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Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness


Episode 1

The first video game outing of Gabe & Tycho takes place in the early 1900ís. The two protagonists head up the Startling Developments detective agency, seemingly on the track of a giant robot when the player meets up with the duo. As the first episode of the story progresses, the player will encounter everything from fruit obsessed robots to murderous hobos to creepy carnival folk. The irreverent, snarky humor of the Penny-Arcade comic translates quite well into this medium. Fans of the online comic will feel right at home with the conversations options written by Jerry Holkins. The presentation is oozing with the style of a noir crime story and certainly creates an excellent launching point for the remaining episodes.

Gameplay

When starting a new game, the character creation process is the first thing the player will be treated to. You have the ability to create a male or female character, customize facial features and switch through various outfit combinations. For instance, I decked out my character in a strapping navy blue pinstripe shirt with matching pants. I found the options to be fairly solid for an arcade title since your character appears in so many cutscenes with Gabe & Tycho.

Almost immediately, the player is thrown into the turn based combat system which is completely in real time. Thereís no option to pause combat for selecting attacks, so itís a bit of a scramble when first getting acclimated to the game. Attacking the enemy works off a recharge system. As a battle begins, your support button charges quickly for using important power-ups and health bonuses followed by the basic attack button and the special attack button. As your party grows, itís fairly easy to chain attacks together based on the timing of each recharge.

Special attacks use a variety of timed button presses to successfully launch an attack. For instance, the main player has to mash the A button timed correctly while an arrow spins around a dial. If effective, damage is increased exponentially. Special attacks also come in different varieties as the characters level up. The upgraded versions allow the player to stun or attack multiple enemies.

As the game progress, support characters will be picked up. These characters can offer a brief reprieve during battle, especially handy when powers are recharging or health needs to be doled out. The player will come across the first character in the opening scenes of the game; a trusty, but nearly ineffective cat named Kemper. Kemper only does 1 point of damage, but there is a 1 in 200,000 change that sheíll do 999 of damage. Kemperís main role is to provide a respite while other attacks recharge.

The game does suffer from a severe lack of difficulty. Only the final boss poses any type of challenge for the casual player. 95% of the enemies can be defeated without reliance on the support potions. Itís unfortunate as the potions provide an extremely fun strategic advantage during the boss fights. Death and health loss are also handled poorly. Players are automatically revived beside the previous fight rather than at the last save and health is boosted back to full strength after each fight without any negative impact to the player. Unfortunately, there are no options to alter the difficulty at the outset of the game or in the settings menu.

The achievements are evenly divided into tasks both causal & hardcore gamers can enjoy. Simply playing though the main story will offer about 50 to 75 gamerscore points; more if collection tasks interest you. Achievements such as killing the final boss without using any health items or completing the story without losing a life will take much longer. Overall, itís a balanced set that offers challenges to all types of players.

Visuals

The art direction for the title absolutely encapsulates the essence of the Penny Arcade comic. Hothead Games did an superb job adapting the character stills into the cel-shaded format. While the background environments are inherently static, thereís enough character animation to bring an element of life to the various levels. The game also does a great job with the lighting effects from special attacks on enemies to exploding fireworks on the street. Additionally, the comic book styling to the cutscenes create a feeling that an epic adventure is about to take place.

Audio

The effects and musical score for Episode 1 capture the adventurous mood as well as the 1920ís setting. One neat aspect of the Startling Developments agency office is the ability to collect and play music from the game on the nearby phonograph. The player can toss a sample song on the record player while they browse the inventory or dossier. There are a few voiceovers recorded for the game, but the format relies on text mostly. The voices that did make it into the game, such as the singing garbageman or the barbershop quartet, are well produced.

Conclusion

While the stylish production value of the title is utterly fantastic, I canít recommend a $20 game with an obnoxiously easy difficulty level that lasts about 4 to 5 hours. Without multiplayer or an option to elevate the difficulty level, thereís no extended value to the game besides replaying the title for a few measly achievements or boosting kills to rise on the leaderboard. Iím sad to say that the first PA game is most certainly overpriced for Xbox Live and severely price gouges Krahulik & Holkins core fan base. Unless you purchase marketplace points at a 50% discount, wait for the title to be dropped in price before picking it up; perhaps likely to happen when Episode 2 is released four months from now.