Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode Two

Posted by Mark Newheiser.
First posted on 29 November 2008. Last updated on 01 March 2013.
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Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode Two
The game allows the player to design a new character or customize a character imported from the previous game with new options.
Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode Two
The player character will fight hordes of morally reprehensible drones alongside Gabe and Tycho.
Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode Two
The episode features a large cast of characters to insult and banter with the player.
Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode Two
The cut scenes are styled after the webcomic but incorporate the player's own created character.
Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode Two
Along with Gabe and Tycho, the player character explores New Arcadia and beyond to search for clues, collectibles, or combat.

Penny Arcade is the gaming culture's equivalent of a political cartoon, that is, if political cartoons were to resort to random acts of violence and profanity for the purposes of humor while delivering their message. It is a webcomic that eschews continuity, preferring to stay topical, although sometimes engaging in small unrelated story arcs, often with a manga or Lovecraftian horror theme. It is the latter of these influences that has shaped the ongoing story of Penny Arcade's current episodic game series—Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness.

Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode Two is second of the 4 episodes planned for the series. While playing the first episode is not strictly necessary for understanding the story or advancing in this game, there is an option to you to import a previously created character from the last game. Doing so allows you to begin the game a couple levels above the starting point of a new character, and an optionally acquired item will become usable in this episode if you import it.

The previous episode ended with the players defeating a dark deity wreaking havoc on New Arcadia, with an ominous clue at the end revealing that there are 3 other gods lying in wait, which will likely form the storylines for the remaining 3 episodes. The player character, a protagonist whose name and appearance are selected by (or randomly generated for) the player, is trying to make the best of recovering from the giant robot attack earlier, until Gabe and Tycho show up and insist the player join them in seeking revenge and helping to investigate the mysteries of New Arcadia. The journey takes them into a madhouse run by a madman with a dark connection to Tycho's family, a snobby upper-class neighborhood with businessmen who attack the player with high interest loans, an irregular scientific conference, and to the site of a world's fair not entirely in line with historical detail. The overarching themes of the 1920s era gone mad are a bit of Lovecraftian horror involving dark deities and mysterious tomes, with a dash of steampunk style, and presented with carefree disregard through the eyes of Gabe and Tycho. The plot in this episode is a bit more connected to the personal histories of the re-imagined Penny Arcade cast, who are still both reliably comic and overdramatic.

A great deal about this game feels significantly scaled up from the first episode, from the number of characters you will meet and converse with, to the variety in enemies and locations, and the quality of its puzzles. As in most adventure games, the main characters make use of an inventory to store items, some of which are consumable items to aid in battle and some of which are relevant to the plot and puzzle solving. However, all plot relevant items are used automatically if the situation is appropriate, thus limiting the ingenuity required on the part of the player. While the overall structure of the puzzles is still based on quests, with the main challenge being exploring every environment exhaustively and acting as necessary to accomplish your specific goal, there are a few interesting examples of puzzles that can fool you with their initial simplicity but reveal more depth as you dive into them. This game also relies far less than the previous title on the role-playing game styled quests that involve either killing a certain number of enemies or simply eliminating all the foes from an area, though fetch quests still do make up the bulk of your puzzle solving activity. The only puzzle related sin this game is guilty of committing is opening up avenues for progress only after the player has had a particular conversation, but not making it apparent that the conversation topic is important or offers options different than those that have been previously selected. Gabe and Tycho can provide location sensitive hints if you talk to them, however, and if you reliably explore the areas and exhaust the available options, you will be unlikely to be stuck for long anywhere in this game.

The combat system is also significantly improved from the first episode. Among my major gripes from the last game is how the difficulty curve starts out steep upon first entering an area and meeting a new type of enemy, then flattens out as you move towards completing an area, only to spike up again upon reaching a new area to the point of demanding more experience or upgrades from the player. Now, the game allows players to change the difficulty level at will if they prefer to worry less about the combat and more about the story, and the enemies are better spaced out for a gradual slope of challenge. The particulars of the combat system are worth noting, as you move through scrolling areas interacting with characters and items, you will occasionally see enemy characters who will engage you in a combat screen when you draw close.

As with the classic role-playing game Chrono Trigger, the battles are integrated into the environment rather than being random or taking place in a separate view. You can sometimes avoid fighting enemies if you walk around them. Sometimes, the environment or the placement of the enemies is relevant, such as when an attack hits enemies on either side of you or when an enemy pulls back to join another group. Combat itself is handled in a pseudo real-time manner similar to Japanese role-playing games such as the Final Fantasy series. Each character has a series of buttons that fill up in order, items, regular attacks, and special attacks, and once a button's timer is complete you can use that option to execute an attack and reset all the timers down to zero. However, the game also borrows an innovation from Super Mario RPG and the Paper Mario series by involving a reflex based component to an otherwise turn based system, whereby you can improve your defense or even counterattack if you time a button press during an enemy's attack correctly (this episode makes the timing more obvious than the previous episode), and the special attacks all involve some reflex or timing based component. In the previous game, Gabe's special attacks are executed primarily by simple button mashing. By contrast, this game uses instead a timing based arrow matching game akin to Dance Dance Revolution, which is a welcome relief. Part of the humor and charm of the game comes through with the combat system as well, as the characters are given entertaining attack animations, and the enemies generally have cleverly named techniques. I admit that selecting attacks and enemies is more convenient with a controller on the Microsoft Xbox 360 or Sony PlayStation 3 than with a mouse on the PC, although the special attacks all work well with a keyboard.

Despite a focus on traditional adventure game fetch quests, with a clear influence from the classic Monkey Island series, a larger portion of the game's 5-6 hours playtime will be spent in combat than puzzle solving; the gameplay is divided between combat, engaging in conversations with other characters based on the Penny Arcade comics (with authentic dialog balloons), and watching animated cut scenes that are directly adopted from the webcomic's unique art style. However, rather than putting you in the role of Gabe or Tycho directly, you play a character you name and design yourself with a certain amount of detachment from their madcap antics. As such, the game has less to do with the comic's commentary on games themselves than its characters and its style—and it is the style which most makes this game stand out. If you are a fan of the humor and occasional Lovecraftian themes of the Penny Arcade comic, then this game's particular blend of role-playing and adventure action is worth checking out. If you have enjoyed the first episode, you will only find this episode to be an improvement.

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