Ark of Time

Developer:  Koei
Publisher:  International Computer Entertainment Ltd
Year Released:  1997

Review by Rosemary Young (August, 1997)
aot.jpgAs far as I can recall the first computer game that had a story based around the fabled lost city, Atlantis, was Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (that was a few years back now). Now there seems to be a rush of titles centred around this general theme with the release of Timelapse, Atlantis: The Lost Tales and also this game, Ark of Time. Ark of Time is much closer in design to Indiana Jones in that it is an inventory based, third person perspective adventure, as opposed to the other two which are first person perspective, have limited inventories and more abstract puzzles. However, like Timelapse, Ark of Time links Atlantis strongly with other ancient and mysterious cultures of our world. Hence we are presented with a theory, or story might be a better word, pondering the origins of Stonehenge, the Easter Island monoliths and the Mayan Pyramids.

Don't Despair
The innocent abroad, the reluctant hero, they are both well used icons as computer game protagonists and Richard Kendal, the 'hero' of this game, fits into both categories. Although 'innocent' is being charitable as Richard is downright ignorant, not to mention deadly boring. He's a sports journalist who is given the opportunity to travel to exotic locations all over the world, but he'd rather stay at home with his football.

I must admit, Richard didn't impress me in the least. As a grown up person he displays pretty much a total lack of maturity, treating exotic cultures with indifference and even ridicule, and failing to learn anything along the way, not even good manners. Presumably the characterisation is meant to be humorous, but it doesn't work overly well. Richard's dialogue is most definitely uninspiring, and I did wish that the designers hadn't bothered with his 'stream of consciousness' and provided an omniscient narrator instead. Listening to Richard's asides as he inspects objects is tedious at times and, generally, both the scripting and the voice acting leave a lot to be desired. Though I do have to say that Ark of Time is not alone in this respect, and there are text captions for all voices excepting a few sequences. Unfortunately, these sequences are important. And I must also say that all is not lost. Despite getting off to a slow start whilst coming to grips with the character, I was surprised to find that this game is quite enjoyable.

Moving around and around and ...
The game begins in London when the reluctant Richard is given an assignment to investigate the disappearance of Professor Caldwell an eminent Atlantologist (is there such a word, it sounds good anyway). Pretty soon he is winging his way to the Carribean, obviously his very first step into the wide blue yonder, to start chasing up clues. Then it's off to numerous other fascinating locations all of which are pinpointed on a world map and can be accessed with a click of your mouse button, which makes long distance travelling very easy.

Each location in Ark of Time has anything up to ten screens to explore, but don't imagine that the locations themselves are unique in that they are solvable as separate entities as in such games as Zork Nemesis. Not so. This adventure will have you zapping back and forth on a regular basis as you learn more and more. For instance, you'll have to return 'home' occasionally to have ancient scripts deciphered, and many of the items found in one area are more than likely relevant in another. You certainly get the run-around working your way through the story which I thought worked very well and added to the complexity of the problems. But if you object to chasing around, take note of this aspect.

I found the character movement in this game to be quite sluggish, but other players have experienced no frustration here. I guess it depends on your brand of video card. Also, although you can travel to primary locations from the world map, travelling within these locations means a good deal of foot-slogging as access to the map is from one source only. You might have to traverse several screens to get there. Fortunately there's help available here as a right click on the screen exit will zap you across a screen in the blink of an eye ... well, almost.

The adventuring
There's lots and lots to do in this game, and many detailed screens to explore. It's deceiving at first, as it starts off relatively simply, but later the puzzles do get more complex and even the most experienced of adventurers will occasionally slip up. Amongst other things, there are mysterious objects to find and use in equally mysterious locations, a convicted assassin to exonerate, plenty of characters to interact with, a logic type process of elimination problem, and some fun puzzles at the end to open doors and escape your rather precarious predicament. It will keep most players well and truly occupied.

Everything in Ark of Time is point and click, and there are no icons for different actions. Left click on objects and Richard will describe them, right click and he will use them. A little too simple for my liking, I prefer more involvement, but it works well enough. After a short time travelling around your inventory will be well and truly full. Unfortunately, it takes time to scroll through it and you will have to do this often, but each item is easily identified by a text description. There are twelve save game slots accessed by pressing F5 or F6 depending on whether you are loading or saving, and each game is represented by a tiny graphic to which you can add a text notation.

This one surprised me. I didn't think I was going to enjoy it, but I did. It has some problems, but there's also a lot of puzzling to redeem it. The graphics are excellent, all in all it's a very playable game, especially for adventurers who appreciate inventory based adventures.

You can purchase this game on-line from Playing Games Interactive rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 1997. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
486DX66 or better (Pentium recommended) DOS 5 or higher/ Windows 95 DOS Session, 8MB RAM, 51MB uncompressed hard disk space, VESA SVGA video graphics BIOS/driver, Double speed CD-ROM drive (Quad Speed recommended) Mouse required. Supported sound Cards: Creative Labs Sound Blaster compatible, Roland RAP-10 compatible,Media Vision Pro Audio Spectrum or compatible.