Wot I Think: Resonance

By Richard Cobbett on June 19th, 2012 at 4:00 pm.

And that's why they call me Optimistic Ed!

Mr. Vince Twelve’s magnum opus Resonance is finally upon us, but is it all adventure fans have been hoping for? We threw Richard a large bag of point and click friendly Malteasers, a brand new notepad and pen, and the chance to finally stop holding his breath for it.

…and breathe. When a game’s been in development as long as Resonance, it can be a very good thing, or a very bad one. On one side, five years of polish, care and attention. On the other, half a decade of flabbiness, dilution and authorial apathy. Luckily, Resonance is firmly on the right side of the line. There’s no way it’s not going to end up being one of the best adventures of the year, even if they kickstart Hopkins FBI 2. And I do not say that lightly!

Resonance is one long mystery, so I’m not going to talk too much about the main story. Out of nowhere, a series of mysterious explosions rock the world, throwing everything into chaos. Cut to three days earlier, where a cop, a scientist, an investigative journalist who really doesn’t like being called a blogger, and a doctor are brought together in a smaller-scale story about an amazing new scientific discovery and the people who want to get their hands on it. Then it turns out the cop is an alien and the whole thing was a dream ignore that part, sorry.

(One thing I will say though is that it’s a complete story, told from start to finish, with no big cliff-hanger or desperately sequel baiting plot-point or tiresome aspirations to being an episodic series to trip itself up on. You might however think otherwise after finishing it if you skip the credits before realising there’s a short epilogue behind them. Just a quick heads up.)

Malteasers are great adventure food. Stick a couple of balls into your mouth and slowly suck on them until the hardness melts away and what's inside oozes out. Then figure out a different way of describing it, because that sounds Weird.

What stands out about most about the plot is that while it’s not amazingly deep, it manages to avoid the trap of mostly being about poking and prodding at sciency stuff by instead focusing on its four leads and the interplay between them. There is some poking and prodding, yes, but far more of your time is spent watching the gentle teasing, interactive nightmares, socially awkward pick-up attempts, and otherwise relatable drama as your quartet of questers move from being a group of unrelated strangers to a team capable of… perhaps… saving the world.

In practical terms, you control all four of the characters at various points, often with the ability to jump between them and combine their skills to solve puzzles. This never reaches Maniac Mansion levels of complexity, with puzzles based more on who they are than giving them a big party trick. The doctor, Anna, is the only one with access to restricted parts of the hospital where she works, for instance, while only Bennett the cop can wander at will around the police station and has to come up with a way of smuggling anyone else he needs past the front desk.

It works really well. Occasionally you find yourself having to backtrack a bit, but it’s rare – most locations are only a screen or two deep and accessed by a map, and I never hit a bit where someone would refuse to do something without a valid reason. The characters also serve as the game’s hint system – asking for their suggestions will push you to at least where you need to be, if not flat-out tell you how to solve a puzzle – and their banter never goes on too long.

A large someone, of course, so I may crawl into their delicious skin after removing those obscene obstructions our dictionaries refers to as bones...

None of the puzzles are difficult, in the right way. With a large bag of Malteasers next to my keyboard, I polished off Resonance over a long, content afternoon of poking and prodding at things that took enough thought that I got that endorphin rush of being smarter than I in fact am when something worked, without ever feeling frustrated or put out, or indeed, having to put out someone’s eye with a pencil for doing the old paper-under-the-door thing. Hurrah!

Most of them are standard inventory fare, with the option to add scenery to a kind of mental inventory to ask people about. This is one of Resonance’s few sticking points – I never really clicked with it. The concept is fine, and most of the time the objects you need to ask about are even on the same screen as the character, but it’s not always obvious what memory relates to what conversation topic, and it’s fiddly to have to keep adding things or dredging them up.

The system works best for Long Term Memories, which are always with the characters, rather than Short Term Memories that disappear when you’re done with them, but could often have just been done with regular dialogue trees/a notebook instead after acknowledging the presence of something. It’s just bizarre to discover a clue, have the character go “Yes! To the fireworks factory!”, head over there, and have to drag a specific memory out of the mental bin before they bring up the escaped pyromaniac they were chasing. At times it’s a wonder these people remembered to put their trousers on before starting the adventure…

More successful are a handful of more physical moments – not arcade mini-games, but sections where you have to do something beyond pointing and clicking, from simply turning a wheel with your mouse to using a magnet to retrieve an important object to using a pencil for something that’s about as cliched as poking a key onto a waiting piece of paper, but is not specifically that and is therefore Okay. With the exception of one logic puzzle that’s not remotely difficult but goes on far too long, these are well implemented and scattered around the regular puzzles.

