I’m a big fan of episodic games. I like the way that the wait between episodes allows speculation and conversation to develop across the web. I like that they can allow smaller studios to start getting revenue partway through a project. And most of all, I like that they allow for iteration from episode to episode.
AR-K Episode Two: The Girl Who Wasn’t There does an awful lot of iterating. The limited environments of the first episode have been added to. Characters that initially came off as one note are expanded upon. Most importantly, a help feature has been added to guide players should they get stuck on one of the many inscrutable puzzles.
Well, calling it a help feature is maybe underselling it. Really, what was added is a narrator. He’s a second snarky voice to give commentary on the world and events of the game, and I find his perspective infinitely preferable to that of Alicia (she’s the protagonist, you may recall I spent most of my episode one playtest complaining about her). Vandalizing something? He’ll call you out on it. Engaging in petty revenge? He’s got some choice words for you.
The narrator AR-K adds a proxy voice of reason that I can latch on to, but that’s just a fringe benefit. The real reason he’s here is to provide aid to players who get stuck. This is vitally necessary. AR-K across both episodes has been one of the more ridiculous adventure games I’ve played. I understand that figuring out zany puzzle solutions is kind of the point of the genre for a lot of people but some of these are nuts. The help is optional anyway, shouldn’t be skin off anyone’s nose who wants to figure things out themselves.
Wait, did I say figure out? I meant “stumble into the solution by blind luck”. Because that’s the only way some of this episode is getting solved without help. If you can’t figure out how to get Frankie his wrench, just look it up. Trust me on this one.
Back to being positive, though, I’d like to praise the voice acting in this game. It’s actually quite good, better than video game average by a fair margin. I didn’t notice this in episode one because ideally that’s what good voice acting does. It pulls you in rather than call attention to itself. Special honors go to the depressed roommate who gives 100% to even the lines that read like they were ripped out of a melodramatic high school student diary.
Ultimately, Episode 2 gave me the impression that I was watching AR-K come together before my eyes. Where episode one put me off, episode two improved most aspects of the game and promised an even brighter future. I’ll be interested to see where this ends up going across the back half, and if it can continue to pile improvements on at the rate of this second episode. If so, then AR-K could actually turn out to be something special.
Food for thought:
You know what else can be done with episodic games? Cliffhangers. I’m pleased to report that The Girl Who Wasn’t There ends with a doozie. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling things but… don’t be surprised if we have to wait a little longer for Episode 3. It looks like the game may be in need of quite a few new locations going forward.