Saturday, February 9, 2008

Game review... that do anything for you?

I was planning to become a games reviewer for some blog and was going to send them a sample review... until I realised that 'Algenisian Magic Dollars' aren't real currency and it was probably a scam.

It's just here so I can act like I'm updating my blog.

(Also note, it is a review of one of the most obscure games released in the last three years)


An accepted rule of all the visual media is that it's better to show than tell - as only makes sense. This, if possible, should apply even more strongly in the interactive media - complete immersion in the environment allows the player to see all apsects of the world and he (or she) should be trusted to find the details on their own if they mean to. This was the approach used in the surface-deep stark world of Half Life 2, to much acclaim.

For whatever reason, as loathe as I am to cast any stereotypes, the Europeans don't really seem to grasp this fact.

Well, perhaps that is unfair - the gigantic clumps of text clogging up the screen in Runaway: Dream of the Turtle could just as easily be down to terrible translation as lacklustre writing. But that doesn't mean that it isn't an issue...

For the uninitiated, Runaway was a hark-back to ye olde days of the side-scrolling 2D point-and-click adventure game - quite a mouthful and the reason why they shall be henceforth referred to simply as "Adventure Games". Those with memories stretching back beyond the days of Doom will in fact remember a time when the adventure game was the dominant genre. And, for the record, I will also state that they are my favourite genre... when done well.

It's a slow, thoughtful affair, of talking to people, learning things, getting clues, and putting it together to solve puzzles (usually of the insane object combination variety) which doesn't quite appeal to everybody. And I understand that. And the reason I mentioned the insurmountable mounds of text that fill the game straight up is quite simple - they're the biggest problem with getting into this game.

Runaway: The Dream of the Turtle (Cannily using the Matrix- and Pirates of the Caribbean-brand trick of not putting a numeral anywhere in the title..) has a start that is beyond promising - ultra glossy graphics, a great piece of jazzy R&B music especially recorded for the game, and ACTION! People may think that action doesn't really go with the territory of this particular genre and they're probably right - but adventure games have been known for action-packed cutscenes to bring the audience into the story and this is exactly what Pendulo Studios achieve with a devilish aplomb: a plane spiralling out of control over a deserted tropical island! Brian, the protagonist of the first game, THROWING his girlfriend, Gina, out of the airlock!! Gina, plummeting in free-fall...before her parachute opens. And then SHE'S SHOT BY A SNIPER!!!

It's at this point that I, personally, would like to be dropped straight into the game with absolutely no idea of what is happening - possibly with Brian concussed from the resultant plane crash and not knowing how the hell he got where he is. In spite of the trite nature of the "Lost memory" opening in any game at all, I think it was called for. But no, the game flashes forward to Brian using MSN Messenger to talk to one of his friends, explaining how much weird stuff has happened... and then we flash back to Gina and Brian the morning before they catch the plane, talking about their holiday... this goes for a LONG time (Off-hand, I'd say the entire intro is at least 10 minutes) Eventually all trace of uncertainty over the events in the opening scene is systematically removed - well, thank God for that. Wouldn't want any sense of mystery when we start a game, would we?

The ironic thing is that, for all the work in the intro, the setup remains the simplest ever in the history of gaming - resuce the Princess. Yes, the Princess in this case is Gina, a former stripper turned fugitive, turned white-collar nerd-bait, but the effect is the same. The temptation to make some cheap-shot jokes about most computer games being about desperately chasing girls down across entire planets is strong here, but I really wanted to say how impressed I am that developers are still getting mileage out of the plot to Super Mario Bros.

Runaway: The Dream of the Turtle... sorry, would you mind terribly if I just called it Runaway 2? You wouldn't? Great. Runaway 2 has tons of wonderful European eccentricity to keep you distracted from all of this - the game is brimming with ridiculous ideas and characters.You have to love a game that involves an assassin with a poisonous spider fetish, mute time-travelling monks, voodoo resurrection spells,repairing bucking animatronics, etc. The result of this is the old bugbear of the adventure game...ideas that are so damned warp you go for the walkthrough and have no idea how anyone could have drawn that conclusion. I only had one of those moments (It's in chapter 5 and involves inventing a new kind of fork - those who have played the name should be nodding in grave sympathy here) but I'm sure other people with less lateral thinking habits will encounter more.

The other problem is moments where you're left uncertain not of what to done, but how exactly to communicate it to your thick player character. Okay, this will save anyone who plays this some time - that bit where you need to drink the bottles of wine? Yes, I know there's no 'drink' button and you can't use them on Brian. You click them on the corridor going to Brian's room. Yes, the room he repeatedly enthuses he is never going to go to until Gina is found. Well... he'll go there. Drink the wine and come back. I've just saved you at least a frustrating hour of gameplay trying to work that one out.

In the end, I quite enjoyed Runaway 2. But that will mean nothing to people who, unlike me, are not fans of the genre. Mostly I liked it for the story, the gloriously animated cutscenes, and the simple fact that it's a new adventure game - it's not often I get to painstakingly manipulate events to ensure a man is molested by a bear in the modern-day gaming market solely through the use of stolen bric-a-brac in the modern gaming market. But for anyone who is not a fan of the genre, or only those efforts that are of exceptional quality, I cannot in good conscience recommend this game: all the bugbears of adventure game design - pixel hunting, endless expositional dialogue, leaps of logic, endless barriers hurled in the player's path that stretch both credibility and patience - are present and [in]correct.

It's very much a shame, as Runaway 2 is challenged only by Curse of Monkey Island as the most gorgeous adventure game ever made and has several other impressive technical achievements. Sadly, in this case, it's an example of one step forward, two steps back.

(And there isn't much running away involved, either!)

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