Release date: July 19, 2016
There is a source of static RF interference which is compromising TV, Radio and WiFi reception for a 10 Km radius. It appears to be coming from the old abandoned castle on the island.
We would take care of this ourselves, but the castle has a very bad reputation and none of the locals will go near it. So you have been contracted to find the source of this RF interference and turn it off.
You will be paid upon successful completion of your assignment.
So you head to the castle expecting to find squatters running a pirate radio station. But instead you find floating cameras watching your every move and your every move blocked by insidious puzzles. Just what is going on here?
The Eyes of Ara is the first game from Ben Droste and 100 Stones Interactive. Ben is an eleven year veteran 3D Environmental Artist and Level Designer with many big name titles under his belt. 100 Stones Interactive is Ben's vehicle for going independent.
And for a first attempt it is a good game. It is a very good game. But I am disappointed because with a bit more polish it could have been a great game. Now I don't want to just launch into a triad of its shortcomings and leave you thinking that I didn't like it. I enjoyed playing The Eyes of Ara very much. So let me concentrate on extolling its virtues.
Ben is an artist and level designer and it shows. Navigation is nodal where you jump from point to point. Each location allows you to pan 360 degrees around, up and down. Each scene is gorgeous. The modeling and light are exquisite. The detail is wonderful. And the quality is consistent from start to finish.
Puzzles are everywhere and are well integrated into the environment. They range in difficulty from easy to advanced/difficult. They are well layered. There are also coins, photos and such to collect and, while they aren't necessary to win the game, you do get a small reward for finding them all.
This is not a game for newly minted adventurers – you'll need all of your gaming experience to get through this. Ben is to be commended for having the guts to offer such a challenging game. That being said, I think this game would work well being played with a partner. There are several areas where two heads would be better than one.
My criticism is that the clues for some of the advanced puzzles are quite vague. There were a couple where I had to resort to a walkthrough and I still couldn't see how I would have arrived at the solution. Also, there are several user interactions which are employed only once or twice. For example, there's one place where an object must be dragged by the cursor, but there's no indication that this mechanism is even possible. I basically stumbled on the solution by accident. But these puzzles are the exceptions rather than the rule.
The storyline is intriguing and will leave you thinking about just what happened. Ben declared that as a level designer he wanted the environment to tell more of the story rather than rely on a large stack of diary pages. This is a wonderful intention as nothing in this world just pops into being, but is the result of a story that brought it to where it is. Unfortunately, the story told by a building appears to conflict at times with the story in the few diary pages.
Ultimately, the game suffers from a lack of play testing. Oh, there were plenty of alpha and beta testers in the credits, but their job is to meticulously go through through the game and hunt for bugs. A play tester just sits down and plays the game for the first time while the developer stands in the background and silently watches. It takes a lot of time but this is where you find out what really works and where the playability problems lie.
The bottom line is that this is a very well-made, professional quality game that I enjoyed playing, and I'm glad that I backed it. I highly recommend it for the experienced adventure gamer. If I appear overly critical it's because you give harsher criticism to the Olympic player than you do to the high school player. And Ben is definitely playing with the big boys.
+ Gorgeous graphics
+ Challenging puzzles
+ Large environment to explore
+ Plenty of collectibles for the "Completionist"
- Some puzzles are quite difficult, but not in a good way
- Some clues are quite vague
- Storyline has several plot holes