Penny Arcade Adventures Episode 1 Review

June 5th, 2008 by Crusader

At long last, here’s my review of Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness’ initial episode, the new adventure RPG based on the popular webcomic Penny Arcade.

It’s been a while since we’ve reviewed anything here at LinuxGames, and in the now 10 years we’ve been operating I’m not certain that I’ve ever reviewed any game personally, so this is going to have something of an ad hoc format.

I played the game on the following system:

  • Linux 2.6.24 (Gentoo)
  • x86_64 Intel Core2 CPU 6600 @ 2.40GHz
  • 2GB RAM
  • GeForce 7900 GS 256MB

It’s all I have available, so while I’m assuming my experiences will be identical or at least similar to yours, I’d recommend trying the demo on your system before purchasing to verify functionality. It’s distributed with a 32-bit x86 executable and FMOD sound libraries; I didn’t encounter any dependency or compatibility issues.

One curiousity: prior to the game’s release, a (native) Greenhouse distribution client was tested, which hasn’t been used to date for the Penny Arcade game. I’m curious if it’ll be re-introduced later on for future Hothead titles or patch distribution.

It’s a 3D game, so as the system requirements imply it uses OpenGL; you can choose from a number of resolutions ranging from 640×480 to 1680×1050, with options for full-screen and windowed rendering. Performance was acceptable for me on the “high” setting; there’s also a standard quality option, but either one conveys the game’s cel-shaded comic style well.

A PDF manual is included, along with a sparse README with instructions to contact Hothead support if you have any problems. The manual is generalized for all platforms, although I couldn’t really think of anything Linux-specific that should’ve been included.

On launch, you’re greeted with the character creation screen, where you’re free to customize your gender, head, body shape, and clothing. There’s not a monstrous variety of options here, but I was able to get a reasonable approximation of the appearance I had intended to create.

Penny Arcade Cutscene

The game’s initial chapter deftly introduces the game’s core mechanics, which have exploration and combat phases. While traversing the game world, you’re able to click on much of what you can see for a humorous description, and smash containers you come across for items. The items are essential for combat, so you’ll probably find yourself beating up garbage cans for potions if your spoils of battle haven’t filled out your inventory sufficiently. You can also talk to NPCs, although only key characters will have actual dialogue trees. While you can choose from different phrases while chatting, virtually all of the conversations seemed to have singular outcomes, with no real effect on what occurs besides driving the player’s progress forward. I found myself wishing that the adventure game portion was more substantial, with more ways to interact with the environment beyond looking, talking, or smashing (although there are a few minigames in one map area). A welcome feature is the overworld map: provided after an hour or so into the game, it allows you to travel to the game’s areas at will.

The core focus of the gameplay is the combat, which is sort of a hybrid real-time/turn-based system which combines character stat battles with reaction-based player skill challenges. Your party, which ultimately includes three main characters (yourself, and PA’s Gabe and Tycho) and three sidekick characters with single attacks, can perform attack or inventory actions based on regenerating timers. Inventory actions, such as drinking a strength potion or throwing a defensive penalty potion at an enemy, take the least amount of time. Considered inventory management is crucial to surviving fights intact, so don’t expect to be lugging around a drug store’s worth of items through most of the game.

Each main character has a basic attack and special attacks, and as you progress in the game you can improve your base attack rating. The special attacks, which take a bit longer to regenerate than the basic attack, launch timed minigames where success means a higher attack rating. Unfortunately, by the end of the game the special attacks rarely seem worth the risk of waiting for their use to return, as the more rapid regular attacks can yield similar damage figures over time and keep the enemy from attacking as often in turn. The enemy’s attack cycles also introduce a skill-based element, as each monster type will have a moment where you can block their attack with a keypress, and either reduce or nullify the damage dealt entirely. Each enemy attack has a different ideal time, based on their animation, for blunting their assault, which forces more engagement in combat than mashing attack repeatedly. You should find yourself noticing the nuances of battle and growing more skilled at fighting as time passes, which is a nice change from purely character stat-based improvements.

A large portion of the game’s appeal lies in the contributions from the Penny-Arcade team, as the game uses the webcomic’s unique art style in cutscenes (where even your player character is rendered in 2D seamlessly alongside the rest of the cast) and the script has a tongue-in-cheek approach to the characters and game world. Rain Slick Precipice is set in a vaguely Lovecraftian turn-of-the-20th-century city (which reminds me of another fun comic, The Goon) where the player falls in with supernatural investigators/exterminators based on the Gabe and Tycho characters. You’re pitted against foes like hobos and maniacal fruit-humping robots, so if you’re expecting a serious adventure or PA’s comedy just doesn’t sit well with you at all, you should probably look for entertainment elsewhere. Speaking personally, I found myself smiling and laughing at on-screen events, especially at the unusual quests the party was tasked with.

I was able to complete the game in around seven hours, after which a savegame was created for use in upcoming episodes (three additional installments are planned as of this writing). All told, I felt like it was a worthwhile value for the $20 US price point, and a welcome addition to the slowly growing Linux game library. If you enjoy role-playing games and a comedic take on gaming in general, I can easily recommend this title to you, the reader. Yes, you, the person staring at these words. Hello!

And goodbye, because I don’t like game scores, so I’ll just end this here :)

2 Responses to “Penny Arcade Adventures Episode 1 Review”

  1. Nemoder Says:

    While I didn’t actually add up the points from special attacks I still found them to be useful towards the end. You just can’t use the level3 multi-target attacks on bosses very well but the level2 ones still do a fair amount of damage. I think my only gripe with the game is that it was just too easy. It would have been nice to have some bonus areas that were a bit more challenging.

  2. Conzar Says:

    I’ve only played the demo (both on OSX and Gentoo) and I found the game to be fun in both cases. I wasn’t terribly fond of the mini-games for the specials (especially having to jam the space bar rapidly) but overall its a fun game for its game type.

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