Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Review (XBLA and PC)

If you are an 'Internet Geek' you either fall into one of two categories: those who like Penny Arcade and those who don't. Yes, that's pretty general, but the long-running internet comic series has a very black and white status to it. If you enjoy their humour, you're a fan of the series and read the comics every week. If you find their views and the art to be pretty non-interesting, then you probably have no intentions on playing Penny Arcade Adventures.

As a fan of the series and attending PAX for the first time in September, I felt compelled to play their first game in the series: 'On The Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness'. In PAA: OTRSPD (which from now on I will just call Episode 1), you play as a user-created character whose house is destroyed by a giant robot. As the robot that destroyed your home is stalking through the area, you notice two guys chasing after it and you begin to follow them. Those two characters are Gabe and Tycho, the two main protagonists of the Penny Arcade Comic series. You join the two in the hopes of finding and stopping the robot. That is only the starting layer of the game and the series of episodic games.

The Penny Arcade Adventure is a planned series. Episode 1 was released earlier this year with Episode 2 planned to be released before Christmas. The game is your standard RPG adventure. You start the game with the ability to create a pretty decent looking character. The options are not endless, but there is still enough there to make a distinctive character to your liking.
You have your quests, looting, plenty of fighting and character levelling. There is not a lot of character customization in game which will disappoint RPG fans. Other than some necessary plot progression which requires upgrading, the weapons you have in the game stay the same. You can't upgrade armour, so you will need to use items to improve your characters stats. It is unfortunate that the customization is limited, but since this is the first game, there is potential for improvements with later Episodes.

During battles, the game uses a turn based fighting system. Each character has three options that fill up the longer you wait. The first option is the ability to use items in combat. These are your standard fare status affects which can be used on either you or your enemies. There are also healing items, explosives and even distraction items which can be used on certain enemies.
If you continue to wait, you fill up the next option which is your standard attack. Each of the three characters (you, Gabe and Tycho), have a weapon at your disposal that is distinctively different from the others. Certain enemies are weak or strong against each of your three weapons, so strategizing your attacks will be necessary.
If you wait to fill up the third bar, you have the ability for a special attack. These special attacks all require you to do a mini-game to increase your attack but do massive damage if done correctly. If all three have this bar filled up at the same time, you can do a team-up attack which can be devastating.
Lastly in combat, you will unlock three independent special attacks that can also be very helpful later on in the game.

The game's story takes about 5-7 hours to complete which is perfect for a game of this stature. There are only four areas in the game but thankfully only one of them isn't that large. The areas have plenty to explore and there are many quests that you will have to complete to finish the game. While this is an RPG, the quests are fairly linear. You will need to complete one quest to open up the next and once you've completed the game, there is no real reason to return to play again except for finding missing loot to unlock some bonus content.

The game's sound is strictly musical. Outside of the intro, the basic tutorial in the beginning and the closing lines, there is no dialog. The music is good and the sounds of the enemies are pretty nice and distinctive. All of the four areas have music that fits the area extremely well.

While there is no speech, the story progresses really well thanks in part to the Penny Arcade writing. Fans of the series will enjoy the humour and dialog and there are plenty of funny moments. There are plenty of possible responses, but due to the game's linear plot, there are no 'wrong' answers and you will eventually have to answer a specific way to progress in the game. The writing works well even for non-playable characters and you will be impressed by the interaction between the three heroes and everyone else in the city.

The art-style is exactly the same as the Penny Arcade comics. If you seen how the more recent comics look, you'll be right at home here. Animations are good but there aren't as many as you'd probably like. When interacting with people, scenes take place in a comic-book style screen with caption boxes. While in game, the characters movements are fairly generic. There is though plenty of variety in the enemies you encounter, with each one regardless of what they are having a distinctive look. The game only has a few cut-scenes but each one of them is really impressive. It's really nice to see Penny Arcade 'come to life' in the cut scenes.

Fans of the series will enjoy this game but that is not to say it is a game strictly for them. RPG fans looking for a quick arcade fix will also find plenty to enjoy. You might not understand some of the in-side jokes in the game (especially with the Fruit F**ker Robots) or Penny Arcade's humour, but you can look past those issues fairly quickly. Yes, the game is short, but for this type of game, the length works well. Any longer might have ruined the pacing of the game and would have gotten complaints from gamers. With the second episode just around the corner, now is a perfect time to pick up Episode 1 and experience the series. If you're not familiar with Penny Arcade, try the game out anyway. If you enjoy what you see in the beginning, then I am confident you will have fun with the game and you may end up becoming a fan of the series.

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