From the man responsible for Harvest comes another independent adventure game about a man who learns that not everything is what it seems.
Richard and Annie are due to spend a romantic anniversary interlude in a cabin, wine and food laid on and a fire in the hearth. Plans change when Annie disappears and a phone call sends Richard into a frantic and convoluted one hour search in the hope to see her "one last time". He begins to uncover disturbing suggestions that some parts of his life have been managed by others to bring him to this point ... or a point to be shortly reached.
The Arrangement is in much the same vein as Harvest, and it's hard to see you not enjoying this if you had fun with Harvest. It even has underground caves, although you are looking for your wife this time and not a dog. Along the way you will sight some references to the previous adventure, including a good old fashioned bit of product placement.
In a website interview I read Mr Clark said that he had made some steps forward in his craft since producing Harvest, but he still had a way to go to come up with a "commercial" release. One of the obvious advances made is the character modelling, which was not at all bad I thought, if a bit lumpy. The look suited the quirky unreal feeling of the goings on. The lip syncing, though, is one of those things still being worked on by Mr Clarke; at this stage the jaw just moves up and down.
Like Harvest, the puzzles are mild and varied and shouldn't cause too much difficulty, so all comers can enter. Some were repetitious by their nature, and I found them the least interesting. The pick, I thought, was a creative little number where you had to map the furniture placement in a room in 4 different top down views.
It's point and click, a mix of (mostly) single static screens and cutscenes, with the cursor changing to indicate directions and action spots. I thought the hotspots could do with some work. A few of them, usually related to a direction other than right or left, or manipulating an item, can be difficult to find and therefore easy to miss. I failed to manipulate one item simply because I didn't move my cursor over the right spot on the item. Like many objects in the game, I assumed it was simply to "look at", so I put it back where I found it. Only after retracing all my steps in order to try and move on did I find it, and then rather by accident. Failing to find hotspots are a part of much adventuring, but I thought some refinement would have helped here.
You also back out of several locations, rather than turning around, which I found odd at first but stopped noticing after a while.
You will collect a fair number of inventory items, and these are accessed simply by moving your cursor to the inventory menu in the top right of the screen, where upon the inventory automatically opens, and you then drag the desired item to a place you want to move it. Right clicking gets the other various menus in a toolbar at the top of the screen, including save and exit and subtitles.
A nice little touch is the red herring eliminating machine. Wouldn't I like to take that on a few other adventure outings.
The plot is a definite plus and whilst it does get a bit silly, and the ending is unsatisfactory, the whole thing has an almost corny melodrama feel to it. Seen in that light the plot shortcomings are less critical, even explicable.
I did have to backtrack a few times, and I generally believe when gaming that my failings to move forward are due to my own failures and not those of the game. I resist asserting that there was no clue as to what to do next, as I could simply have missed it. However looking back after the event leads me to the conclusion that one of my backtracks was not the result of missing a clue, but rather a function of the game design. That is, you just have to go back and look everywhere again, and something will have changed. It didn't take me long, but I think cause and effect should always be discernible.
Occasionally your protagonist will contact you with details as to where he wants you to go next. There are also many clues if you search thoroughly.
While most locations only become available after certain actions or stages are reached, after I had opened a fair few I was able to make inroads into the quest in a number of separate ways. So whilst it isn't an open book, nor is it simply one puzzle at a time.
The graphics are much as they were in Harvest, simple and fairly basic. Schizm this isn't. But the extra detail in some of the settings is quite good. Ambient sounds are minimal but the music score is excellent, and not just as background noise. It creates a lot of the tension and mood in the piece. Voice acting, though, is hit and miss, the bad guy being thoroughly convincing, others less so.
The capacity to self publish computer games and still reach a reasonable audience means you get the opportunity to watch someone like Mr Clark hone and refine his skills. He was right to target the Harvest crowd with this offering, and I look forward to his next foray into publishing. It's a modest but likeable 6 or so hours.
The Arrangement can be purchased online from the Official Game site of Michael Clark http://members.aol.com/arrangementgame/
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2004.
All rights reserved.
Not specified but will run in Win 98/XP.