Edna & Harvey: The Breakout

Posted by Steve Irvin.
First posted on 04 June 2011. Last updated on 18 January 2013.
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Edna & Harvey: The Breakout
Edna and Harvey take a ride along the laundry line.
Edna & Harvey: The Breakout
The futures get darker for Edna and Harvey outside the asylum.
Edna & Harvey: The Breakout
Edna makes a number of shocking discoveries.
Edna & Harvey: The Breakout
The asylum at sunset is deceptively beautiful.
Edna & Harvey: The Breakout
Do you want ketchup and mustard with that? No? Oops!

Edna & Harvey: The Breakout is a point-and-click adventure game from German developer Daedalic Entertainment. The game has already garnered significant acclaim in Europe under its original German title Edna Bricht Aus (released in 2008), before being ported for release in North America. The story revolves around Edna, a young lady trying to escape from an insane asylum while piecing together clues to her past and the reasons for her internment there. She is joined in her exploits by her stuffed blue rabbit, Harvey—a homage, undoubtedly, to the classic play and film, Harvey, in which the protagonist befriends an invisible white rabbit and is himself suspected of being crazy.

The "amnesiac in the asylum" is by no means an original premise for an adventure game story. The theme has been tackled with varying success in other adventure games, including Countdown, Sanitarium, and many others. The unique tack taken in this game rests with the relationship between Edna and her inanimate friend. It is clear from the beginning that Harvey, with his quirky personality, is a construct of Edna's somewhat feeble psyche. Harvey is able to carry on conversations with Edna—mostly when he is asked to do so by Edna—as a distinct personality and weigh in on many situations and objects that Edna encounters. He even chimes in with unprompted commentary along the way. Indeed, it is impressive to note that he offers a unique comment when he is "used" on nearly every object or character with which Edna can interact in the game. Together, they represent dozens of observations that Edna herself does not make about her own world. Some of these extra observations provide useful clues and insights to Edna's inner psyche. As Edna steps through the situations confronting her, she meets many of the eccentric characters residing in the asylum. Gradually, an interesting back story unfolds that gives a glimpse into Edna's past. These moments provide motivations for Edna to continue seeking answers. In fact, her motivations grow increasingly compelling as the game continues. In her efforts to escape the asylum, she slowly learns that during her long internment, her father has been convicted of murdering a neighbor's son and later executed for his crime. In her disbelief, she determines to learn the truth behind her father's death. Yet, she must first make an escape. The head of the asylum, Dr. Marcel, is an enigmatic figure with a vested interest in ensuring Edna never learns the truth while also preventing her from ever leaving. The story starts off a bit slowly, with Edna trying to figure out how to escape from her cell. Once Edna is outside the confines of the asylum, however, the pace quickly picks up.

An interesting mechanic used by the game is the tempomorph. Tempomorphing takes Edna and Harvey back in time to explore traumatic scenes from her past. Interacting in these flashbacks helps Edna jog her brain wiped memory and allows her to recall long-lost skills or recover lost knowledge that is useful in the present. Tempomorphs come into play at strategic points in the game, when Harvey is shown items that trigger them for Edna. Furthermore, a particular tempomorph offers a chance (and the only chance) in the game to play as Harvey.

The tone of much of the game is lighthearted, with an added smattering of sad and melancholy moments. However, as the pieces of Edna's past and her present reality come crashing together in the endgame, strange and dark happenings take place that abruptly change the tone. In fact, there is a much unexpected event occurring late in the game that is truly startling. This event is followed by a sequence of sober revelations and cut scenes that are played out through to the end of the game, climaxing in a final ethical dilemma for Edna. There are 2 possible endings, based on Edna's final choice.

The game's many puzzles range in difficulty from simple to downright ridiculous. Many of the simpler puzzles can be solved by trading objects among the patients in the asylum or by manipulating a particular item with another in the inventory. The more difficult puzzles often require completing some task that is overly rigid (that is, a single solution when other logical options are present) or that defies rational reasoning. It is a good idea to consult frequently with Harvey, too, since he occasionally provides a unique clue that eludes Edna. Interestingly, a complete official walkthrough of the game is included on the game disc itself. The decision by the developer to include a walkthrough is perhaps a tip off that the developer knows in its heart how twisted or convoluted some of the game's puzzles are.

