Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode One
First posted on 09 September 2008. Last updated on 07 September 2009.
Over the past few years, the video game industry has seen a rapid rise of new indie developers who are taking on the commercial game market at a speedy pace. These developers are creating a revolution in today's mainstream market by creating innovative but edgy game titles or by mixing and adapting existing genres to create a new breed of games. Indie games such as Atropos Studio's Diamonds in The Rough or Pan Metron Ariston's The Exchange Student have set a new level of quality in budget games expected from independent developers. Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode One, created by newcomer Hothead Games, continues this new trend of high quality game development by small independent studios and is certainly among the best games of its breed this year.
The story of Penny Arcade Adventures is set in the 1920s, in contrary to that of the web comic from which this game is originated that is set in the present date. Although sci-fi and fantasy elements are seen in both installations of the Penny Arcade universe, in the video game these elements are disguised under the guise of steampunk fiction that are made popular by authors such as H.G. Wells or Jules Verne. An interesting trait of this game is that both main characters from Penny Arcade have been entirely re-imagined from their original modern counterparts to their retro personas. Tycho is now a professor and Gabe is now a boxer, and they are now the proprietors of the Startling Developments Detective Agency. I am not going to reveal more about the background of these characters, since details of their identities will undoubtedly spoil many parts of the game that are crucial to the story. Suffice to say that Tycho and Gabe are on a hunt for a giant evil robot, where the player joins them after watching in horror of the robot running amok in the city of New Arcadia and destroying the player's house in consequence.
Without pretense, I can say that this game is my favorite computer video game of the year. The game perfectly mixes the adventure and role-playing genres. The script is tight, with just the right dose of sarcastic humor that fans of Penny Arcade have grown to expect. The story is creative, paying homage to the classical robot movies from the 1950s and the beautiful noir movies of Fritz Lang. Gameplay is a excellent breed of adventure and role-playing games. This is particularly true for the battle system that employs a combination of turn based and real-time control. It can make for some frenetic mouse clicking, especially when there are multiple targets against which the player needs to attack. Gamers who play this game on a laptop are well advised against using the touchpad (or trackpad) for control, as timing via singlehanded use of the spacebar above and the touchpad below can be difficult to execute a successful block or counterattack. Instead, I recommend a standalone mouse so that both hands (to control the mouse and the keyboard separately) can be used for faster control and easier play during combat.
The graphics for the main part of the game are in 3D, though in moments of dialogs a window will pop up to show the caption much like a comic. The developer has put a lot of effort into dressing up New Arcadia into America of the 1920s. Every detail of the game world is well taken care to give it a retro look, and no aspect of it is left behind. Fans of the Penny Arcade web comic will be pleased to learn the 2D cell shaded comic strips written by Jerry Holkins and illustrated by Mike Krahulik have been fully incorporated inside the game. These comic strips appear in key cut scenes in the game for storytelling and are nearly indistinguishable from those that appear online on the Penny Arcade website.
Instead of taking the role as Tycho or Gabe, the player is given the opportunity to create an avatar (either male or female) or to have an avatar randomly generated by the game to play in it. The player then controls the avatar during the game, except during combat when the player can take turns to direct the actions of Tycho and Gabe (as well as any other supplemental character). Perhaps the coolest feature of the graphics for this game is that the player's avatar also appears alongside from Tycho or Gabe inside all the cut scene comic strips. Given the player has full control in creating avatar's appearance (from head to toe, literally), this is no small feat.
The level of difficulty for this game is quite advance, though the game is not impossible to beat with some effort. The combat is fast paced, so adventure gamers who are not familiar with turn based and real-time strategy games may be caught off guard. Still, the opportunity to experience firsthand a well written, albeit short, noire story to the likes of Dark City or M is reason enough to try out this game.
Despite the cutesy look, the game (much like the web comic) is decidedly aimed for mature gamers. This is not a game suitable for a younger audience. The dialog is laden with adult humor and foul languages. Even the villains have cuss words as part of their names (I will never look at a piece of fruit the same way again)!
As a last word to say, Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode One is now among my favorite games of all time. Not only the game carries a superb script, it also manages to retain the essence of Penny Arcade from the web comic, as if the player is playing the web comic itself. I am really looking forward to playing Episode Two of Penny Arcade Adventures, for the reason that the developer has not only gained a fan but a fanatic as well.