Knock three times on the scenery if you want in. Twice on the pipe. If the walkthrough says so...

What you should have seen by now is that as well as being a fun adventure, Resonance is an incredibly pretty one. It’s retro in the sense that you can count the pixels if you want, but not for want of skill or effort. From the excellent animation to the flickers and glows of light-sources to the silhouettes of cars passing outside a store and reflections on the other side of a window, this is hands down one of the prettiest indie adventures ever. When dark, areas are atmospheric and even intimidating. When the lights are on, the textures and detail get to strut their stuff. When drama is needed… suffice to say, there are some very pretty special effects.

While Resonance isn’t an an adventure that redefines the genre or a story you’ll remember for ever, it is the kind that’s a joy to sink into for a few hours – a few hours that race past, and are exactly the right number for the story it wants to tell. It’s not too tricky, without being so easy that it insults your intelligence, rewards a little extra care in the form of a couple of puzzles with with multiple solutions/extra elements for the observant (one of which answers a major “Wait a minute…” question at the end, even if there are still a couple that might linger when it comes to the timeline and who specifically was behind a couple of things). It’s a superb indie adventure that easily picks up the baton from last year’s Gemini Rue, before giving it a much needed infusion of warmth and humanity that should have no problem ‘resonatiAAARGH!

Phew. That was close. But no. Waaaaaaaaaaay too easy…

Resonance is out now, from Wadjet Eye Games, which gives you a Steam code that works right now, and GOG.COM. A full Steam release is coming, but has been delayed until next month due to behind the scenes hiccups no glass of water can fix.

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60 Comments »

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  1. db1331 says:

    This sounds good.

    • Ragnar says:

      I only wish it looked as good as it sounds. The backgrounds look fine, don’t get me wrong, but the pixelated characters and text (blocky text? seriously?) just hurt my eyes. Maybe it’s because I can’t find my rose-tinted glasses, but I don’t want my games to look like they came out 18 years ago.

      These artists are clearly talented, but the beauty of their work is lost, imo, when they trade out their paintbrushes for cinder blocks. I know it’s “retro”, and “retro” seems to be the “in thing” right now, and even I got excited when I first saw modern pixel offerings like Janestown and Iconoclasts. But now that we’re swimming in them, I’ve realized that I most enjoy pixels when there’s a over a million of them crammed together. I don’t understand why we need to eschew modern graphics, the one area where games have unquestionably improved over the years.

  2. mouton says:

    Adventure games are dead. Just like platformers and games with no multiplayer.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Herzog says:

    Would kickstart some Hopkins FBI !

  4. Zyrxil says:

    Man do I despise the AGS engine though.

    • SurprisedMan says:

      Why?

    • Apples says:

      I admire the patience of anyone who writes complex dialogue in AGS. It’s an adventure game engine so you’d think it would be able to nicely display and handle dialogue trees, but no! Let us make every dialogue choice moment a separate script file, and move between bits by referring to them by number, that sounds intuitive.

      It has some other bizarre/old-fashioned idiosyncracies that really could be cleared up from a user perspective, like the weird way objects are called a different thing when they’re actually in a room, and you have to dick about manually adding sprites to a big sheet. It doesn’t bother me that much though since it’s like drawing with crayons in contrast to UDK’s metaphorical entire art supply shop.

  5. Risingson says:

    “While Resonance isn’t an an adventure that redefines the genre “… Why, Richard Cobbett, why. Why you, among all men, that should know that every “redefinition” in adventure has meant something as banal as Quantic Dream games or L.A. Noir boredom.

    I agree with the rest of the review. I like it a bit more, maybe because the game tries to be a dramatic tale that reminds you of Beneath a Steel Sky and the Blackwell Games and, well, it ends up being so. And it is much better written, less teenager, than Gemini Rue.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      I don’t mean that as a negative against Resonance. It’s simply that it’s been around for so long, people might expect it to be more than just “a really good adventure”, which it’s not. That still leaves it as a “really good adventure” though, which is absolutely fine, and all it’s ultimately trying to be.

