June 9, 2008

Comic touches keeps Rain-Slick Precipice fun

Author: Joe Barr

When edgy, risque, and retro all come together in a video game, smart people stay off the street. Off the streets of New Arcadia, circa 1922, that is, because that's where evil seems to thrive in Episode 1 of On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, a newly released game from Hothead Games and Penny Arcade. We first wrote about it last fall, and the game has just been released for Linux, Mac, Windows, and Xbox platforms. Now that we finally have Episode 1 in hand, here's our review.

The game costs $20 and is available via download. If you want to try before you buy, you can download the demo version and play it for free. When you purchase the game, you get a key that unlocks the demo and converts it to the full commercial offering.

When you start the game for the first time, or start a new game, your first task is to select your player's gender, physical attributes, and wardrobe. That done, you're ready to play. A gigantic robot comes striding through your neighborhood and smashes your home flat beneath its steel foot. You're encouraged to go after the creature armed only with a yard rake.

To move your character about the terrain, click on the spot where you want to go. If there are objects in the way that block your path, your character can't move. Sometimes you get stuck, or at least I did. After picking up an orange, I got off the sidewalk and went behind a bench. I spent the next 10 minutes trying to maneuver my way back onto the beaten path. My character's feet were moving, but he wasn't. Finally, in frustration, I quit the game and reloaded it -- problem solved. That was the only problem I've had playing the game, and that was quite a few hours of game play ago.


In addition to moving your character around, you can pick up or examine objects in a scene, such as bandages or weapons, by clicking on them. You're guided throughout the game by a mysterious stranger whose voice reminds me of someone's father or grandfather, but which I can't quite place.

It doesn't take long for the action to begin. Soon you're set upon by baby-sized robots who try to urinate on you. If you've paid attention, however, you've learned how to smash them, and each time you do, your fighting and defensive abilities are increased.

Conversations are integral to your gameplay. Click on the character you want to talk to, and the screen splits into two parts. The upper, larger part of the screen zooms in to display a closeup of the scene. The smaller, lower section is where the conversation appears. Typically, a list of things you can say or ask appears, and you click on the one you want. Each response in the conversation remains on the screen until you either click Next or press the space bar. When the conversation ends, you're returned to a single view.

Early on in the first scene, called Desperation Street, you hook up with Tycho and Gabe from Penny Arcade. They are partners in the Startling Developments Detective Agency, and they are chasing the giant robot, just like you. After the introductions, you learn how to coordinate attacks against evil using all three characters. The opening scene ends when the three of you leave Desperation Street and head downtown to the offices of the detective agency.

At the office, a large map of the city provides a backdrop for pictures of the various locations you've traveled to, or are about to visit. After the first scene, for example, Desperation Street appears when you click the map, along with a photo of a room in the home of Anne-Claire, Tycho's tres mysterious niece. Click on the photo of her room, or any other picture on the map, and you're transported to that location. During your first visit with Anne-Claire, you learn that she is apparently infatuated or obssessed or both with robotics, evidently because she felt no love from her parents. She suggests that you look for the giant robot in Hobo Alley. When you return to the office, lo and behold, Hobo Alley is now on the map, and getting there is just a click away.

Hobo Alley is where I lost all three characters for the first time. Prior to losing all three characters, which ends the game with you not on the winning side, I had lost one or two characters, but they were healed when the bad guys were disposed of. Those little robots can really piss you off sometimes. Pay attention to all the tips you're given about how to maximize the effectiveness of your weapons. You're going to need all your skills with them to survive.

I'm still playing the first episode, and I keep returning to visit Anne-Claire for tips on where to go next. The graphics are very nice, with a strong comic book influence and good audio to boot. Episode 1 of On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness is a welcome break from the non-stop ultraviolence of other games for Linux I've reviewed the past year or so. Sure, there is fighting, and killing, but it's much more light-hearted, and mixed in with a fun story-line and interesting play. I'll be buying Episode 2, for sure.


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