Though far from the central hubs of juggernauts Sony and Nintendo, Australia has a pretty solid history in the game developing community. From its humble beginnings with games such as the text adventures “The Hobbit” and “Shadows of Mordor” released for microcomputers in the 1980’s and the 1993 Classic RPG “Shadowrun” for SNES, to modern hits such as the PS3 release of Bioshock and Borderlands the Pre-Sequel. Australia has had a constant presence in the game development community yet in spite of this, the country and it’s industry has received very little recognition. Fortunately, new generations of programmers continue to build our legacy. One such programmer is industry veteran Ben Droste whom after 10 years of working on franchises such as Star Wars, Viva Piñata, Spyro the Dragon, and Mickey Mouse, established his own studio 100 Stones Interactive in 2015 and has recently published his first independent title.
With inspiration taken from games such as “Myst” and its sequel “Riven” The Eyes of Ara takes players on an engaging and scintillating adventure as they set out to explore the heights and depths of a remote and weathered castle.
Long shrouded in mystery, the castle had stood abandoned and undisturbed for ages. Traveling to the island by boat with the towns folks stories of restless dreams, violent storms, and mysterious ghostly lights still playing on their mind the player will have naught but their wits to aid them as they seek to unlock the castle’s mysteries and encounter the spirits within.
Though clearly lacking the polish of a big-budget title, The Eyes of Ara is by no means graphically dated or offensive with scenes and backdrops painstakingly created with an amazing level of detail. The game’s opening scenes are highly cinematic and the castle, though run down from its years of abandonment, feels lived in. The history and background of its owner and visitors are revealed through a collection of journal entries and notes spread throughout the building’s many rooms and in some cases it appears as though they had been inhabited quite recently with the occupants spirited away without rhyme or reason, a fine layer of dust and cobwebs the only evidence of their long absence.
Complementing the graphics is a duo of beautifully composed soundtracks and audio cues that come together to foster both excitement and foreboding as the story progresses and the spirits become increasingly active.
Challenge-wise The Eyes of Ara presents little difficulty to a seasoned puzzler. However, there are a few surprises which will leave even veterans scratching their heads. Ashamedly I must admit that even I, despite having grown up with classics such as “Broken Sword” found myself having to consult a guide at several points during my playthrough much to my disdain. difficulty aside, the puzzles themselves are creative and entertaining and will no doubt leave many players satisfied with themselves when they finally uncover the solution.
Alongside the main storyline, the developers have included a variety of collectable extras spread throughout the game giving achievement hunters some much needed meat on their gaming bone in addition to allowing players to show off their treasure hunting prowess.
With a classic mystery storyline and compelling and addictive gameplay, The Eyes of Ara has firmly established itself alongside titles such as Machinarium and The Dream Machine as a modern classic for the point and click genre. With their presence established, and a long road ahead of them, I cannot wait to see what Ben Droste and 100 Stones Interactive comes up with next.
Chris Senz is a gaming journalist and contributor to PN2.