Score: 7/10         |         STORY-DRIVEN RPG         |         MULTIPLE ENDINGS         |         VIOLENT

“Insomnia The Ark is a great story-driven RPG in a hand-crafted world with outstanding art and music that perfectly balances the tone and mood of the game.”

Insomnia The Ark is a diesel-punk story-driven RPG developed by Studio Mono and published by HeroCraft, both based out of Russia, after over 8 years of development releasing via Steam on September 28, 2018 for us Aussies. Insomnia delves into the slowly degrading remnants of human society attempting to survive on Object 6 – a colossal space station set on a 400-year journey in search of a new home.

Three quarters of the population have been put into a deep sleep within a structure called The Limb. So-called Terrorists have bombed the Limb and miraculously you have survived the explosion. You have a feeling of grogginess and hallucinations, though you hide this fact from the constant questions by doctors and officials. They clear your health, and this is where you get to choose your character type. I chose a sword and board (shield) character – I couldn’t help myself as I always choose this playstyle!

The environment art and music perfectly suited the dark and eerie theme of these starter areas, and helped you to settle into the mysterious surroundings and characters of the game. One slight negative here is the volume controls didn’t seem to work and often the music was too loud to hear voices, but im sure this will be patched soon. Initially playing the game reminded me of Mars: War Logs, from looting junk piles down to the character movement which was similarly clunky but you quickly get used to the controls and movement of the main character. I was constantly stopping and looking around, admiring the effort the art team has put into the environments. They made me want to explore every corner of each area, and I was rewarded for this by finding crates to loot and sometimes discovering crafting schematics.

The camera is fixed in position behind your avatar and can’t be moved. The game was originally designed to be isometric but later changed to third person, and sometimes you can see and feel how it would have worked with an isometric view point based on the design of some areas of the space station. As I started to talk to NPCs and explore the area, I quickly settled in and was getting sucked into the rich storyline that had me very intrigued about my illness. Sometimes I would see black shadows of people, then they would disappear. Other times I would walk into a room and suddenly all loose items started floating as if in zero gravity, then abruptly drop to the floor. Then there would be times where a green and black swirl would emerge with this crazy-eyed dog-looking beast, but it would be gone as quick as it appeared. Even after playing for hours I still had no further clues as to what was happening to me. When I finally did find out what was happening, it was a very clever and mysterious story arc that played out really well and made me want to keep pushing forward with the story to find out more. They have also spread some good humour throughout the game which helps to balance the gloomy mood of some of the locales.

Whilst exploring the various areas that open as you progress the story, you come across locked boxes, terminals to hack, platform controls to fix, and this starts to delve into traditional RPG character development where you need to consider where best to allocate skill points as you level up. You also need items like lockpicks, transistors, AI modules and capacitors to repair broken controls, all of which can be found in general loot or buying from vendors, but first requiring the relevant skill to be unlocked as your character gains experience levels. Crafting items is a cool element of the game, using workbenches and nearby cabinets to store your materials given the character’s weight limit (just don’t forget which cabinet you stashed all your loot, like this guy!) There is also the chance that, whilst travelling between areas on the overhead map screen, you could be waylaid by bandits or stumble across a wandering merchant. These random encounters reminded me of games like Baldur’s Gate and Fallout and I loved that about this game.

I found I had to write a lot of things down in a notepad as there were no quest markers and often clues were given to you in the npc dialogues, so you couldn’t just skip through it all – this is a good thing!! Early on when I would log off for the day and return the following day, I had forgotten where certain quest npcs were located. For me this is bloody great as it makes you think, and you must remember (and for me, write down) where certain characters were in different locations. There was a lot of running back and forth for these side quests, but I loved this aspect of the game and the environments were amazing to look at. In addition to this, your character suffers from thirst, hunger and fatigue, so you had to make sure you were stocked up with food, water and medicine, or at least remember where to buy them.

Another thing that I take my hat off to the developers is, you can’t take shortcuts with some of the quests, and if you don’t do precisely what they ask you, you will not receive a reward you for your efforts! One example of this is an officer asked me to find a high-quality bottle of wine in the next area. I found I could buy a bottle of wine from a cook and thought the name of the wine sounded fancy enough, so I turned the quest in only to be told ‘I didn’t ask for this shit wine!” and that conversation and quest was over – no going back later with the fancy wine I eventually found!

Another example is where a doctor asked me to deliver some pills to Old Man Dorb. The Doctor said I would find Dorb’s Shack “by going through the hole in the wall near Voznek’s Thingamjigs.” It took me a while but I found the hole which was well disguised, and I gave the pills to Dorb. I could have left him there, but he appealed to my good nature and asked me to find him a stiff drink. I saw that there was a locked safe that required “Dorb’s Key”, so I thought I’d be able to get the key if I get him this drink. I ran across to the local bar, purchased said drink and gave it to him, only for him to subsequently keel over and died right there on the spot. I went back to the doctor and turns out the alcohol mixed with his tablets killed him – oops! There were multiple dialogue options to choose from. One was to lie, the other was to tell the truth. Goodie two-shoes here told the truth and the doctor was appalled as I killed his patient, so I didn’t get any reward!

I am yet to finish a playthrough of the game but am really enjoying my time so far and really looking forward to seeing how my version of the story is going to play out. I like the fact that there are multiple ways to complete quests and it turns out there are twelve different endings to the overall story. Couple this with the deep character skill customisation, crafting and inventory management makes this game stand up well amongst many of the classic story-driven RPGs. The developers have already released their first patch fixing a lot of bugs, and today they listed the bugs they’ve fixed ahead of this weekend’s patch, so they are working hard to ensure this first game of theirs succeeds, and I think they’re doing a wicked job with it.

Overall, I gave the game a 7/10. Insomnia The Ark is a great story-driven RPG in a hand-crafted world with outstanding music that perfectly balances the tone and mood of the game. The developers have cleverly given us various tools, gameplay elements and quest arcs that give players multiple ways to play through the game, giving me memories of playing classics RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Fallout.

This review was played on PC with 13 hours of gameplay and Insomnia: The Ark is available now through Steam for US$29.99.

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