First posted on 19 June 2012. Last updated on 19 November 2012.
Resonance Collector's Edition
The Collector's Edition includes a boxed version of the game with the game disc and bonus materials packaged in a custom CD wallet and a printed poster featuring the game's playable characters. The bonus materials include a MP3 soundtrack, developer diary videos, a documentary of the voice recording process, and concept arts.
Vince "Twelve" Wesselmann of xii games first entered the indie game scene in 2005 with his freeware adventure game called Anna, competing in the "One Room, One Week" AGS (Adventure Game Studio) competition. He followed up in 2006 with another freeware adventure game called What Linus Bruckman Sees When His Eyes Are Closed. After receiving critical acclaims for both of these titles, Wesselmann began work in 2007 on his first commercial adventure game—Resonance. Unfortunately, years passed by without much progress being made in the project. That changed in 2011, finally, when Wesselmann reached out to Dave Gilbert of Wadjet Eye Games to help him complete this vision. Having now finished playing the game, I am pleased to report that Resonance has definitely been worth the wait.
Resonance presents the story of a particle physicist named Morales, who has discovered a new kind of energy and has subsequently created a device called the Resonance to harness it. Any fan of sci-fi knows that such an invention likely means life or death to the entire world, and in Resonance this is no exception. When Morales dies quite suddenly, it is up to a group of 4 strangers to work together to secure Morales' research and to keep his device out of the hands of others who may exploit it for nefarious purposes.
Resonance actually begins at what is apparently the end—the world is in chaos, suffering from unknown attacks that disintegrate any matter unfortunate enough to be caught in its wake. In true in media res fashion, the game returns to 60 hours before the disaster defining prologue. The story follows Ed (a brilliant mathematician), Anna (an emergency room doctor with a close connection to the dead physicist), Bennet (a seasoned detective), and Ray (a cocky, controversial blogger). The group must discover their unlikely connections with each other, and more importantly, learn to trust each other, in order to locate Morales' hidden vault and the secrets to his research to save the world.
Similar to other games built using AGS, Resonance follows an easy, standard point-and-click interface for both navigation and inventory. However, the game also takes a different approach in how it handles environments and conversations. Improving upon Wesselmann's previous games, Resonance features lush and detailed backgrounds and yet still manages to maintain the game's retro aesthetic, which—when combined with beautifully drawn character sprites and background environment details—creates a game that is fantastic looking. Furthermore, Resonance's conversation mechanics are truly worth noting. In other adventure games, a character must first look at a key item in order to bring it up in a conversation. Resonance has taken that trope and has skewed it, introducing instead the concept of Short-Term Memory and Long-Term Memory. The players must physically drag an item into a Short-Term Memory slot of the inventory in order to bring it up in a conversation—meaning that theoretically any character can be asked about any item in the game, though as the name also implies, any item stored in the Short-Term Memory slots will not stay there for very long. Conversely, the Long-Term Memory slots are filled up via story progression. They are accessible by all of the playable characters and remain so until the end of the game.
That is not to say that memory is used only as a gameplay element in Resonance. The game throws together a group of seemingly unrelated characters—each has his or her own secrets that reveal unique connections to Morales and the Resonance device or to each other. For the players, knowing these secrets are key to progressing in the game. The characters' back stories are told more through memories and secrets than overt events presented in the game. While Ed, Anna, Bennet, and Ray all have a common goal and must work together, the players are still able to get some time with each character alone outside of the main plot. As a result, the game presents more well-rounded and deep characters than those typically in other adventure games. It is difficult enough to create a single realistic and relatable character. Resonance has succeeded in creating an entire cast of engaging characters, and the game must be praised for it.
Commendation must also be given to the game's professional voice acting, including a few familiar voices from other indie games (adventure and otherwise), such as Bastion, The Blackwell Deception, and Gemini Rue. Every voice in the game fits with the character (even ancillary character) presented and helps to further flesh out an immersive, realistic, and memorable world. The game also features a wonderfully scored and varied—but importantly, unobtrusive—soundtrack that nicely sets the game's different tones. The addition of 2 separate endings to the game is a pleasant surprise.
Resonance stumbles a bit in its design, though these are mere minor complaints when compared to the overall polish of the game. The Short-Term Memory system can be a bit awkward to use. It is too easy to forget the need to drag an item into it before it can be used in the game. The game has a fair difficulty curve, though some gamers may find it a challenge to manage the game's complex inventory system. Consider that the inventory management involves a fair amount of juggling—dealing with 4 characters, each with a separate inventory, while remembering the contents of their collective Long-Term Memory and deciding which Short-Term Memory to keep and which to discard. Additionally, the game provides a few challenging puzzles, though it also provides a workaround for those players who are not up to the challenge. For example, at some point in the game, the players are given the option to open a seemingly uncrackable puzzle box in order to gain the required information or to simply find the right inventory item to present in a dialog tree to get the same information. While I admire the developer for trying to appeal to a broader group of gamers, such diverging paths make the game as easy or as difficult as the players readily choose once the players aware that these are optional puzzles which can be bypassed. Finally, only spoken dialog is actually voiced. The thoughts and observations made by the characters are presented as text only. While it is understandable that the amount of dialog that otherwise needs to be recorded is likely enormous, it can be a jarring experience to go from silence to speech and back to silence again.
Ultimately, Resonance is a well-written, smart sci-fi thriller with empathetic characters and beautiful retro styled graphics. In this era of resurgence of quality classic adventure games, I believe that Resonance will stand out over time as among the new classics for the genre.