Online, Jun 2020
The new breed of online digital escape games mostly fall into well defined types – most often webpage-based puzzles, some ARG (alternative reality game) style involving social media pages or Google Streetview, some point-and-click, some a hybrid of those. What Marvo have come up with doesn’t really fit into any of those categories. I suppose point-and-click is closest, with some additional ARG elements, though that description is as misleading as it is useful. And what’s worse is that for spoiler reasons I really can’t go into specifics.
There are two parts to this game, purchasable individually, or you can buy them both together and play them through in one sitting. For any enthusiasts happy to do 2-3 hours puzzling on the trot, I’d certainly recommend combining them, since it’s both cheaper and a more complete game that way.
I’ve seen very polarised reactions to this game, with some players liking it a great deal and others not at all. We both loved it, while feeling that it was held back somewhat from being quite as brilliant as it could have been.
Firstly, it synthesises different game elements in the aim of creating an immersive realism feel, in a way few other games attempt; the main others that spring to mind are the two from Deadlocked. However, MARVO Archives puts far more emphasis on a custom interactive interface that’s closer to a computer game.
That interface is one of several love-it-or-hate-it elements, because it’s much more constrained than it might appear. It’s slick and clever and involves transition sections that had me openly grinning with happiness. It also doesn’t allow much scope for doing anything other than the intended actions, once you figure out what they are.
Part One had plenty of cool satisfying moments, and my main criticism was that it was a bit simple and guided, with not enough challenge to give a sense of satisfaction. Part Two was almost the opposite, involving much more substantial puzzles, but ones that had quite a dry technical feel, with less excitement than the earlier game. With a smoother mixture of those elements (and ideally a less linear game path) I’d have been blown away; as it was it felt like first too far one way then too far the other.
There’s a laudable dedication to realism right down to the fine details, which some may find goes too far. For instance, if a game gave you the task of fixing a washing machine from a complicated technical manual, recreating that as realistically as possible may increase immersion but reduce fun, since that’s not an experience all players will want in a game. That’s an entirely fabricated example, but if the thought of that is unappealing then some parts of this game (especially Part Two) may not be to your taste.
MARVO Archives is beautifully original and clever and bristling with nice touches. Playing through it, there was one little detail after another that I loved. I’d really like to give it a wholehearted recommendation without inserting all these caveats, but I’m held back by some of its rough edges, and perhaps more importantly because I’m fairly confident that several of the game elements I enjoyed will be off-putting to others. But hopefully this has been enough to allow you to make an educated guess whether it might be your sort of thing or not; and if you think it might be, you should definitely try it.