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Wot I Think: Armikrog


As we warned you earlier today, Armikrog [official site] is in no state to be on sale. Riddled with bugs, some game-breaking, and presented in an unfinished way, this needs a fair amount more work before you should think about buying it. However, what if you already did as one of the 18,000 backers who gave it a million dollars on Kickstarter? (I was not amongst their number.) Well, here's wot I think.

Sometimes second impressions can really count.

Armikrog opens so marvellously. After a long, fun cartoon title sequence with accompanying song, there’s a completely wonderful stop-motion animated sequence in which hero Tommynaut and his dog-like friend Beaky, escape the maw of a giant beast. The animation is stunning, and brilliantly imaginative – the beast’s long, sentient tongue on a winch in its mouth is especially great. It’s such a welcome.

And then the game proper starts and wow, the quality drops from sky-high to flapping on the ground. A bare room, a barren standard Windows cursor arrow, no mouse-over descriptions or highlighting for interactive objects, and voice recording that sounds like it was done in a barrel in a cave at the bottom of the sea. Jump to Options to see if there’s anything you can improve, and it only offers you subtitles. Literally no other options. (Oh, but you know what is in Options? Save/Load. Don’t find it there and assume the game is saving your progress? Ha ha! No.) Ho boy – after months of repeated delays, this still looks like a half-finished game.

Nothing can be clicked on for a description, nor an indication whether it’s going to be interactive or just background decoration. Controls are seemingly on the mouse only, but there’s no explanation of what does what, and despite having picked up an object, there’s no clue how to access the inventory. I can control Tommynaut or Beak-Beak, but neither speaks nor reacts to anything. In one instance, it turned out attempting to access the inventory was my mistake. I didn't need to, as simply clicking on the broken switch – which was previously inert, offering neither description or failure message when I clicked on it initially – was enough to make use of the lever I'd collected. Tommynaut automatically selects it and uses it for himself. Wow – an adventure game where I don’t even get to select the inventory objects.

So, first “puzzle” solved, I’m scrolled sideways into the next room, and once again the exquisite stop-motion animation loops for the characters are delightful. There’s this gorgeous fuzzy box-like creature, and I can shove him to the left by clicking on him. There’s a statue on the wall that comes to life and mutters nonsensical wisdom. Again, it looks so lovely. And then the mess of the game kicks in once more.

And so it repeats, every room a void of interactivity, items that will be vital for progress ignored when clicked on too soon. And then stuff started getting weird. Every time I clicked on something that apparently needed an item to work, I magically already had that item before I’d found it. This meant the game started unlocking in the wrong order, until eventually I hit a complete dead end when a vital cutscene wouldn’t trigger. I had to start the whole damn thing again.

Able to play the game in the correct order this time, I really began to encounter how terribly it’s put together. Even if the litany of atrocious bugs were fixed, this would still be gibberish. Puzzles are solvable, but tiresome. A particularly hateful (and thrice repeated) puzzle requires that you somehow discern the correct order for a song by compiling objects on a baby’s mobile, but the sound is so disjointed they don’t naturally flow when you do. Most others are just the dreary block shoving or pattern arranging crap that haunt half-arsed adventures like a soggy ghost. And then came the moment that’s made me genuinely angry, rather than just bored.

To progress after a certain point, you need to fluke clicking the right thing in the right place at the right time with the right character, with literally nothing – NOTHING – to indicate it’s a thing you need to do. I’ll try to convey how unlikely it is. You play as the dog-thing by clicking on him (a thing you’ll do a lot by mistake thanks to the god-awful cursor), as he can disappear up small holes. Things go weird when he does, all wobbly and black and white, and at the end of these passages are other versions of rooms you’ve been to, this time with symbols on the walls that you need to solve a puzzle. Right, fine. Except, it turns out, to be able to progress you have to know to click on the octopus creature that acts as a lift between floors while in this alternate version of the top room. Clicking on it any other time does nothing, there’s no reason to click on it on that occasion which you’ve visited for a different specific purpose, there’s no hint or indication that it should be clicked on, there’s no rationale to that being the action that would continue the plot while so many other puzzles are still wide open. It’s beyond comprehension. I only found out about it accidentally while looking through bug threads on the Steam forums for the earlier news post, where others are shouting at the walls about how ridiculous it is.

And to be clear, that’s just the most egregious example of a problem that exists throughout. There’s a button soon after that when you try to press it, nothing happens. It’s non-interactive. Oh, but switch to the dog and he can press it. Of course – stupid me.

The music’s quite nice, when it doesn’t disappear. Or start playing two different tunes at once (which it does a lot). And while the art is generally wonderful, later in the game it starts taking short-cuts by awkwardly stretching assets so they look like a Photoshop disaster, rather than designing new ones. The characters speak so infrequently that when they do, I’m surprised because I’d forgotten again that they could. But the voice acting is splendid, even if the recording quality isn't.

But the more you play, the more you discover that’s idiotically broken. There’s a major puzzle later in with a locked door you can just magically walk through without solving. There are objects that infinitely spawn. Glitches can get characters stuck on the background.

As if Armikrog weren't already hateful enough, that repeated awful mobile puzzle? You have to solve while listening to a baby crying. And not the tiresome wailing that annoys you in a coffee shop - the sort of incredibly sad sobbing that makes a new father need to tear off his own skin.

Puzzles start repeating themselves until you wonder if you’re stuck in some sort of cruel Sisyphian torture, and the endless waves of silly symbols you’re supposed to decipher and give a shit about eventually drowned any interest I had left.

It’s so agonising that such a wonderful-looking game is so bloody awful. After two lengthy last-minute delays, I can see why the developers might have wanted just to be rid of it. Sucks to be the Kickstarter backers who can’t use Steam refunds, at this point.

There’s a chance the bugs could be patched out, although this really is in a sort of Arkham Knight place where pulling it and finishing it is the better option. But even if it ran without constantly breaking, it would still be a really dreadful adventure game. A gorgeous one – some of the most lovely animation I’ve ever seen in a game - but just so poor.

Armikrog is out now for Windows, Mac and Linux.

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