    • Apples says:

      Hey, now, hold on. Fahrenheit wasn’t banal. Nevermind its gimmicky QTEs, I think its real ‘redefinition’ was in how it used multiple characters to a far greater end that any other I’ve played. Not different means to an end as in Maniac Mansion, or characters you necessarily had to switch between as part of puzzle solving like DoTT, but characters you had to use to actively work against yourself, e.g. hiding items as one character and then having to immediately find them as another. Which was a great conflict between what the player feels as a ludic ‘win condition’ of passing a challenge and what they feel would be a narrative ‘win’ (giving an advantage to the character they like by failing one condition).

      L.A. Noire, on the other hand, was toss.

      • jonfitt says:

        Fahrenheit wasn’t banal, but some of its attempts to move on the genre were poor.

        The concept of a QTE in an adventure game is not a million miles off base. The puzzles in traditional adventure games are essentially gates to progress a linear story, and the QTEs were gates to progress a linear cutscene that advanced the story. The problems were a) reaction based gates aren’t necessary the best choice, b) you couldn’t admire the action of the cutscene because you’re watching the Simon-says ring.
        The second major failing I remember was the terrible terrible stealth game near the end.

        I was glad I had played Fahrenheit, but it never quite delivered on the promise of that opening scene in the diner.

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          The key problem with both of those games (minus a few things like the stealth) was godawful plotting and writing. The adventure side had promise in both cases.

          • jonfitt says:

            Quite why “Serial killer with amnesia where you get to play him and the cop hunting him”, wasn’t a good enough plot, I will never know.

            I would love to see their technologies helmed by a quality writer of adventure games.

            Also, SEX RHYTHM ACTION MINIGAME!?! ಠ_ಠ (Sorry Americans, not for you).

          • Kaira- says:

            Fahrenheit had bad writing? Well I’d say it was one of the bes- oh, you mean… yeah, I agree. I just mentally block the last third of the game.

          • Richard Cobbett says:

            Plotting != Plot. As proved when said serial killer finds himself rescuing his girlfriend from a rollercoaster in an abandoned theme park. Never mind the wacky final act.

      • Risingson says:

        Actually Guilty did that before. I think it is banal not only because its awful writing (after the promising start at the bar) or the QTE, but the combination of the two. The thing that annoys me most about Fahrenheit is how the QTE playability does not allow you to see the action (big buttons flashing in the screen over the characters), which is, ironically, a step backwards from Dragon’s Lair. I mean, they really could have chosen a colour code in the borders or something that could replace the buttons.

  6. MistyMike says:

    One thing the review I think didn’t tell me is: are there any big SF themes this game tries to tackle in a mature way? What is it *about*? Like the dangers of scientific research without any moreal boundaries? Or political extremism? Or what (no spoliers please, of course)?

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      It’s more political than sci-fi, but to be more specific would be spoiler territory. The focus bounces around a bit, put it that way.

  7. IshtarGate says:

    Yes, but how was Logan Cunningham in it?

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Kid does fine. Not as memorable a character as Rucks, but he’s good in the role.

    • povu says:

      I played the demo, he sounded pretty good there. He used a very similar voice to his Rucks in Bastion which is a little weird at the start, but you get used to it. It’s a good voice and it fits.

    • whydidyoumakemeregister says:

      For some reason I’m really bothered that this is a selling point. He did an acceptable job in Bastion, especially since the writing was so tedious, but the overwhelming fanaticism people displayed for it kind of made me cringe. After so many years big budget games hiring actors and nerd celebrities to do voiceovers, it seems like people overreacted to finally hearing a professional voice actor in a game.

      • thebigJ_A says:

        What on Earth are you on about? Logan’s not a ‘professional voice actor’ (or at least, he wasn’t until Bastion). He was just a friend of the Supergiant guys with some brief low budget movie acting experience who worked in a comics shop. Bastion was the first time he’d ever done voice acting for a game. Resonance is his second. I weep for your poor, failed hipster attempt.

        Oh, and he was excellent, and the writing was extremely good.

