Hoodwink Review (PC)

Every once in a while, something comes along that turns the genre it belongs to on its head, flouts convention, and redefines expectations for even the medium. And then there are offerings that only serve to remind why those rules were there in the first place.

Hoodwink lulls its audience with the familiar detective’s monologue, a defining trait of anything Noir, before pulling the hard boiled rug out from under their expectations. It turns out M. Bezzle (clever, eh?) is something of a career criminal; a shyster, a loveable rogue with a heart of gold, who by the end of the prologue has set another character on fire, and walked it off like it was just another day at the office.

How I envy you, inexplicable cat man.

It would seem that Hoodwink is full of interesting surprises; twists on the staples and standards of the adventure genre that inform the rest of the experience. It was certainly a brave move, making the player character a grating sociopath, but Hoodwink has little use for such narrow terms as ‘likeable’ or ‘bearable’ or ‘remorseless monster’.

Hoodwink is gritty and grim, but light and cartoonish; not a combination often… or ever seen together, but Hoodwink plays by its own rules. You would never have thought that cell shaded graphics, known for their bold, sweeping style, would go with a dark palette and copious amounts of detail, but that’s just another locked door to artistic brilliance for Hoodwink to break. And if it just so happens that artistic enlightenment might be a euphemism for ‘murky’, ‘indistinct’ and ‘impossible to decipher’, then it’s a small price to pay for such creative progress.

Hoodwink’s biggest artistic gamble, bigger than the huge hands of the character models, is how it interprets the point and click interface. Everything is mouse driven. A quick look at the help screen shows that every single function is mapped out as ‘left mouse button’, which is very informative, and not at all redundant. The cursor will change to an icon when placed over something of interest.

A magnifying glass to examine, a hand to use, feet to move, a door to move to an area where the camera will change position. All of these are logical and familiar choices, if distracting, and even confusingly implemented, considering their transitions often hang on hypothetical pixel precision.

The real stroke of mystifying brilliance is the way the mouse interacts with environments itself. More than half the time it doesn’t even do anything! There are few activities as pure as impotently clicking up a psychotic break upon the half imagined outlines of impossible to see entities nestled invisibly in a muddy visual morass populated by criminally enforced needle width fields of opportunity for cursor changes. Combined they make for true innovation in the field of point and click: What other title gives you as much pointing and clicking for your money?! I’ll take eight copies!

Maintaining this smug pseudo praise is nearly as tedious as Hoodwink is. It defies belief that a game whose only input is the mouse, makes it as much of an uphill struggle as possible to use. Insult gives way to grievous injury, possibly to the tune of comedy second degree burns, when all the seemingly eternal fumbling with the interface yields M. Bezzle to repeat another of his witty observations. Veterans of ever using a computer ever will no doubt try and skip his unwelcome input with a flurry of dismissive clicks and mounting desperation as he refuses to shut up for any reason. Finally, as his dialogue ends… he repeats himself. And then he repeats himself again, and again, AND AGAIN.

“Yes, flowers. We can’t all dress like that guy from Firefly, you Playmobil looking jerk. And stop staring at my tiny grammar phone. You ogle it, you bought it.”

The dialogue stacks. The dialogue stacks. The dialogue stacks. Was it annoying reading that same sentence over and over? Try having it read to you in the most self satisfied way possible with no way of making it stop beyond drowning out the noise with the sound of your maddened wails. In the type of game where you click on everything as a point of fundament, as a thing that is completely unavoidable, it is an elementary feature, an absolute necessity, that you be able to skip the repeated lines that you are bound to hear. This is either an oversight or the developers are sadists. The latter option explains an awful lot.

It might not be so bad if the protagonist wasn’t so insufferable. Hoodwink seems to think it’s witty and even sassy, but every character either seems to be a lazy archetype or an offensive stereotype. The token hippy talks about flower power and sticking it to the man. The racist oriental caricature squawks about rat burgers and ‘loaches’ infesting his grill. The robot in the background keeps mentioning ‘meatbags’, because it was so funny when Bender from Futurama did it, why not repeat it 2000 times, that will only make it extra funny.

It’s not completely true that there isn’t at least some thought put into the characters; the police and their courteous zero tolerance might drum up some laughs, and overly British robot has its moments. The setting, which comes across as a comedic Mega City One, a totalitarian consumerist government that oppresses the populace with dependence on drug purchases, is actually genuinely interesting; it just happens to be utterly hamstrung by everything else going on in game.

When it comes to puzzles, Hoodwink has a rather unusual approach to the inventory system; if you have the needed item, and highlight the correct entity, an icon of the corresponding item that solves the puzzle will appear next to it. This effectively diminishes the player’s part in the puzzle solving, which is non existent if hints are turned on: They will periodically flash up with progressively more explicit clues after the given time of ‘not very long’ has passed and the puzzle has not been solved.

Eventually (‘eventually’ actually being not long after) the hints will outright say what to do as blunt commands. These commands aren’t even correct a more than acceptable (read ‘any’) part of the time. They’ll have you perpetually clicking on a character who is no real help at all, endlessly listening to useless dialogue about broken cookers over and over again while the real puzzle answer is out there waiting to be solved. Again, sadism explains much.

It certainly doesn’t help that going to and from anywhere is laboriously slow going considering how unreliable the mouse is, and how given the game is to frame skipping, seemingly no matter how far you eclipse its system requirements; not to mention that while it is possible to run with a double click… it isn’t when the target is one of those points that changes the camera angle.

The future isn’t very easy on the eyes.

Hoodwink isn’t totally irredeemable. As well as the aforementioned setting, it has an atmospheric, and accurately noir jazz score and some good animation. Hoodwink is just mostly irredeemable. It persistently fosters this feeling of disconnection, as if the game can only be reached through a layer of molasses. Be it the interface that actively fights the player, the concerted effort to remove the player from meaningful in game interaction, or the complete lack of any ambient sound or sound design. There isn’t even a noise for footsteps. In an area filled with running water and a monstrous plant that thought it was a dog, the only audio cue was a sterile silence and M. Bezzle’s nonsense.

Hoodwink is true to its title, since it’s barely a game. The closest thing to a game in it are the agonising ‘mini-games’ based around specific types and quantities of clicking through an interface that actively disregards mouse use. The flickering ‘to be continued’ that abruptly jolts up before the game’s conclusion sums it up best. Hoodwink isn’t done, but unless someone with a much needed clue about quality control and the finer points of crafting a tolerable experience comes along, it might as well be case closed all the same.

Forget about it kid, it’s (a racist caricature of) Chinatown.

Top Game Moment: IT ENDS.

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