Monday, November 11, 2013

I'm Going On An Adventure! With Special Guest Stars: Marty McFly and Wallace & Gromit

Since playing through Phantasmagoria recently I got the urge to play more point and click adventure games. I played some when I was younger but not much since. However I've accumulated a bunch in the last couple years so I've got plenty of material to talk about. And of course what better way to justify my time being put into these games than talking about them in a review? You'll mostly be seeing horror entries in here because that's what I have a lot of (like 7th Guest and Sanitarium). But you'll also see classics like Myst pop up. For now I'll start with...

Back to the Future: The Game
Telltale Games has really been hitting out of the park recently, at least according to their sales numbers. People have been loving their adventure games, especially The Walking Dead (a game I plan on getting around to sooner or later). But I think what helped push them to the level of credibility they are at now was with this game. Back to the Future: The Game came out episodically back in 2011 in 5 episodes. The game's development was assisted by Bob Gale, the co-creator/writer/producer of the original trilogy of movies, who helped write the game's overall story. That and Christopher Lloyd provided voice acting work for authenticity. A Michael J Fox impersonator was used for Marty but the likeness is uncanny. But as an Easter egg Michael J does appear briefly late in the game playing as Marty's great grandfather. Overall the game received a pretty positive response. No news has come up in regard for a sequel.

Okay, so that's the history of the game. Now for my thoughts.
I do enjoy the Back to the Future movies. It's been years since I've watched any of them so my memories of it isn't as strong as others, also I don't have quite as much of a fondness for them as most fans seem to. Still I think they're great movies and I would still rather watch the worst Back to the Future than the best Date/Epic/Disaster Movie or whatever the hell *(those two guys) put together. Even though people have problems with some of the stuff in the movies they're all still very watchable and very enjoyable. So in a way I'm the perfect person to be approached with this game. I like the franchise, but I'm not an overly sensitive fanboy. Meaning as long as it has the same or similar charm the movies had then it can almost guarantee good times.
Well I will say good times were had in this game. If anything else at the end of the day this game was written really well. I won't say brilliant but definitely worthy of an entry in the franchise. Even though it's in cartoony polygons it still has that look and feel of the movies, bringing you right back to the 80s (if you consider that a good thing). And overall it's a very fun atmosphere with jokes that did make me laugh out loud while playing. Because of these elements it makes it easy to get into so you can see what comes next. Usually with time travel stories you never know where it's going. Also the game is very approachable from a gameplay element.
Adventure games are very notorious for being incredibly difficult due to their cryptic method of giving out clues. Some of which are so cryptic it's insane to think someone could come up with it on their own. More than likely I talked about that in my Phantasmagoria review. And I heard the third Gabriel Knight has an especially crazy cryptic clue system. In BTTF:TG however they made it much simpler to coincide with actual logic or logic within the movies. And since the movies are so popular it's easy to anticipate what the characters may want you to do instead of literally clicking on everything just to see what happens. Sadly this is also where the game has it's biggest downfall.

You see... the game is too damn easy.
Having approachable gameplay with puzzles and clues that actually make sense is one thing, but making it so easy it's almost insulting is another. I don't want to blow this out of proportion. I did get stuck from time to time across the five episodes. Nothing I couldn't figure out with just a little extra thinking on my part and use of the hint system. Still the hint system is also what makes the game crazy easy. When you're stuck you can click on a '?' for a hint on what to do next. At first it'll be mysterious, giving you a clue to think about. But you can also choose to get an additional clue, up to 3 in most cases. By the third it tends to flat out tell you what to do next. I realize part of the mindset was to not alienate people since adventure games haven't been big (as big as they were at least, which was still niche in a way) in a long time meaning people aren't as familiar with the way these games work. But when you make it that easy for the player then it's more like an interactive movie than a video game. And when the puzzles are a bit tougher it's because they're tedious. Not hard.
The fact of the matter is that I rarely felt satisfied when completing a puzzle because it was never that challenging. That and I knew I could go to the hint system without leaving the game. Google is always an option but that could be a challenge in and of itself finding the exact spot you need a hint on. But what makes all this worse is that there was literally zero consequences. The only game over this game had was when the game was actually over. It's not uncommon for adventure games to have deaths. Heck, even in some games there could be something you were supposed to do early on, only to find out hours later if you didn't do it then you're screwed and can't move on. Having to start over from the beginning. In some respects adventure games are the most challenging of games. It has always required a lot of thought and puzzle solving. It wouldn't be a bad idea to have a notepad by your side with some older games. But with BTTF:TG the only consequence you'll run into is taking longer to solve a puzzle. You can't make a mistake no matter what choices you make. You can never say the wrong thing to a person that can't be fixed almost immediately. You can't miss needed items accidentally only to realize you can't get it anymore. You can't die. You can't screw up. And this is the most frustrating part of the game. Ironically.

