hang up may yet be addressed. As mentioned, this first episode is free so if the game sounds like something you might enjoy, take Episode 1 for a spin and see how you like it.