February 17, 2005
At last! A game I can criticize and thoroughly trash not just because of my personal tastes, but because it is truly bad. No need to add disclaimers everywhere to the effect that you may enjoy it even though I didn't. I didn't enjoy it and I can just about guarantee that you won't either.
The Arrival is a licensed title based on a movie of the same name. In the movie, the aliens are trying to “terraform” the earth to make it inhabitable for them and uninhabitable for us. They fail. The game takes place ten years later and they are at it again.
The game was released in 1997. I had never heard of the movie. I had never heard of the game. Unfortunately, I now know why.
This is an older game, so the first obvious question is “Will it run under WinXP?” The answer is “yes, but not well.” It will play for a certain length of time and then crash. As long you save often you should be able to get back in and continue. This was frustrating, but not a show stopper.
One other problem was that I couldn't get screen shots. This is the first game I have reviewed where the Print Screen key did nothing but grab a large black rectangle. Also, you could out of the game, but you couldn't get back into it.
So you can play The Arrival on contemporary Window systems, but it doesn't play well with others.
You are walking around in the desert late one night and stumble upon a camp of aliens. They abduct you to their space station where you discover that they are going to destroy mankind. Your mission is clear:1. Destroy their evil Weapon of Mass Destruction.2. Escape.3. Tell the authorities so that the army can take over.
On the surface, this is a tried and true plot and has been done very well by others. Unfortunately, the entire story is given to us in an FMV during the introduction. The entire game consists of you trying to destroy the station and escape so that you don't go with it.
No story unfolds during the game itself. We already know who did what to get us here and we know what must be done for a successful conclusion. If we were to clip off the introduction and ending sequences, all we would be left with is a large puzzle with no storyline.
Therefore, I must award a “D” to the story. Or, more accurately, to the lack of one.
There are lots of them and most of them are badly conceived. The biggest problem is that you do a lot of dying and that makes it hard to get into the game. It's hard to relate to a situation where you must die to learn what to do next.
Once you escape from the Detention Center you find yourself almost alone in a huge space station. The Power Station is on the fritz and everyone has left. Only robots and a few critical personal are left behind. Where do you go? You have no clue, so you just start exploring. Normally, this is one of the fun things of adventure gaming. But this station if big. And monotonous. And big. And it really isn't obvious just what a particular area does, since they all look alike. And did I mention that it is big? You walk down one endless corridor after another with no shortcuts and no way to stop a video sequence. And you die a lot. Some areas are deadly to visit, but you have no clue until it is too late.
Most, heck, all, of the game is based on inventory puzzles. Find the keys, trade with the other characters, etc. Nothing wrong with that, per se. Except in this case you have no idea what you are looking for. Everything is alien. You must collect strange looking gadgets with no idea what to do with them. There are strange looking machines with hotspots, but no idea what they need. And everything is scattered over the entire station.
You will spend hours looking around the station, picking up random widgets, and then clicking them at random on different machines. If you are lucky, you will be rewarded with another widget. This is not my idea of fun. It is one thing to find a combination lock and then think, “OK, I must find a series of four number.” You have a goal. But when everything is alien and the purpose is mysterious, just what are you supposed to do? Everything become random trial and error.
Even that wouldn't be too bad if everything were in one room. But the station is HUGE and the widgets you need for one room are scattered everywhere. So you come to a mysterious machine, click your entire inventory on it and nothing happens. Is this because the widget you need is still hidden somewhere in the big station? Or is it because you have to solve another machine elsewhere to get its widget? There just doesn't appear to be any rhyme or reason to these puzzles.
There are some logic puzzles and they are fairly well done. They are used to lock safes and consoles and are the the type of puzzles you find at roadside diners. You know, there is a free one at the table and they hope you will buy one at the counter. Basically, you move pieces around to create the correct pattern. These are nice in that you can type a “?” to get up to three hints. After that, you can just give up and have the computer solve it for you. So the logic puzzles will never prevent you from continuing.
There is also a maze. 'Nuff said about that. There is also a musical puzzle which was painful. You hear an alien singing the tune. You go to the keyboard and the tones don't sound anything like what you heard. Harmonics are added or missing. Tones are taken up or down an octave. When you eventually solve it, it doesn't sound anything like the clue. Maybe a musician with perfect pitch could solve it.
But whether you used a walkthrough or just slogged through with brute force, most of the puzzles will leave you wondering, “Just how was I supposed to know to do that?” For that, I must grant the puzzles a “D”
Mediocre at best. This game was made ten years after Myst, yet the graphics look like something off an old Amiga 500.
The ship is all simplistic 3D rendered stuff. It's too real to be a cartoon yet too cartoony to be real. It just comes off as being cheesey.
The characters are inconsistent. The alien are drawn fairly well in a “realistic” style. But other prisoners are drawn either amateurish or so cartoony as to be unbelievable. You really need to go one way of the other; realistic or cartoon. Mixing the two just doesn't work.
The bottom line is that while graphics should enhance the gaming experience, these tended to make it feel cheap. I give them a “C”.
Not too bad. Ambient sounds only, no music. Machinery throbs, steam hisses but none of it distracts. Nothing special, but nothing to complain about either. A solid “B”.
Unless you consider the character voice acting. That was straight out of the Saturday morning cartoons and cornier than a farm in Iowa. So no, let's not consider that.
Sorry, but it just isn't there. Playability consists of wondering endless halls looking for random things to try randomly on random machines. It just wasn't fun and I felt no draw to go back to it. I give Playability a “D”.
It would seem obvious what grade to give this turkey, but I am going to grudgingly give it a “C-”.
A “C” level game is one that is well below par, but still playable. If you are a raving fan of adventure games and just can't be without one, then a “C” game will hold you over until the next “B” or “A” comes along. While The Arrival is miserable as an adventure game, it can actually work as a mindless puzzle. Think of it as one of those Solitaire games that require a lot of luck and little thought to win. If you are in the mood for some mindless exploration and note taking with the occasional payoff, then The Arrival is for you. It is just a matter of setting your expectations sufficiently low.
Final Grade: C-