Monday, 29 October 2012
I am an unashamed fan of graphic adventures, let me make that clear first of all. I suppose I see myself as the thoughtful, gentleman gamer rather than the frenetic adrenaline junkie. Even so, I know the genre suffers its quirks, foibles and downright irritations, some that can drive even intrepid souls to gnaw off an arm in frustration.
The pitfalls to be avoided are numerous. There's hidden object syndrome, where you have to tiresomely drag the cursor over every millimetre of every screen to identify crucial objects hidden in the scenery. Extremely common, that one. Similar, is hidden exit syndrome. Then there's object proliferation: where there're too many items to carry (see Dizzy), or lots of useless, distracting red herrings (see Maniac Mansion). There was often an obsession with dialogue - pointless, interminable, unfunny dialogue that adds little to the game (see Simon the Sorcerer). And there's that tendency to make a game a little more difficult by including a ludicrous solution to a puzzle (see Monkey Island, to some extent, and certainly Discworld). The problem is, you end up simply trying every object as a solution every time you get stumped: and that's not fun, it's a chore!
I could go on, but I won't, because thankfully Resonance suffers from none of the above annoyances and, I am excited to say, is an upstanding example of a point'n'click adventure, complete with retro pixel-art graphics and a highly atmospheric musical score. It is a science fiction thriller set in the near future in (fictional) Aventine City. The story is well crafted and well told, and tantalisingly unfurls as you progress through the game.
You'll find no spoilers here, but 'resonance' refers to the behaviour of a newly discovered particle that offers the dream of limitless clean energy, but also the threat of massive destruction if the technology should fall into the wrong hands. You can no doubt imagine, there are plenty of dubious characters who might wish to get their hands on such technology. In fact, the game opens with a News-24 style report of simultaneous terrorist attacks orchestrated around the world with an unidentified new weapon...
Resonance was created using Adventure Game Studio, which on this evidence is an extremely powerful and flexible piece of software, as there are absolutely no indicators that this game was created using a game-maker utility. The production values are extremely high, and the presentation and game mechanics are not in the least generic. The game boasts an extended opening sequence that is an engaging way to introduce the player to the game's main protagonists. Four characters, four scenes, each taking place on the same morning: you select which one to tackle by clicking one of four images of clocks showing different times. When you complete a scene, that picture is replaced by a stylised picture of the character. This sequence demonstrated to me the level of thought, creativity and care that went into making Resonance an outstanding game.
At different points in the story you will be able to control one, some, or all of the characters. To be honest, they are mostly archetypes: Ed, the awkward geeky scientist; Ray, the wisecracking investigative journalist; Bennett, the jaded detective who bucks authority but gets the job done. The fourth character, Anna, is the strongest: she is self-possessed and determined, but haunted by her painful childhood. Her uncle, Javier Gonzalez, is the man who discovered the powerful secret of resonance, and she finds herself inexorably drawn in by, and responsible for, his legacy to the world. Each character is sympathetically portrayed, well realised, and brilliantly acted. There isn't a duff delivery in the whole script; it is extremely well written, with some fabulous cliff-hanger moments and tough, even momentous decisions for the player to make. Oh, and yes, there are some funny lines but the comedy is not overdone.
The control system is well designed and relatively flexible. This game boasts a major innovation which actually transforms the quality of puzzles and game-play, and for this I applaud author Vince Twelve and Wadjet Eye Games. As well as collecting objects, you gather memories as you progress through the game. Long-term memories represent key events which you can revisit whenever you wish and discuss with other characters. Short-term memories are basically anything that you might interact with in the game, stored so you can ask other characters about them. You have to physically populate the list of memories by dragging-and-dropping anything you might want to talk about into a simple drop-down menu. The beauty of this is that it avoids the player 'stumbling' over solutions to puzzles through dialogue options, as well as giving much more scope for character interaction. I think it is an elegant system and I would be surprised if future adventure games didn't adopt a similar approach.
I found the puzzles in Resonance to be pitched at just the right level: they generally require some thought and experimentation to solve, but there are few points were the player is likely to get stuck and frustrated for an extended period. The game contains a number of graphical puzzles and interfaces that enhance the game brilliantly. Mostly, these take the form of computer terminals which you can hack into to uncover secrets or data. There's also a blown keypad to rewire that unlocks a door, an intricate puzzle-box to solve, and the city archives to break into and manipulate, amongst others. Ray even has a smart phone on which he keeps track of tasks and passwords and other vital information. Each puzzle is cleverly designed, although not overly difficult, and very satisfying to solve. Unlike almost all graphic adventures, Resonance even stands up to replaying, as there are alternative endings based on key decisions you make. Having played it through twice, I still don't feel that I have uncovered all of its secrets, and I haven't achieved a maximum score.
Resonance certainly dodges all the main point'n'click pitfalls, however it still has some minor weaknesses. The artwork is top rate, but I felt in full-screen mode that blocky pixel-art was blown up just a bit too much. It looks beautiful running in a window, but conversely, too small and a little hard on my ageing eyes! Couldn't there have been a 'happy medium' option? It is also a large game to download and is currently taking up a gigabyte of precious hard-disk space. Oh, and the music in the hospital is a tad annoying. Or perhaps that was deliberate...
Resonance's real strength lies in its intricate storytelling and immersive game-play. The plot twists and turns to such an extent that at times you don't know if you can trust some of your own characters, which is quite a feat of writing. Overall, it's atmospheric, gripping, intricate, stylish, innovative, and above all, entertaining, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Download the demo/purchase the game either here (from the WadgetEye Games website) or here (through Steam).