What’s in a name? For some reason publishers just love to change the names of games when they import them from overseas. Sometimes this makes sense to me, like when Theme Park World turned into Sim Theme Park. I’m guessing the use of “sim” in the title made it clearer to consumers what the game was all about -- not to mention helping the publisher to cash in on the sim craze at the time. But at other times I don’t understand the purpose. Consider the fourth Broken Sword adventure. In most places the game is known as Broken Sword: the Angel of Death, but in the United States the Adventure Company decided to call it Secrets of the Ark, with “a Broken Sword game” in small type underneath. It’s almost as if the Adventure Company wanted to distance itself from the franchise name, which seems backwards since you’d think that franchise recognition is what would draw a lot of people to the game.
But anyway, in this adventure, as in every Broken Sword adventure, you control a lawyer named George Stobbart and a journalist named Nico Collard. At the start of the game, George is down on his luck, but then he meets a woman named Anna Maria... who just happens to have a manuscript that might point to a mysterious treasure. George, of course, leaps at the chance to look for it, and in the process has to dodge gangsters, sneak into the Vatican, and explore ancient catacombs. Eventually, Anna Maria disappears, but then Nico shows up, and together she and George investigate how Anna Maria’s treasure might relate to the Ark of the Covenant, and how it might be used to activate an ancient weapon.
Secrets of the Ark is a long adventure, and that’s the first of its problems. Most adventures clock in around 10 hours, but Secrets of the Ark is about twice that long. You might wonder why a longer adventure would be a bad thing. The reason is because while the game lasts 20 hours, developer Revolution Studio couldn’t come up with 20 hours of quality content.
For example, there’s a sequence early in the game where you have to deal with some gangsters at a meat packing plant, and it’s just ludicrous. Consider this representative puzzle. The gangsters grab Anna Maria’s manuscript and lock it into a safe, and you have to get it back. So do you work out what the combination might be, or do you do odd and unusual things with a paper clip to open the lock? No, you push the safe into a meat grinder, and the meat grinder magically chews open the safe without damaging anything inside. Uh huh. For way too many puzzles I was rolling my eyes or shaking my head -- or referring to a walkthrough -- and I think the game would have been better off if somebody had come in and edited out the worst of the drek, like everything having to do with the gangsters.
Of course, not everything is bad. There’s a clever mini-game for hacking computer networks, and I enjoyed it the few times it came up. The dialogue is also well written and well acted, and it’s always fun to listen to George and Nico spar with each other. And the Indiana Jones style puzzles, where you have to explore ancient ruins and figure out combinations based on clues on a manuscript, all work pretty well.
It’s just that there is way more bad stuff than good stuff. Besides having too many goofy puzzles and silly situations -- dare I even mention the brothel run for clergymen, where the clergymen wax poetic about the special “massages”? -- the game is riddled with poor design choices. Most rooms are too dark, so it’s tough to see what’s going on. The interface is clunky and often unhelpful, and the camera rarely gives you a good view of your surroundings. And the sound cuts out about half of the time. If there hadn’t been subtitles, I would have been completely lost.
And so Secrets of the Ark is yet another game where I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t really enjoy it, either. Nothing about the game wowed me, and despite the Adventure Company’s claims of “cutting edge” graphics and a “Hollywood style” story, I didn’t think the graphics or the story were anything great. In fact, I was a little annoyed when the ancient mysteries ended up revolving around the Knights Templar and the Ark of the Covenant. Haven’t those two things been involved in enough ancient mysteries without trotting them out for yet another? And so Secrets of the Ark isn’t really a game I’d recommend, although there are probably worse ways to spend $30.