Sunday, June 1, 2008

Penny Arcade Adventures Ep. 1 Mini-Review

Here's the trailer if you're completely in the dark about the game, before I bust into the review:

So I finished up On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness this afternoon (I also "finished" GTA IV in a videogaming extravaganza weekend). I didn't time how long it took me to beat, but the official estimate of 6-8 hours seems about right. I also haven't looked at any reviews of the game so I don't know how it was generally received or what issues people had with it... but I thought it was pretty solid. 1600 Microsoft Points (i.e. ~$20) worth of gaming goodness? I'm not sure about that, but I felt like supporting the guys since I've been reading their comic for years but never once bought any of their stuff. The art is consistent with the comic and overall quite good, though the humor was more touch and go... but I'd have to say that's consistent with the comic too, even though I'm a loyal reader.

The combat system turns out to be the most interesting part of the game as it's a strange combination of party based real time combat with mini-games for determining damage... kind of hard to explain, but each character has three tiers of action... using an item, a normal attack, and special attacks... and they have meters that fill up sequentially and so that to do a special attack you need to wait for all three meters to fill up. Performing an action drains all your meters to zero, which is true even if you are charged all the way up to a special attack but realize that you want to use an item. Since you tend(with certain notable exceptions) to want to save up to do the special attacks (which is where the mini-games come it), this keeps combat from seeming too frantic despite the real time nature. The mini games are straightforward and fairly easy, though as you gain new attacks they become more difficult (up to 3 per character). To keep you from getting bored while you wait for your meters to charge, you also get to try and block/counter enemy attacks by pulling the left or right trigger when they are about to strike... the timing determining whether you get a partial or full block or a complete miss or even a counterattack. The items range from healing items, buffs, debuffs, and distractions and all seemed fairly effective and useful throughout the game since stat bonus/penalties are done as a percentage. You also can call in support characters to do area attacks, though their meters fill up really really slowly.

So anyway... all that was probably more description than you needed, but it was mainly to illustrate that the combat system is fairly deep and interesting... and once I got the hang of it (which took a while since I didn't really pay close attention to the tutorial) was, dare I say: fun. I actually think the combat system alone made it worth a play through.

The part I didn't like about the game was that nearly everything in it can be clicked on... some of it the ever popular crate smashing, others just with humorous descriptions, but some of it collectibles or with relevance to completing the game. Part of the problem is that 98% of it is in the "humorous description" category (with many sadly lacking in humor), but the main issue is what a PITA it can be just to click on one to check... you highlight something by walking near it, which sounds pretty simple until there are three things all right next to each other and you spend 20 seconds walking "a little to the left, no a little to the right, no..." to only find out it was worthless anyway. For the most part, there are visual clues as to which objects are smashable or relate to hidden enemies, but if you're interested in seeing all the concept art scattered through the game you're on your own. As I gave up on the concept art fairly quickly, I only really had significant frustration as I ran around a one map looking for the very last crate that held the key to getting a weapon upgrade.

Overall, I thought it showed promise for forthcoming episodes, though it certainly has flaws... and unless you're PA fanatic you should probably try the demo before paying the $20.