It is with a heavy heart that I write this, as a kickstarter backer of the original game as well as an avid fan of adventure games.
AR-K originally on Kickstarter seemed like an ambitious project that had enough going for it that it should be amazing. Cases in point: dialogue by comics legend Greg Rucka and voice acting by Ash Sroka, aka Tali from Mass Effect. These two talents are without a doubt the biggest draws to the game; while you quickly get the sense that Rucka did not have a huge input on the story, or at least the puzzle logic behind the story and the characters, the dialogue and accompanying voice acting ranges from decent to great. Even protagonist Alicia's nemesis, Professor Reitherman, while written like a psychotic professor from hell, is capably acted, except for one glaring bit in Chapter One where it seems he was voiced by a different person.
That's about where the positives end, I fear.
From an adventure game standpoint, hell from a GAME standpoint, AR-K is riddled with bugs that hurt its chances. I've played AR-K Chapter One on two different machines, and on one, the screen did not properly resize itself to a proper widescreen format, letterboxing the game screen with black bars on top and bottom. Also, the game relies on autosaves and will not let you manually save. The maddening prospect of this is, if the game breaks on you (and it more than likely will in its current state), you have no way to revert to an older save to counteract the problem. You will have to either quit the program and reload it or start all over. The autosaves work fine in episodic narrative games like Telltale's Walking Dead series, but here its inclusion is terrible because there are no choices that influence the story. It is bad enough in checkpoint based FPS games, and here it only underscores the bugs.
I've had at least one game breaking bug per chapter playthrough; in Chapter One, an NPC was rendered un-interactable and I could not progress the story further. In Chapter Two, after a major cutscene, I did not obtain a vital new clue to help push the story along (a clue here meaning a talking point to discuss with other characters). In addition, I noticed a problem in Chapter Two where, after a while the game audio had a lot of crackles and pops that accumulated, making a 'play it in one' game impossible unless I played with no sound.
Steam achievements are in the game but more or less don't work. A great many on the global achievement list are sitting at 0%, including ones for just completing the game.
The interface feels super clunky. The inventory screen features no "Examine object" command or item descriptions of any kind. Asking NPCs about topics is convoluted; in addition to the normal dialogue window you have when you talk to them, you also drag 'conversation topic' icons from a list in your inventory to the NPC to ask them. It is better in Chapter Two when they gray out topics you no longer need to ask about, but the existence of this system is not interesting or helpful from a gameplay perspective.
Another problem is how sometimes the screen just goes dead and the only way to get it going again is to quit the game and restart it.
The puzzles are not well hinted or telegraphed well. A few clues in Chapter One may not have been translated properly, where an energy drink is described as 'corrosive' when what may have been meant was 'combustive'. Chapter Two feels very wide open and unguided, even though it consists of a handful of locations, some of which are redressed or enchanced settings from Chapter One. To its credit, the developers tried to improve the flow of hints in Chapter Two with the addition of an in game narrator that Alicia interacts with and, in a pinch, drops hints if you drag the clue topics over to him. I found often enough that asking the narrator was the only way to discern what my next move had to be, and even then the puzzle logic broke more often than not. Even though you're introduced to Alicia's evil professor at the start of Chapter Two, the puzzle that finally deals with him does not come up until the very end, and the reasoning and reward for doing it at all are not connected. Or another puzzle where you are trying to catch an animal with a trap... let us just say that the trap requires no bait but instead requires you to find a way to 'forcefully close the trap' after it has been sprung. Or story triggers that seem to have no rhyme or reason why they would happen, like Alicia's dog choosing one specific moment in Chapter Two to leave the apartment, even though nothing we did previously would make her leave (that said, the dog is really cute). A good puzzle gives feedback to help guide the player toward the solution; otherwise you're just playing twenty questions with a computer program. More often than not, this feedback is absent in AR-K. And a hotspot indicator? Not included.
Puzzles aside, let's get to the tone of the game; it is all over the place. It cannot decide if it wants to be The Longest Journey or Space Quest. If it is going for comedy, more often than not it falls flat on its face. Serious drama is offset against fourth wall breaking commentary by Alicia as well as the narrator, especially in Chapter Two. Again, I hold this less to Rucka and more with the game's basic design. Writers in games are oftentimes described as being hired guns during development, sometimes coming in after the story has been written by game designers and it's up to the writer proper to put flesh on the bones.
What could have been an interesting sci fi point and click adventure is a buggy mess propped up by good dialogue and voice acting. Props to Greg Rucka and Ash Srorka, but the developers need to at least fix the game's bugs. It never crashed on me, but what is in there makes the game hard to play and experience.