Adventure Gamers Awards
While the general writing stumbles, the ambiance puts forth a solid effort at drawing you in. Snow permeates, wind wrestles with trees, and pronounced shadows reach in the moonlight. A particularly interesting detail is how the number of birds flocking above town increases over the course of the game, becoming acutely oppressive. Architecture is plain but there is an appeal to how it hearkens back to the early era of 3D adventure games. Character models are similarly minimalistic, except they are colored more vibrantly, employing a cartoon-like art style.
Meanwhile, a lush orchestral score blankets the cold town of Haven. Airy strings set a tone both mystical and inviting before taking a sharp turn towards eerie and foreboding. Vocal harmonies add a cinematic quality that punctuates an already memorable soundtrack. My only complaints here are that the theme recurs a bit too often and songs tend to be too short, meaning they loop frequently. Underneath the intricate music are sounds of creaking wood, footsteps in hollow spaces, and the rush of icy gales. All around, the audio is fitting of horror reliant on brooding undercurrents and ghastly findings.
Budgetary constraints for a small team can explain a modest presentation, such as the absence of voice acting, cutscenes that play like slideshows, and a shallow pool of assets. What is indefensible for any game is poor controls, and in Arkhangel you are encumbered by sluggish input response. Worse, the slow walk speed becomes unbearable when needing to traverse large distances in outdoor environments. Default keyboard controls use the common WASD setup, with the Tab key designated for illuminating hotspots and the mouse used to select them, whereas an alternate control scheme trades “camera relative” movement for “tank controls.” The option is appreciated, since tank controls are practically hereditary for 3D games with fixed cameras. Nonetheless, I found this method equally unwieldy, as turning is overly sensitive. Either option you settle on forces you to wait, unable to move, during camera transitions.
Pointing and clicking is, likewise, extremely finicky. You will need to position your character in direct proximity of an object you wish to examine, which is fine until objects are clustered. When this happens, you will have to wriggle to and fro until the game decides you’re standing in the perfect spot to select what you’re after.
Objectives are straightforward: collect the necessary items to progress. Early on, you will need to repair a music box and so must scavenge town for a replacement gear and some oil. Clues for where to find what are fair, and if you ever find yourself lost, Michael’s journal should set you back on the right path. Sometimes you will play from the perspective of Gabrielle, finding a way to distract some adults in order to slip away or constructing a present for her parents. The latter has you combining an assortment of items in your inventory, and if you can’t figure out what any of them have to do with “sunshine,” like me, then it turns into an exercise in trial and error. Other than that particular quandary, you won’t find the challenges especially difficult or the solutions too absurd.
Players must make sure they’re paying attention at all times, as Quick Time Events pop up on occasion. Arbitrary, yes, but they are hardly a nuisance. Tap the space bar repeatedly or hold it down as indicated and you will pass with little effort. I reloaded a couple times to purposely fail some prompts (not a boast) in order to discover what happens, and results range from alternate scenes to Game Over. In the latter case, being able to save anywhere and make use of auto-saves means you shouldn’t run into any major headaches. However, you may discover the hard way that you can fall to your doom from specific ledges. And be mindful if the game explicitly insists you use a lantern in dark caverns, lest you slip and unceremoniously break Michael’s neck.
It takes longer than it should for Arkhangel: The House of the Seven Stars to get its footing, and just when the story tears open new possibilities, it sees fit to conclude somewhere around eight hours in, depending on your thoroughness. The prospect of a sequel is hinted at before the credits roll and my interest is piqued, flaws notwithstanding. With deeper character development, more responsive controls, and a story that doesn’t delay all of its best ideas, a continuation could realize the full potential largely teased at here. For now, the eldritch horrors remain behind the curtain, waiting for their day.