Wot I Think: Unforeseen Incidents

Oh my! Oh what an actual proper treat. Ladies, gentlemen, humans of Earth, I have for you a really good point-and-click adventure game! It’s Unforeseen Incidents, and here’s wot I think:

And trust me, I don’t mean, “Good considering how bad they usually are.” I mean, “Actually really good.” Unforeseen Incidents, despite its astoundingly terrible name, is a sharp, smart, witty and superbly constructed adventure, with stellar voice acting, superb music, and some of the most splendid hand-drawn art I’ve seen in forever.

Something strange is going on in Yelltown. Odd-job handyman Harper Pendrell starts seeing posters going up all over town, warning of a dangerous new plague-like disease, imploring people to call a mysterious corporation. When fixing a broken laptop for a scientist friend, he learns how serious the disease is, then sees someone dying in the streets, blood coming from their eyes, nose and mouth. That’s the catalyst he needs to want to help do something about it, before tumbling into a tale of conspiracy, secret woodlands hideouts, and spiked coffees.

Despite that seemingly heavy setup, the game is a predominantly light-hearted affair, with Harper delivering a splendid barrage of dry one-liners, observational quips, and heartfelt attempts to be brave within his own fear. This is an extremely traditional point-and-clicker, with inventory puzzles, ludicrously convoluted chains of requests in order to borrow items from curmudgeonly strangers, and churning through excellent dialogue options to squeeze out every last gag.

This is a game created by a German developer, Backwoods Entertainment, but the script has been created in a very interesting way. Writing duties were split between the game’s lead, German Marcus Bäumer, and Brit Alasdair Beckett-King, with each tailoring their own language version. Beckett-King, a stand-up comic, also gave us the wonderful Nelly Cootalot games. This is an exquisitely good idea – even the best German adventures can suffer via straight translations, but here we end up with a game that feels absolutely free of that awkward presence of translation. I can’t speak to the German version, as I’ve only played the English, but I’ve laughed out loud so many times, which is a rare thing indeed in gaming.

It does pathos well, too, and I ended up really liking a lot of the characters. Gosh it makes a big difference when your lead character isn’t a douchebag. He’s daft, sometimes, but not arrogant, over-confident, none of the traits that plague this format.

Something that stands out in this regard, which I hadn’t given much thought to before, is that its many working class NPCs aren’t depicted as simpletons or conniving or less-than the protagonist, but rather his contemporaries and friends. The hick-accented guy who works in the scrapyard, the love-lorn guy who works on the dingy hotel’s reception – they’re not pastiches here, not lowly figures to mock. In fact, mostly they’re lifelong friends. It feels dramatically out of place when the solution to one puzzle is to trick a friend into thinking he’s watching something he isn’t.

Another repeated theme of adventures is to find someone’s weakness and exploit it. Someone’s scared of something, you automatically assume you need to go find it and scare them. Which makes UI even more refreshing as it keeps avoiding this, instead having you inadvertently help the more vulnerable characters, rather than exploit them. And thank goodness it does this without any virtue signalling – it only stands out because of the realisation of how frequently adventures default to the opposite. It’s also a nonchalantly progressive and inclusive game, again without any trumpets or flags, which in a genre recently prone to the opposite is quite a treat.

A good example of this exists in the middle act. Without giving too much away, there’s a fairly standard puzzle where you need to distract someone from their post. I became convinced that the solution was going to be to spike his drink, because not only was he prominently and loudly drinking on a regular basis, but there was the means to do it in the room, and I’d found a guide book to local flora that mentioned a flower that works as a diuretic. None of it was used! The real solution was much more personal and meaningful, albeit somewhat more shocking. The real solution created an emotional jolt for the character that was redemptive, rather than cruel. Again, all of this is delivered nonchalantly within what is ultimately a comic adventure, but it’s spectacular that it’s approached from this direction.

The meanest the game gets is to ruthlessly mock a hipster cafe, and god bless it. It gives us lines like, after Harper complains that overpriced hipster cafes are a bit of a cliche,

“Yup, that’s why this is an ironic, post-modern pastiche of overpriced hipster coffee.”

I find it really interesting how many items and features in the game aren’t used in the end. Prominent objects in the world that have descriptions, can be interacted with, yet never play a part in a puzzle. Or inventory items you pick up, but never need to use. It’s unconventional in the genre, certainly, and I think if handled badly could be a headache, but it just isn’t handled badly at all. And this is a long adventure game, so while I certainly couldn’t help feeling I was walking past puzzles that were cut, it certainly doesn’t lead to things feeling brief or rushed. If anything, it makes perfect sense that not everything you can see or hold is useful! There are certainly red herrings in there, but they don’t feel cheap.

The inventory is unquestionably janky, and really needs some more polish, but I really like ending a chapter with a bunch of unused stuff, and its not feeling like a bug.

There are a few other issues. The third of four acts is significantly less polished than the other three. I’ve had mislabelled objects, puzzles given away with a character captioned by their real identity rather than who they’re pretending to be, and for seemingly no good reason, a dumping in of the Leaping Frogs puzzle in a game that otherwise eschews such nonsense. There’s also a puzzle that should have been really superb, trying to identify the location of a dubious building via collecting all manner of information and applying it to an interactive map, but the map was ridiculously glitchy and the clues don’t really come together. I made a lucky if slightly informed guess in the end.

However, the game overall contains plenty of other superb puzzles too – I have pages of notebook notes like with odd symbols, noted names, and scribbled connections, which is always the mark of a meaty adventure. Along with great characters, many splendid jokes, and all of the glorious artwork, it is such a treat.

The voice acting throughout is just top-notch, with lead Matthew Curtis offering splendid timing and delivery of Harper’s gags, and Jessica Carroll brilliant as reporter Halliwell. Everyone else is great too, not a dud voice in there, which is a rare thing indeed. I love that really minor characters, like Trish the librarian, or the guy who owns the photography shop, stick in my mind since, so strong were their performances.

And I’ve mentioned the art already, and it deserves mentioning again. The hand-drawn cartoon style by Matthias Nikutta is hopefully apparent from the screenshots, but looks even better larger and moving.

There are definitely some issues, especially the further you get through what is an enormous adventure game. Hopefully we’ll see those getting tidied up soon enough, although I do wonder if a couple of the puzzles are beyond saving. These minor issues aside, I honestly can’t remember the last time I’ve enjoyed a long-form point-and-click adventure this much. It reminds me why I love the genre so much.

Unforeseen Incidents is out now on Windows, Mac and Linux, for £15.50/$20/20€, on Steam, GOG, and Humble

39 Comments

  1. Risingson says:

    It got you with the right mood.

    Anyway, does anyone know where the obession comes of main characters of adventure games and messy or disgusting rooms, houses and diets? I am beginning to be tired of characters that SMELL.

    • Catterbatter says:

      Oh, wow. I went looking for counterexamples and couldn’t find any, unless you count games where you never see the main character’s house. But I only know the ones I’ve played.

      • kabill says:

        April Ryan from the Longest Journey (and, in fact, her sequel protagonist Zoe too) has a pretty tidy room – especially for an art student! – an no obnoxious eating habits that I recall.

    • Godwhacker says:

      As I recall the main characters in Farenheit were relatively clean, but I’m not going back to check

    • kincajou says:

      Off the top of my head:
      -the main characters in the blackwell saga (they didn’t live much in their house but it was far from stinkyvand grimy).

      -kate walker from the syberia games (only played the first two) lives in some nice rooms and the train cart is certainly equipped with a bathroom + shower.

      -the apartment block in the dream machine, although weird isn’t actually grimy.

      • Catterbatter says:

        I think Rosa and Joey both mention Rosa’s hygiene and the state of her room, although you can’t actually go in there. Lauren’s apartment is packed with ashtrays, so I don’t know what that says. At least she has ashtrays.

    • ademiix says:

      Maybe it’s a side effect of trying to give the player some hints about the characters personality. *Look at all this stuff they’re in to!* If their room was tidier that might be more difficult.

  2. bretfrag says:

    “And trust me, I don’t mean, “Good considering how bad they usually are.” I mean, “Actually really good.” Unforeseen Incidents, despite its astoundingly terrible name, is a sharp, smart, witty and superbly constructed adventure, with stellar voice acting, superb music, and some of the most splendid hand-drawn art I’ve seen in forever.”

    Wow. Even in a positive review John can’t resist telling us what a jaded, miserable bollocks he is.

    • John Walker says:

      I’m pretty sure that’s not a valid use of “bollocks”.

      • Umberto Bongo says:

        Pretty sure Ireland would disagree with you.

      • April March says:

        Don’t be a bollocks, John.

      • mrbeman says:

        I’ve no opinion on the use of bollocks, but the tone of sniping at the title didn’t set well with me. It just seemed mean to no good purpose.

        • John Walker says:

          It’s a terrible title. Observing that it is so is the purpose.

          But good GRIEF, in a sentence that adulatory, it takes some doing to make such a massive whining fuss. Many congratulations!

        • Vodka, Crisps, Plutonium says:

          Whenever somebody slags off at least one thing in their review, that puts my mind at ease that it’s not just a glorified promo copy [bollocks], ordered [to be thoroughly licked] by the publisher’s marketing department.

          As for the title, whether or not it was intentional, but it did bring me the happy thoughts of running through the c4 charged exploding corridors of Unforseen Consequences level for the first time, trying to survive the attacks of malfunctioning equipment, bargain bin facehuggers and just plain old human factor stupidity, failing to contain the incident because somebody didn’t sign the approval list fast enough.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Are you accusing John of having a dig for no good reason? If so, please ‘look at’, ‘mirror’.

    • TauPhraim says:

      To me this is what guarantees that the positivity is honest, and also what makes it shine.

      Plus (as for “negativity”) we all know that bad games exist. Personally I enjoy very much when they’re bashed with such style.

    • captaincabinets says:

      Am I the only one who’s sick and tired of this near-constant John-bashing? I really don’t know another way of saying it, bretfrag, but you’re being an arse. You’re attacking a writer over their opinion on a website that we all literally come to just to hear their opinions.
      And “jaded”? “Miserable”? Really? This is a man who has been writing about computer games for over twenty years without letting up. Many of John’s contemporaries have dropped out and turned their hands to other things, but not him. Now, why would one of our finest journalists and writers still be writing about games after all this time? Let’s try the obvious answer: that he STILL LOVES video games. If you can’t see that in any of the articles he writes, you really need to try some reading comprehension.
      I know John is perfectly capable of defending himself, but I really wish this kind of nonsense would stop. It makes me ashamed to be part of the RPS community.

      • LennyLeonardo says:

        I agree entirely. John Walker is one of the best games journalist currently working. I don’t always agree with everything he says, but neither would I want to.

      • benkc says:

        Seriously. Thank you.

        A subset of commenters are convinced that John hates all games, despite his joy showing through in so many of his reviews. It’s gotten exhausting.

  3. muki0 says:

    They must have picked the wrong scenes for the trailer, because I found the voice acting in it to be absolutely cringe-inducing. Especially the saturday-morning-cartoon teen-played-by-adult protagonist voice.

    Still, the style has made me very curious, and the atmosphere looks delicious!

    • Risingson says:

      In my second opinion, I haven’t played much but the game looks to have that sweet balance of non expository text, nice visuals that push you to explore more and straightforward puzzles. I guess they will get more complex – if not adventure games are just a series of rinse and repeat – but yes, it’s lovely.

      • lancelot says:

        So far (I haven’t even finished the first act yet) I can say that the puzzles aren’t difficult, but they’re pretty good. There are indeed some menial tasks like getting an item just to give it to an NPC, but also some good ideas.

        In the phone puzzle and in one other puzzle, it’s up to you how thorough you want to be in gathering clues, and you’re also on your own drawing conclusions from those clues. If you miss something, you’ll still get there in the end, but with more tries. That’s quite good and also quite rare in adventure games.

        In another puzzle, A, B, C need to be done, D is fine, so the player tends to forget about D, which, of course, is a trick. That’s also pretty neat.

  4. ephesus64 says:

    When I looked at the game’s Steam page, it said Unforeseen Incidents might be relevant to me because it’s similar to games I’ve played: Kentucky Route Zero and Hidden Folks. Good enough for me.
    Yes, Steam algorithm, I probably would play an “X meets Y” of those two games. Thank you.

  5. caff says:

    Excellent. I’ve been after a good adventure game for a while and this looks epic! Thanks John.

  6. Marclev says:

    Yay, the point and click adventure game isn’t dead yet!

    Read the review and bought it straight-away on Steam just out of principle.

  7. Seyda Neen says:

    Can John say “which is a rare thing indeed” twice in the same article? Is that allowed? I think he’s out of control!

  8. Mr Underhill says:

    Here are some thoughts, 1.5 hours in:

    If I had to draw a stylistic / atmospheric comparison I’d say it’s a bit Twin Peaks sans most of Lynch’s absurdity by way of graphic novel. Visually, it’s a great argument for more HD adventure games – the backgrounds don’t feel super intricate because the colors are pretty much flat with some super effective use of gradients, but the squiggly black comic book-style outlines add a lot of details to them, to the point where you’re actually tempted to forget there’s a hotspot revealer and just mouse over them ’cause they’re inviting. I’d say it’s an art style that fits the backgrounds more than the characters – the latter do tend to look a weird because of it, but it goes nicely with the general uncanny atmosphere.

    Haven’t dug into the story too deep, but so far the writing is excellent. It was co-written by Alasdair Beckett-King, creator of Nelly Cootalot and talented comedian – he did a great job of holding back on the one liners and delivering a more naturalistic, every-guy protagonist. There are some beloved adventure game protagonist common places : the loveable loser who keeps procrastinating cleaning his place up etc., but Harper is refreshing in that he’s NOT an asshole, and it’s easy to inhabit his character.

    Puzzles so far have been neatly woven into the story, but the game opens up to some 7-8 free roaming screens pretty quickly, and I now have I think 9 or 10 items in my inventory, so the complexity ramps up pretty fast. Depending on your play style, this might be either extremely satisfying or extremely intimidating. It’s nice that you don’t just pick up stuff you absolutely need.

    One weird thing is that it took me a while to realize this is actually a one-click affair – I kept left and right clicking stuff and getting different responses, but that’s because there are multiple examine responses (yay!). Not usually a fan of one-click adventure games, but UI makes up for that. In this respect it feels more interactive than, say, Broken Age.

    And some extra points for the music, which is incredibly good. It’s understated and loops a bit often, but the shoegaze-like vibes really make it into a weird creepily melancholic game. Maybe I’m wording this weirdly but it’s really effective.

    It might come off as a little bit intimidating if you’re atechnical like I am – you’ll be dealing with spark plugs and carburators and ham radios and the like – but thankfully it’s more thematic than functional; paying attention pays off, and it’s got that rare “ah-hah!” quality when you finally figure something out.

    I agree with John, this is a great point and click adventure so far. You can tell the devs have put a lot of love into this one, and it’s easy to forgive its shortcomings, since they’re few and really not that important.

    Can’t wait to dig in more.

    PS: For some reason, I really dig the title, but I’ve known of it for so long that I can hardly view it objectively now :)

  9. Neurotic says:

    The odd rare gem of a game that makes up for all the years of They’re Back! hell. :D

  10. waltC says:

    The one redeeming feature of this game seems to be that it’s only ringing the bell @ $20 or so…;) As a matter of personal preference, I don’t like this kind of Saturday-morning-cartoon/comic-book art even in cartoons and comic books. On reflection, the artwork looks more like what I might see in a newspaper comic strip of some kind. Apropos, certainly–it’s just a matter of personal taste.

    I do however find some of the pictured quips here pretty funny: especially the classic “millennial take” on Smokey the Bear…! The ad campaign, “Only you can prevent forest fires!” is intended to at least make every *camper who comes into the campground and sees it* more conscious of what he does with his fires while he is there. Of course, the average millennial, barely familiar with Smokey the Bear at all, would see the message as meant for him only, and nobody else…;) I liked that a lot…;)

    One thing: what does “This is an enormous adventure game” mean? Was it too big to fit into Walker’s house…?…or does the game cover 150 hours of play, 50 hours, 10 hours, etc.? I think I know what he was trying to say–just wish it was a bit more specific…;)

    • Stillquest says:

      Can’t speak for John, but a playthrough took me about 10 hours, no walkthrough used.

      I agree with pretty much all of the John’s observations about the game (a somewhat rare occurrence), the one exception being the art-style. The backgrounds are fine enough, but far from “look(ing) even better larger and moving”, I felt character animation was unpleasantly, sometimes distractingly crude.

  11. Premium User Badge

    It's not me it's you says:

    I bought this game on this article’s recommendation and it is indeed lovely and I am having a very good time with it. I expect I’ll finish it tonight.

    With that out of the way, I went from Pillars 2 to this game back to back. I’m having a lot of trouble understanding how someone can be so lukewarm on Pillars and so hot on this. That’s not a dig on this game, I like it a great deal!

    But the things that make Pillars work, writing, characterisation et cetera are also what makes this game work. The gameplay of Pillars is substantially different, sure, but for me the thing driving me through both games is basically the same thing – see new sights and talk to new people, see new plot. Wether I am clicking on things in the environment or casting a couple spells is.. not hugely relevant to what I get out of games.

    So yeah. John’s takes on these two games are super confusing to me.

  12. lancelot says:

    For the record, all the clues to locate the building are there, and they do come together, perhaps they’re just too subtle.

    Also, I think that the only item which isn’t used for anything is rot13(pbssrr), which indeed might mean that the puzzle with rot13(qvhergvp) has been altered. Everything else is either printed materials containing clues or wrong variations from multiple choice puzzles.

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