All right folks, I'm going to admit it: I'm sick of Myst-style adventures. You know the kind, with tons of gorgeous graphics, an appropriately ethereal musical score - and no characters to meet. I'm not saying I don't appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into the making of these games, nor do I mean to slag anyone who enjoys them. I just prefer traditional graphic adventures.
Ark of Time is definitely a traditional graphic adventure. There's nothing revolutionary or groundbreaking here: The graphics are excellent, but certainly not unique, and the interface is based almost entirely on the tried and true system found in LucasArts' adventures. In fact, Ark of Time is actually a throwback in at least one regard: It has some of the worst voice acting I can remember hearing in a game.
So why do I want to keep playing? The answer is simple: puzzles, and lots of 'em. Sure, they're all pretty much of the "find the right object for the right situation" variety, but that suits me just fine. Because the interface is so standard, you don't have to spend time muddling about trying to figure out how to do something; instead, you'll be pulling your hair figuring out what you need to do. There is one slight problem with the interface, though: You sometimes have to combine inventory items in the "correct" order to make a new item. Simply (and mathematically) put, A+B=C - but B+A doesn't always equal C. It's a small flaw, to be sure, but one that could convince players they're on the wrong path when the only real problem is the order in which they're clicking on inventory items.
During the course of your search for a missing archaeologist, you'll have to travel to several locations around the world, from Stonehenge to Easter Island to the Mayan peninsula. It might seem odd that you can travel halfway around the globe and still find the same people doing the same stuff when you return from one of these jaunts - but hey, it's just a game. And while the logic behind the solutions to some of the puzzles is a little on the dubious side, that's pretty much to be expected in any graphic adventure.
As I mentioned earlier, the big disappointment is the voice acting. I don't have a problem with the stereotyped, over-the-top vocalizations for a lot of the characters: This looks and feels more like a cartoon anyway. And I can even deal with the wacky intro, where dialogue is eschewed for a creepy narrator solemnly intoning what sounds like the first few paragraphs of a cheesy novel. But I'd sure like to meet whoever it was that approved the actor who does the hero's voice. The delivery is stilted, the tone flat and lifeless; to make matters worse, this "ace reporter with an attitude" is a wimp of the first order. He doesn't want an all-expenses paid trip to the Caribbean, nor does he want to discover why a famous professor has vanished mysteriously - he just wants to get back to covering football in England. Make no mistake: This guy's not just an anti-hero, he's a wuss.
Ark of Time won't be challenging for Adventure Game of the Year when next Christmas rolls around, but if you can deal with the voice acting you'll find plenty of challenge wrapped up in a package that's pleasing to the eye. If Koei and Trecision would invest some effort in getting better actors for a sequel, the chances are good they'd have an A-class title on their hands.