        I know, I know, you think it makes you look cool to rag on the popular thing. But you’re wrong on that count, especially when you haven’t even got the basic info straight.

  8. Premium User Badge

    Rikard Peterson says:

    Sounds great. If it wasn’t for the graphics, I’d likely have picked it up right away. (If it also had a Mac version, I would certainly have done so.) But for now, I’ll note that it exists, and keep playing the games that already are in my pile of bought-but-not-yet-played games instead.

  9. Klarden says:

    Okay, if Richard tells that an adventure game is good, i guess i’d better check it out

  10. qrter says:

    It is true that you can’t buy Resonance through the Steam store atm BUT.. it is playable on/through it – if you buy the game through Wadjet Eye’s own store, you get a Steam key that you can use right away.

  11. Berzee says:

    “One thing I will say though is that it’s a complete story, told from start to finish, with no big cliff-hanger or desperately sequel baiting plot-point or tiresome aspirations to being an episodic series to trip itself up on.”

    That sentence alone is enough to make me want this game.

  12. Berzee says:

    Is this game made by the same guy who made Shivah, though?

    Because I’m not sure if there is enough Logan Cunningham voiceovers in the world to wash away my inexplicably angsty memories of the three minutes I played that game.

  13. Ministry says:

    I want to try this out but I tend to be reluctant to play indie games because some of the ones I’ve played it feels like they are trying too hard to make intelligent dialogue and it comes off sounding forced and long winded, which makes the whole game seem “amateur”. A lot of mods have that problem as well. But I love adventure games and will prolly check it out.

  14. thebigJ_A says:

    I just downloaded the demo, and something’s…. off with the mouse cursor. Like, it won’t move at all if I’m moving the mouse slowly (like for fine adjustment, or at the very beginning and end of a normal movement), and it seems to accelerate too much. It also feels like the option my mouse has for ‘angle snapping’ is on in the game (an option I do not have turned on in my logitech settings). There aren’t any options in the demo to fix it.

    I enjoyed Gemini Rue, so I’d like to buy this, but not if the pointing and clicking part of this point and click is so uncomfortable.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Hmm, worked fine here.

    • qrter says:

      There should be a little setup utility thing in Resonance’s install folder (“winsetup”) – you can tweak options regarding the game’s engine.

      I have no idea what (if any) tweaking would help you, but you can at least give it a try.

      (I play Wadjet Eye games on my mini notebook, and have to use that utility to switch from using DirectX to DirectDraw to get the games running, for example.)

      • thebigJ_A says:

        Yeah i tried that already, there’s nothing that helps. There’s also a good deal of screen tearing (that driver-forced vsynch doesn’t help), at least when you set it up for a higher resolution and proper antialiasing.

  15. jymkata says:

    Loving this game so far, but what is up with the stereotypical Jewish janitor that you meet?
    That’s some funky 1960s racism right there.

  16. psyk says:

    Thank you again to the guy who gifted me the xmas bundle with the blackwell trilogy, think i would be missing out on these otherwise. Boxed copy brought, the poster will go well next to the tboi one

  17. Yosharian says:

    Am I the only one who is finding this game extremely tricky? Oh well, it’s a good story so far anyway.

  18. un-creative says:

    Am I the only one who hated the epilogue in the end-game credits? I do not understand this aversion many have to ending a story ambiguously, and in this case it deminishes the story as a whole.

    The decision you make at the end of the game basically sets up the classic moral paradox introduced in the first lecture of every undergraduate ethics class. It’s another form of the out of control train car. You are the conductor and ahead there are five workers on the track. Do nothing and you kill them. There is a left connecting track with a child playing on it, but if you turn left you’ll murder him, yet you will also save the lives of the five workers. What is the right thing to do?

    It’s a hopelessly vague decision and the answers will be ambiguous. The version of this in ending of Resonance is a complete cop out. It tells you either decision was the right one no matter what you did. A cliff-hanger ending or sequel baiting plot-point here would have actually made it a better story, because that is exactly what this problem is! It’s been discussed in ethics classes for hundreds of years; no clear-cut answers.

    Life is ambiguous, when you face that fact you mature as a person. In the mean-time I’ll go on pretending Half-life 2 episodes 1 and 2 never happened, and the original ending of Half-life 2 was the greatest thing I ever saw in video game stories.