Friday, May 30, 2008

On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode One

The Penny Arcade game turns out to be surprisingly competent, sufficiently funny, and only occasionally ulcer-formingly irritating.

The Penny Arcade webcomic is centred around gaming, pop culture, and the magic of the digital age. The game, therefore, is set in an alternate steampunk 1920s, so as to make absolutely sure to capture none of its source material's magic.

You, as the player, take control of a create-a-character of indeterminate gender. If you're playing on the XBox 360, your character's name is set as your gamertag, and I couldn't work out how to change that, leaving me controlling a dapper young fellow with the unlikely moniker of "GregT 314".

You're quickly teamed up with protagonists Gabe and Tycho in a semi-epic search for a giant robot known to PA fans as the Fruit Fucker. There's maybe six or seven hours of gameplay to be had all up, mostly consisting of fighting things.

This is essentially a Japanese RPG. You wander around, examine things, find loot, talk to townsfolk, and combat evil murder hoboes. There's no random encounters, and there's only a certain number of enemies in the world, so you don't get to level up as much as you might like. As a result, combat can be quite challenging, especially considering that everything happens in real-time.

Actually, the combat's some of the worst I've seen in an RPG since the last time I played Shadow Hearts, but it's still reasonably okay. It won't, for example, make you want to make spicy meat pies out of babies.

The real reason to play OTRSPODEO is for the funny, which the game doles out in big steaming spoonfuls. All of the dialogue is written by Tycho, complete with gross abuse of italics, and there's no denying that that man can write. Every item in the game world has a semi-unique description to read, and there's also a rather large amount of conversation strewn around. Sometimes it's laugh-out-loud, and other times just entertaining, but it's the text that'll get you through to the end.

For a downloadable game, it has a hell of a soundtrack. The background music is exceedingly well done, although there's really only three or four such tunes. Plus Hothead Games clearly took a lesson from Portal, because the end credits feature the game's best music, being the work of geek icon MC Frontalot.

All up, this game is actually pretty recommendable, given that you're only shelling out about $25 AUD to get it. I suspect, however, that when we get Episode Two it'll all look a lot less fresh, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the game revisiting the same locations and using colour-swapped enemies.

Still, definitely check this one out, particularly if you're a Penny Arcade fan. Seriously, you get to beat the crap out of mimes.


Sassamifrass said...

I played the PC version.

I enjoyed the combat, I just wish that I could have mapped actions to the keyboard rather than having to drag my mouse around. It took a few fights to get used to it, but after that it was straightforward. I particularly enjoyed fighting the barbershop-type enemies, and exploding hobos with Overkills. Blocking was also very satisfying when I was able to begin consistenly counter attacking foes. That said, I enjoy point and click games, Lucas Arts style, and throwing the combat in for me seemed like a fun extra.

I appreciated being able to use my keyboard to move through conversations at the speed I read rather than relying on the mouse.

I could have done with some nifty puzzles scattered around the place, especially in the Slumlord's area and Ann's room.

You don't get to level up as much as you might like.

I don't know about the Xbox version, but my levels got capped long before I ran out of enemies. It did curb my natural munchkining instincts, which was nice.

Greg Tannahill said...

In the late part of the game you go up pretty fast, and I picked up the max level achievement. But early on it can be tough, particularly if you're trying for the achievement related to not having anyone die at any point.

Overkills, and the related bonuses, are indeed awesome.

Thanks for the comments about the PC version; I note they've also released Mac and Unix editions, which is great.