PENNY ARCADE ADVENTURES: ON THE RAIN-SLICK PRECIPICE OF DARKNESS, EP. 1
/ Hothead Games / PC
I guess you don't have to be a fan of the Penny Arcade webcomic to enjoy this one ... but it's certainly gonna help a lot. The writing stands up on its own, but the references to famous comic characters and incidents are thick. Penny Arcade's writing style in game form reminded me strongly of the atmosphere and humor of old 90s adventure games like Sam N' Max, the Leisure Suit Larry series and Space Quest, so if you dug those, you'll probably enjoy this too, even if you rarely to never read the strip.
Fans of the comic will be pleased to know that no punches have been pulled here in terms of self-censorship for the gaming marketplace. F- and S-bombs are aplenty, Fruit Fuckers are the main antagonists, and there's an entire mandatory subquest devoted to murdering hobos.
Rain-Slick takes the basic characters of Gabe and Tycho as they've developed in the comic over the years (Gabe as kinda dumb and violent, Tycho as erudite and ... somewhat less violent) and recreates them as supernatural detectives in the 1920s. They're the only two characters you travel with, and you create a custom main character who honestly kind of acts as a third wheel for most of the story. After your character's house in suburbia is destroyed by a colossal Fruit Fucker, and you do a couple of tutorial battles, you catch up to the PA boys with whom you join forces to find out where this monstrosity came from.
The gaming framework is basically a simplistic point n' click adventure with RPG battles. The battles are a sort of new version of the Active Time Battle system employed in a number of the Final Fantasy games, where instead of taking formal turns and pausing to issue commands, everything is going on in real time and you wait for characters "action bars" to fill up before you have the option of issuing a command to them. There's an added element of Super Mario RPG/Paper Mario in that you can press the space bar at the right point during an enemy attack to lessen damage or even counterattack, and each character has "special attacks" that require a QTE-like series of button presses. When the battle system works, it's a fun system of juggling tasks and prioritization while also getting timing right on attacks and blocks. At it's worst, you're standing around for 15 to 20 seconds waiting for someone's attack to fill up, or you're digging in the tiny and cramped inventory trying to find the item you need and get distracted from an incoming enemy attack that shreds you. For the most part, it's a decent battle system - not fantastic, but playable and enjoyable.
The game is actually best in the non-interactive portions, carried by the excellent and frequently hilarious writing. Actually moving about the game world can be a bit of a drag, since there's only four locations (and only two that have any real depth), and only a small handful of enemy types. The moments of humor that continually pop up carry the day, though, as well as the gorgeous hand-drawn artwork and very colorful 3D backdrops.
If this game had been released as a $40+ title it would have been a major disappointment; as an episodic title that one goes into only expecting about 5 hours of gameplay, however, and that one can get easily for less than $10 (I think I got this and the second chapter together on Steam for like $2 on a sale), I think it's worthwhile. It plays smoothly enough, the anti-politically-correct writing and humor alone are worth the price of admission (and an extreme rarity in corporate-published gaming), the battle system is novel (if not perfect), and it looks damn fine. It's a great little casual pick-up-and-play game for when you just want to relax for half an hour or so, without having to get too involved in anything or having a hard time picking back up after leaving off for days.
* Gameplay Video