I will admit there were times when I felt bored or didn't want to play further simply because of the lack of stakes. There's no driving force present to keep me playing outside of wanting to see what's next. Again, like an interactive movie. A great interactive movie mind you. If it weren't for that I don't know if I would have played all 5 episodes. To fully explain what I'm trying to say I'll point this out. I decided to get back into Demon's Souls, a game that is notoriously hard but a franchise what wouldn't become more popular until it's sequel Dark Souls came out. Even though I may get my ass kicked ten times til Sunday, sending me very far back close to where I started that session I still kept moving forward. A game like that has such high stakes that you feel the urge to conquer them. The challenge gives you motivation. And it's not cheap. There's a pattern and reason. Once you master it then you're in.
BTTF:TG does not have a fraction of that challenge. And it doesn't need to be Demon's Souls difficult. It doesn't need to even be old school adventure game difficult. Just don't give a product that is so insultingly easy that it harms my recommendation. Basically if you like the movies you're gonna like the game. If you're looking for a good adventure game then it may be wise to look elsewhere or just get this one on a deal. It's easily made for the fans. And I didn't hate it as much as it sounds. I overall enjoyed the experience, but I uninstalled it from my computer already because I don't foresee playing through it again.

Now on the other side of that same coin...

Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventure
A very similar game that came out only a year earlier. Much like my last installment this was developed with all the right people standing beside it. Aardman Animations helped develop the story with additional help from Ben Whitehead, Aardman's official backup voice actor, who portrayed Wallace. To those who may not be familiar with Wallace & Gromit this game is based on characters of the same name. Wallace is a single middle aged naive man who loves inventions and cheese while Gromit is his faithful and far more intelligent dog. These two claymation characters from the UK starred in four shorts and one feature with their first short released way back in 1990. That short being A Grand Day Out. A short that was made also entirely independently with production beginning even further back in 1982. The short is 24 minutes. Sorry I got a little carried away there. They also starred in a TV show and a couple other programs but they served more as hosts than stories about themselves. What I'm trying to say is that they have a lot of history, are very beloved, and I am a mega fan of them!
Now like I said this is a very similar game. It handles the same, it has a similar user interface, and it's easy to see early versions of what would come up in the Back to the Future game. And with that said I also should point out some of the negative stuff started here. There still are no consequences other than the game taking longer to finish. There's no real way to lose which does bring down the challenge and the drive to keep going much like Back to the Future had. That and some of the puzzles were far too easy, not providing enough of a challenge or thinking. So similar issues were had here like with BTTF:TG but I still feel this one did it all a lot better than the game that would come next.

With those nasty bits out of the way. And of course I'll continue comparing it to BTTF:TG because so much is similar here. First the visuals. I give Telltale a lot of praise for the look of this game. They could have easily just made standard 3D models that are the same look like most other licensed games. Instead they really went above and beyond the call of duty. All the models look fantastic! They look exactly like the characters from the shorts. But what really got my attention was how much they looked like clay. Wallace's sweater was the first thing I noticed, looking like it really is made out of clay. Not only that but they intentionally included flaws like fingerprints... FINGERPRINTS! It's like the clay models themselves were used for the actual game. Lastly there's the choppiness with some of the animations. For the most part it runs in standard flow for a modern game. But when their mouths move and certain expressions show it has that choppy framerate of a claymation character. It looks incredible.
The next is the story which is in true W&G fashion. Unlike other adventure games of late, this "season" of the game still has for episodes with each episode being a totally different story. I say this is in that W&G fashion because they've developed as a pair who have thrived in shorts. Their feature The Curse of the Were-Rabbit was still great. It's just that their true home is in shorts. And each and every story is fun and creative coming directly from the minds of Aardman Animation. I especially liked the story in episode 2 when their basement is flooded so they turn it into a four season resort with a sandy beach and everything and the main goal of the episode is to make everyone a happy customer.
The other thing I felt was much better was the hint system. It is possible to toggle how often or clear the hints will be throughout the game, but it's closer to how the characters speak and how much they say that will give you your clues. There's no clear '?' that will give you a clue. You have to talk with everyone and get the clue from them, listening closely and determining from that. Not the giveaway method from BTTF: TG. It gave that stronger sense of challenge where even if the clue rate was high you still had to pay more attention and think about what people were saying to make the correct next step. This is one of the instances where it actually feels like a classic adventure game. So if you don't know where to find the correct next clue you better start talking to everyone. Still there aren't a ton of people to talk with at once so it's pretty easy to pull that together.

Can't say I have much else to say on W&G since it is so similar to BTTF:TG in many respects. From an objective standpoint with gameplay and balance I would recommend W&G more. But in terms of preference in subject matter that's what you're a bigger fan of. You may like one franchise over the other and that will determine your opinion. Either way you're in for an entertaining experience that will not disappoint... too much.

Stay tuned for more adventures!

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