The game allows for many possible interactions among inventory items and within the game environment. It is fun to try different pairings from inventory or click an inventory item on random objects in the environment just to elicit a reaction. Most attempts will not be useful, but many of them will yield a humorous response from Edna or Harvey or a unique result (for a sample, you can try clicking the polo mallet on random objects or just squirt ketchup and mustard on furniture). The developer is to be commended for taking the time and effort to inject these little details into the mechanics of the game.

With 28,000 or so individually scripted lines of dialog, localization from German to English must have been a major effort. There are some glaring gaffs, such as a kite being called a dragon. However, given the sheer number of distinct phrases translated, the majority of them work well enough that the few misses can be easily overlooked. Edna needs to walk through many lengthy dialog threads with various characters to gain information. Many of these exchanges are genuinely funny, and some new choices appear only after you have broached the right topic or accomplished some task first. While you have to plod through the same dialog sequences when talking to a character repeatedly, you can right-click to speed through the conversation to get to the new topics later in the game. By far, the most frustrating part of the character interaction is that clicking on dialog choices often yields no response at all, requiring you to click on an option a few times before your choice is registered. This makes the game unpolished. Frankly, I am surprised that the game is allowed to be released with such a glaring and frequent problem.

Voice acting in this game is quite good, on the whole. Edna and Harvey both emote very well and retain an endearing quality throughout the adventure. They are consistently believable and effectively convey a myriad of emotion. A number of other characters also turn in likable performances with solid personality. A notable few voices sound amateurish and are difficult to listen to. Moreover, a couple of the characters speak too slowly. Fortunately, with subtitles enabled, you can simply click through these dialogs to speed them up, rather than waiting for the syrupy slow delivery.

The accompanying music consists of a number of short jazz melodies. It is stylish and does a fair job of matching the evolving mood of the game. Some of the tunes are quite catchy.

According to the developer, the game has more than 120 scenes (or rooms), so there is a lot to explore. The backgrounds and animated characters are rendered in a colorful, cartoon style with a childish, minimalist look. Just a few images are used to simulate motion, so that the visuals often take on a jerky "flipbook" effect. Edna's interactions are never fully animated, either. When Edna uses her mallet on an object, for instance, she approaches it with weapon in hand and it is suddenly redrawn to appear damaged. The game looks quirky and is no doubt meant to. Alas, it also appears unfinished. The juvenile style collides with more serious themes in the game and feels incongruent. While this juxtaposition works in the asylum, where every character around Edna has a "screw loose", the style feels surreal and out of place in the later parts of the game as the plot drifts into darker territory.

The game's interface is modeled closely after classic point-and-click adventure games. A particularly useful feature is the ability to see all exits and objects with which you can interact in a scene just by hitting the space bar. It overlays the name of each significant object in the current scene and eliminates the need for pixel hunting, allowing you to quickly get the lowdown on each area you enter. Objects can be examined or picked up by right-clicking the mouse on them. Unfortunately, as with choosing dialog, clicking on unlocked doors or exits does not always register.

Inventory is stored and displayed in a grid and does not require you to manage the stashed objects. However, a repeating bug can cause an important item to simply disappear from the inventory (I experienced this bug more than once) when picking up a new object. Instead, a blank inventory slot appears which does not respond to mouse clicks. Restarting from a previous save will fix this problem in all instances, at the cost of losing any unsaved progress. Finally, load and save times are too long (nearly 30 seconds on average), perhaps owing to the fact that the game is written in Java, which is an interpreted language.

As an adventure game, Edna & Harvey: The Breakout is ultimately a mixed bag. On the up side are a decent plot, fun and memorable characters, a surprisingly interactive environment to explore, and a fairly lengthy playing experience with cleverness, humor, and whimsy sprinkled throughout. The game evokes several moods effectively and the end game certainly deviates greatly from the beginning. On the down side are very long load and save times, limited (only 9) save game slots, inventory and interface bugs that frustrate, and some bizarre puzzles. While recognizing that the crude, childlike presentation is likely a design decision that some gamers may appreciate, I personally prefer to see a more finished look and polish in the animations. On the whole, Edna & Harvey: The Breakout may be asking the casual adventure gamer to put up with too much in order to appreciate the original and engaging touches sprinkled throughout. It is worthy to note that Daedalic Entertainment has recently announced a spinoff in the works called Harvey's New Eyes. It will feature Harvey and a new heroine named Lilli and is scheduled for release in late 2011. Perhaps many of the shortcomings in this game will be addressed in the spinoff. If so, I will surely get in line to follow Harvey on his next adventure.

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