Wot I Think: Resonance
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.)
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.
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.
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.