The Arrangement

Review by Toger
July 2004

"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. Clark.

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 me—such as this one did—then 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.

Like Harvest, 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 the machine!

By the way ... can I have a show of hands from all the arachnophobes in our audience? Just a small warning—there'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 character—Annie—sounded 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 Bell—who voiced Fortrey and several other male voices—was 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 madness.

In the end, The Arrangement turns out to be a nice little middle-of-the-road change of pace—neither 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. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Michael B. Clark
Publisher: Michael B. Clark
Release Date: June 2004

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Not specified; should run well on low-end systems

Where to Find It

Michael B. Clark 14.95 (includes shipping)

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