Runaway: A Road Adventure

Posted by Erik-André Vik Mamen.
First posted on 15 January 2008. Last updated on 07 September 2009.
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Runaway: A Road Adventure
Here comes a crazy fanatic with a strange helmet!
Runaway: A Road Adventure
While speaking to other characters, the screen tilts up and a standard dialog interface appears.
Runaway: A Road Adventure
The standard view is in widescreen, with the text and interface occupying the rest of the screen.
Runaway: A Road Adventure
Gina wears her short red dress well with her curvy figure.
Runaway: A Road Adventure
The screen text in this pre-rendered cinematic has not been translated to English. Is this miss just an oversight by the developer?

Runaway: A Road Adventure is a cartoon adventure game created by the Spanish developer Péndulo Studios. The main protagonist is a young man named Brian Basco. He lives in New York but is now leaving for Berkeley, where he has just been accepted to study at the University of California. As he is getting ready to drive across the country, a girl comes running out on the street and is accidentally hit by Brian's car. The girl, whose name is Gina Timmins, ends up in a local hospital, where she tells Brian that she has just witnessed a murder by the mafia. She claims that the mafia is now after her and wants to see her dead as well. Brian is not sure if he believes her, but he agrees to help her out, even though he is eager to start his studies.

Soon, both Brian and Gina are on the run. Their only lead is a strange Indian crucifix given to Gina by the man who has been murdered. They cannot really see how this mysterious artifact can be of any value, but they are sure that witnessing a mafia murder is enough to bring them trouble. Gina is a beautiful and charming woman who works as a dancer in a nightclub in New York. Brian, who is a little nerdy and a bit shy, is quickly attracted to Gina. He is now forced to act brave in order to save both of their lives. Can anybody smell romance in the air?

The story in the game is divided into 6 chapters of various lengths. Once a new chapter begins, it is not possible to go back to locations in a previous chapter. In most cases, the linearity of the story makes it necessary for the characters to move onto a new location. The first chapter takes place in the hospital where Brian has to save Gina from the mafia and make their escape. While the story may have begun in a cliché where the main characters are on the run from some danger, this game has quite a few twists and takes on a few unexpected turns. Still, the whole story feels unavoidably predictable at times.

Technically, the game is made to look like a cartoon. The characters are drawn in a bright but limited color palette (as cartoons are usually). The game is set in the real world, and the characters are written to portray real people. However, the story has a few supernatural elements, and it is refreshing to see that the characters inside the game are as surprised to find out about them as the players who play the game. Despite the characters are all rendered in only 2D, the game engine is capable of rendering sophisticated 3D visual effects such as soft edges, real-time lighting and shading effects, dynamic camera changes, and panoramic shots. In effect, it is a 2D game built using images modeled in 3D (as claimed by the developer). The characters cast shadows when they move or waive their arms when they stand still. The pre-rendered cut scenes are more detailed, but they are still animated to feel and look like the same cartoon. The games is released in both CD-ROM and DVD-ROM versions.

The characters in the game are all somewhat stereotypical, though none of them feel too out of place. Gina is drawn deliberately to be a bit busty, no doubt reflecting the desire of the developer to appeal to the male gamers. The voice acting (in the English release) is serviceable but not extraordinary. Some of the voices seem a bit exaggerated in order to act out certain types of characters, albeit they do not go beyond those typically heard in a cartoon. The music is pretty good, and it sets the mood aptly.

Throughout the game, the players must perform a number of controversial actions, such as directly or indirectly stealing, destroying priceless museum artifacts, and even letting a person get killed. Some gamers may dismiss these elements simply as fiction, while others may find them a bit politically incorrect. Either way, it is unusual choice made by developer for a game in this setting.

The puzzles in this game are very hard in many cases and frustratingly boring in others. First of all, Brian may refuse to pick up an item because he does not know that he may need it later. So, when you are stuck on a puzzle at a later point, you may think that a particular item is unavailable even though it is needed to solve the puzzle. There are also several items or rooms throughout the game which Brian will examine and decide for himself whether or not there is anything interesting. Some gamers may find this choice to be a good tactic. This way, you are encouraged not to just try out an action at random but only do it when you really have a plan. However, I have found myself stuck at a point in the game when combining 2 particular items without success. This turns to be the correct solution, but I have just tried to combine them too early. Having this said, you will still need to look through these items and rooms at random to find out if there is anything new.

Another annoyance is the repetitive tasks you must complete while tracking across different scenes. For example, in a particular puzzle you have to get water with a container from a specific scene and put it in a tank from another. Since your container is limited, you have to repeat the same action multiple times in a row. However, Brian does not say at any point that you have to do this several times, so you begin to wonder needlessly if your action has any effect at all. There are also a few times when you are interacting with other characters who will say, "I'll do it later, just leave your object here." such that you have to exit and then reenter the scene immediately in order for the characters to carry out their actions. These interruptions should have been avoided by the developer, since they generally make the game more boring.

The user interface is very simple and intuitive. The cursor is context sensitive and changes if it hovers over an object of interest. You can then switch between different actions with the right mouse button. The default action is to "examine" or "look" in most cases and to "pick up" in others. For character interaction, the action is changed to "talk to" and "look at". An arrow displays the direction to which you can go to another scene. There is an annoying sound effect that is played whenever the cursor is changed. It is not very loud, but it is not possible to turn it off.

Runaway: A Road Adventure has faced a number of marketing challenges. The game is first released in Spanish in 2001. The English translation is not released until 2003, almost 2 years after the Spanish original. The delay is, in part, due to a protracted change of the English publisher from GMX Media to Tri Synergy. Fortunately, the game has survived with enough interest to spawn a sequel, aptly titled Runaway 2: The Dream of the Turtle. This ensures the return of Brian and Gina for another runaway adventure.

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