Review by Toger
"All the world's a stage and all the men
and women merely players." William Shakespeare
Let's set our stage, shall we? Annie and Richard Sullivan have
been happily married for five years and are making plans to spend
an anniversary weekend together. Richard receives a phone call
from someone identifying himself as Fortrey who claims that Annie
has willingly left Richard for him. Fortrey gives Richard one
adventure game-type hour in which to locate Annie to see her "one
last time." Thus begins the story of The Arrangement,
the newest enterprise of independent developer Michael B.
The Arrangement's story is a dark, twisted tale that eventually
spirals into madness. As you progress through the game, you'll
glean more and more tidbits with regard to Fortrey's mad scheme
and Annie's possible duplicity. Like most B-grade movies, there
were some good-sized plot holes, but if the story intrigues mesuch
as this one didthen I'll definitely overlook those holes.
Gameplay is standard first-person point-and-click through node-based
environments. The player takes on the role of Richard Sullivan
in his desperate search for Annie. You'll find no degree of panning
in any of the cardinal directions. Although there are a couple
of instances where you're presented with a diagonal direction
for inspection, most objects that you'd normally reach that way
will require a bit of fancy footwork to get to them.
As with most adventure games, you'll spend your time pawing through
other people's belongings, taking whatever isn't nailed to the
floor and, of course, puzzling out a vast array of conundrums.
The Arrangement's puzzles range from simply answering trivia
questions to deciphering a cryptogram. (I have to take issue with
the answers to the mathematical trivia questions as the answers
listed in no way adhere to what I was taught in Algebra.)
Other puzzles include color matching à la Simon, a concentration-type
memory game and recreating several floor plans on a machine. None
of the puzzles were too mind-boggling; however, I did run into
a problem with the stone wall puzzle in that it wouldn't work
with my logic. Taking a peek at the walkthrough, I discovered
that my logic and the developer's were at odds in that it wouldn't
have occurred to me to manipulate the stone ball in the manner
stated in the walkthrough. Oh well.
Clark's first game, The Arrangement is fairly linear,
but you are able to jump to any location once it's opened up.
Unlike the first game, there are no mazes or intricate pictures
that require reconstruction. (Thank you.)
One of the more clever nods to adventure gaming in general is
the Red Herring machine. You can actually place found objects
in the machine, and it will let you know if it's just there to
burden you with extraneous inventory or if the object is really
needed. Anything that isn't required is instantly pulverized by
By the way ... can I have a show of hands from all the arachnophobes
in our audience? Just a small warningthere's a strong spider
theme that runs throughout this game. At one point, there's a
glass display case full of tarantulas in which it's necessary
to actually touch the case in order to move forward in
the game. Do you know how tough it is to operate a game with your
eyes closed? (Shall I relate the story of how I almost jumped
out of a moving car to avoid an itsy-bitsy spider? No, never mind.
We'll speak no more of this.)
Visually, The Arrangement is something of a hodgepodge.
The backgrounds are prerendered CGI and, for the most part, quite
pretty. Some objects have a warm, almost lifelike, aura to them,
while others have such a flat look it's obvious that it isn't
real. Character models are ... interesting. Remember Appalachian
apple-head dolls? Several of the characters have that exact desiccated-fruit
look. Others reminded me of marionettes the way their eyes rolled
around in their faces or their jaws seemed to unhinge while speaking.
One reminded me of the two old men who sat in the theater box
on The Muppet Show.
The Arrangement's musical score is beautiful. The composer,
Christopher Brendel, is to be applauded for creating a score that
was at times both haunting and tension-inducing. As events unfolded,
the music changes dramatically to heighten the player's apprehension.
There aren't a lot of ambient sounds in the game; there are the
standard clocks ticking, doors and drawers opening and closing.
Oddly enough, you never hear your character's footsteps as he
moves from place to place.
Voice work was hot and cold. The main female characterAnniesounded
so lethargic that I was sure she'd imbibed one too many Valium
tablets to get herself through the ordeal. She didn't really seem
to wake up until the final scene. Alas, the supporting players
were no better.
On the flip side, John Bellwho voiced Fortrey and several
other male voiceswas dead on the money. From the moment
we meet Fortrey, we know he's a picnic shy of a sandwich ... and
not in the "good" way of ... say ... having Harvey the
six-foot invisible rabbit as an acquaintance. We're talking dangerous-don't-look-him-directly-in-the-eyes-move-to-the-other-side-of-the-street
In the end, The Arrangement turns out to be a nice little
middle-of-the-road change of paceneither incredibly horrible
nor the best invention since sliced bread. I can forgive the odd,
sometimes creepy-looking, representation of humans and to a certain
extent the bad voice-acting; but where it really fell apart for
me was the finale. While I liked the perverse nature of the story;
I felt that the ending was akin to blasting a hole in the wall
after you've inadvertently painted yourself into a corner. Sure,
you'll get out of the situation, but it's neither the cleanest
nor the most satisfying of exits.