Release Date: June 2004
This review contains mild spoilers.
How to begin this review was rather a tough challenge for me. On the one hand, I want to stand up and throw rotten tomatoes at the screen whenever The Arrangement music winds up again. On the other, I want to replay the game over and over until I am forced to stand up and throw rotten tomatoes. Let me explain why.
The game begins with a strange opening which is, in fact, your wedding day, as your wife-to-be is taking an awful long time getting ready [For those of us who are married, we know it does not have to be your wedding day for your spouse to take forever to get ready – Randy]. In fact, she is actually speaking to a threatening figure as they set-up what we later learn to be, quite appropriately, “The Arrangement.” The wedding, however, goes on as planned without a hitch and you find yourself, now a married man, as the antagonist 5 years later.
You begin in your company office, where your first task is to make two copies of a report and leave them on your boss’s desk. Sounds simple enough, but these early puzzles are mildly devious as they focus around critical and rational thinking. For example, if you cannot find an ink cartridge to continue printing the report, you can use the copy machine. But this being an adventure game, even such a simple task as using the copy machine can be thorny. Thus, the office puzzles actually challenge your brain to think outside the box, but at the same time in the center of the box.
After arriving home, your attention is shattered by the annoying, non-stop ringing of a telephone echoing from an empty room somewhere on the second floor. Picking it up will change your life forever as you discover that a sinister man named Fortray has kidnapped your wife. Hurrying back to the office for further instructions, a voice message informs you that you have one (limitless game time) hour in which to find and save your precious Annie.
This was the part of the game that got me truly excited and it’s one of the best suspense sequences I’ve ever encountered in a mystery game. But from that point on, I wondered if a different person had written the game, for soon, you will find yourself in a world of virtual reality machines, dreams, caves, & underground lairs - and none of it made sense.
Twice you are transported to a virtual reality puzzle world that Fortrey has created for you. The puzzles here are for the most part easy – memory games, color matching, chronology, etc. In another instance, you are actually navigating through a dream, trying to escape death from a spider. From a certain point onward, I was forced to use the game’s walkthrough because nothing made sense anymore. A fireplace poker in a hole in the wall, a letter opener on a plastic spider … I didn’t see how anything fit together. I was walking in circles, trying to make sense of things but instead just confusing myself further. Most of the puzzles were the ‘jot down everything you see to help you’ kind; others seemed to have been pulled out of thin air.
There are very few characters to meet in this story, and most of them could use some voice lessons. Occasionally, it was a struggle to hear what was being said and other times I felt as though the dialogue was scratchy, strangled, or almost echoed and distant. As this is an independently developed game one doesn’t expect Lani Minella, but I think a bit more work with some of the characters on emphasizing their lines would have been a huge improvement. Still, the voice actors for Fortrey and Annie do admirable jobs.
In terms of graphics, Michael B. Clark does a wonderful job using Adventure Maker to its full extent. The graphics are clear, transitions brisk and clean, and the atmosphere is realistic. The interface is simply a magnifying glass and arrows, along with a handy one-click inventory system that works nicely, with no need to open up another window.
The music is acceptable, with looping soundtracks for each area of the game that are intended to be atmospherically spooky and thrilling. Some of them though can get rather annoying after repeated listening and you might find yourself lowering the volume just to get that particular song out of your head.
However, the biggest twist of the game is the most disappointing. Get those tomatoes ready, kids.
The first twist - once you have discovered Annie - is that your archenemy Fortray is … well, let’s just say he’s not what you’d expect. But secondly – and by far the worst twist – is that after Fortray’s true identity is revealed, The Arrangemententers a Twilight Zone territory that will be familiar to viewers of specific episodes of television shows like Dallas or Newhart.
By the time Fortray revealed that he had one final secret (which, by the way, is the second of his extremely disappointing revelations), I glared at my monitor screen and thought, “This had better be one damn good secret,’ and prepared to bang my head against the keyboard in anger.
I can’t say that I really didn’t like this game, because parts of it are very well done. But some things – and the ending immediately comes to mind – seemed sloppy and unprofessional. Many details are left unexplained, and the reason provided for this is simply not acceptable. Though The Arrangement is a step up from Harvest - the developer’s previous effort – there is still room for improvement.
Still, I would recommend The Arrangement for anyone who is determined to not be bothered by the ridiculous twist ending (which, I must admit, I somewhat predicted once I read the words ‘twist ending’ in the game’s synopsis) and who just wants to support the burgeoning independent developer’s scene. Otherwise you’d best stay away from this ultimately frustrating game.
Final Grade: C+
This game is available to order through the Just Adventure + Independent Developers section.
Minimum System Requirements:
Preferred System Requirements: