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Fourplay: Pointing And Clicking With Resonance

"Adventure game interface weird"

Being an adventure fan isn't always easy. Only the other week, I had to endure Pendulo Studios' Yesterday - a game of dark mystery and devilry whose general quality is probably best summed up by this tweet. Luckily, for every low, there's a high, and while I've only played the opening act of Wadjet Eye/xii's upcoming Resonance, it's more than washed the bad taste out of my mouth. Here's a few reasons for your mouse finger to look forward to it...

Virtual Stripper 4?

I've actually been looking forward to this one for a long time, ever since playing a very early demo entered into the IGF. The basic premise is a scientist has made one of those Very Bad Discoveries beloved of SF geniuses, and as the game starts, the world is screwed. Time then rolls back 60 hours before the catastrophe, where three seemingly unrelated lives are about to be intertwined in a hunt for the the truth... or even a way to save the world from its fate.

That's about all I'm going to say about the plot, which happily drops you into the middle of the story and slowly drip-feeds you the pieces. Your first encounter with one called Ray for instance is him disguised as a technician, breaking into a hospital to research a story he's clearly been working on for a long time. You're expected to hit the ground running, getting the backstory from the e-mails and memos on his phone. Another is Detective Bennet, a cop on stakeout in a very bad part of town, who wastes little time demonstrating his tried-and-tested MacGuyver approach to crime-solving, while you try and work out where the heck you know his voice from.

(The obvious answer: It's Nolan North! No, wait. It's Logan Cunningham, whose awesome gravelly voice work played such a huge part in making Bastion such a memorable game.)

Doesn't work. I've tried, endeavoured, experimented, had a crack, had a shot, had a stab, tried my hand, undertaken and even ventured that approach. The result? I've played a lot of adventure games on my own...

Whichever one is taking the lead - and it's not long before you get to control two simultaneously, with puzzles like joining forces to clamber up to a window - Resonance immediately stands out as special. Take the art. It's retro in the sense of being 2D and pixelated, yes, but in absolutely no way is it simple or lazy. Every environment is lushly detailed and beautifully painted, with lots of cinematic touches like depth-of-field blurs for reveals, lighting effects behind a kicked open door, neon flickering, or smoke billowing in the background of a burning lab. It looks absolutely terrific - easily one of the prettiest looking AGS games anyone's made so far.

The really enjoyable attention to detail is in the dialogue and details though. Glance at Ray's phone for instance and you'll see that he has a Word of the Day app - today's being 'pulchritudinous'. He slips it into at least two dialogues in his very first scene. That same scene features a wonderful throwaway bit about online dating, not to mention a chance for one of the meanest acts in adventuring since Bernard pushed Nurse Edna down the stairs. It's fun writing; serious, but with a sense of life. I look forward to getting to know these characters better.

Tried this one too. Works better when you're not in the shrubbery.

As far as quibbles and complaints go, the only pressing one is the interface. Mostly, it's standard point-and-click. The extra gimmick this time though is that memories can be used as inventory objects. That's fine in theory, but for two things - you can only hold three memories at a time, and you have to manually drag them and swap them every time you see something new.

Say for example that you need to get a key to a maintenance door from a janitor outside a building. ("For example that you need to get a key to a maintenance door from a janitor outside a building!) Normally, you'd walk up to it, your character would go "It's locked, I need a key from the janitor," and the next time you spoke to said janitor, you'd have an option to ask him about it. Here, if you try that, you'll just end up with your goldfish brained character freezing up like someone just dropped an entire glacier down their pants. Still, better than Cole Phelps...

This is a bit of a nuisance, especially when you have to track back specifically to collect the memory that you need to unlock the conversation that the character should know full well about. It's not helped by being somewhat inconsistent. The characters will bring up some things on their own, just not most of them. At least a couple of times I was stuck because I'd forgotten this extra step, and at no point would I not have traded it in for a basic notepad full of clues.

So far, there haven't been enough relevant objects on screen to have to particularly treat the memory screen as a tactical thing, and honestly, I don't get the point of this interface shift in the first place. Maybe it comes into its own later on in the adventure. Hope so. It's hardly a deal-breaker either way though, just... well... kinda weird. And not the catching a loved one peanut-buttering their feet kind of weird. The other kind of weird. Adventure game interface weird.

My mutant power is being able to spot a dream sequence at 50 paces. Yet oddly the X-Men still haven't gotten back to me about my application. And I know Kieron Gillen and everything!

The full version of Resonance is out some time in May, and I can't wait to play the rest of it - even with the weird memory thing. Hopefully it'll be on Steam, but if not, it'll be over here. If you're an indie adventure fan, keep an eye out for it - it's looking pretty special.

(Oh, and if you haven't seen Jane Jensen's Kickstarter yet, it's worth a look. It's more than a little overwritten and would be best just asking for pledges for a specific game instead of all this happy-clappy communal nonsense, but the promise of a new Jensen adventure should at least compensate for some of that if you're willing to play the Kickstarter roulette game in the first place. At the very least, there's no justice if it's beaten by a mere Larry remake.)

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Richard Cobbett