Primordia Preview (PC)

Over the last few years, Wadjet Eye Games have distinguished themselves as makers of well-written and excellently-designed adventure games. In a year that sees such travesties as Yesterday and Deponia inflict themselves on the genre, it’s a relief to know that we still have Gemini Rue, The Blackwell Deception, Resonance and this December’s Primordia to count on. All Wadjet Eye, all engaging, quality adventures. “But wait”, I hear you cry, “the other three might be great, but how do you know Primordia will be too?” Simple: I’ve played it for a few hours, and I love it already. Here, let me tell you about it…

It’s the far future. Mankind has passed into myth, and his robot creations now own the barren, junk-filled dustbowl called the Earth. I’ve no idea if there’ll be multiple player characters like in other Wadjet Eye adventures, but I spent my time playing the game’s demo solely as Horatio, a robot who’s made it his purpose to fix the broken spaceship he calls home.

On the roof of the Unniic Horatio watches the moon through a telescope. Aww.

He’s accompanied, as he always will be, by Crispin, a floating sarcastic head. Their attempts to rebuild the ship called ‘Unniic’ hits a snag when a terrifying laser-wielding monosyllabic monolith of a robot cuts its way in and snatches the ship’s power core. Horatio and Crispin set out to find the power core, hopefully catch the monster who stole it and maybe learn some unwelcome details about the world and their place in it.

Despite similarities to classic adventures such as Machinarium (a junk planet inhabited solely by robots) and Beneath a Steel Sky (sarcastic robot partner and a cyberpunk) Primordia has a wonderful feel all of its own. It’s more like a future fantasy, with its own religion (worshipping Man the Creator), mythology, monsters, secrets, and a slightly amnesiac main character. Slightly in that, unlike other protagonists who have lost their memory, Horatio doesn’t begin the game that way. His Version 5.0 has been fixing the Unniic a long time, although upon venturing out into the wasteland he soon discovers other characters that previous versions of him have met.

The characters are just wonderful, ranging from an Olde English-talking preacher bot to the insane trio of back-up robots for the giant Goliath. It always amazes me how Wadjet Eye can hire such entertaining voice actors on what surely must be a low-budget game. Compared to something like Deponia, which looks gorgeous but has terrible voice acting, every single one of Wadjet Eye’s games look like they’ve been made in the early ‘90s but hire actors who really bring out the character of each person/robot they’re playing. I know which one I prefer.

Have you ever seen a character stand so upright?

The repartee between Horatio and Crispin is particularly fun, and really makes the game enjoyable to play through. There’s definitely a Sam & Max vibe to these two, although that’s more of a gameplay element as the pair lack the wackiness of Steve Purcell’s creations. Like Max, Crispin offers basic puzzle hints (although annoyingly only does it once, then proceeds to make snarky comments) and can be used like a permanent living inventory item. If a puzzle requires something that flies or can fit in small spaces, “Use Crispin” is probably the answer. Just don’t ask how he ties things with no hands, which is a recurring joke.

While Primordia is by no means a comedy adventure it’s certainly the most humorous of Wadjet Eye’s output yet. The interplay between the main duo makes up the bulk of the comedy, although a cameo appearance by Mystery Science Theater 3000’s Tom Servo (who Horatio apparently scavenged the sarcasm unit out of to make Crispin), quirky characters and the occasional bizarre puzzle solution certainly makes this a lot more light-hearted than Resonance or The Blackwell Deception. It’s certainly something I welcome as the adventure genre was always the perfect place to tell a good joke, plus after playing Deponia I could do with a laugh (I didn’t like that game, if you can’t tell).

I’ve only had the barest taste of the puzzles, but the developer has always had a knack for making tricky puzzles without the convoluted nonsense that some adventures get trapped by. Inventory combining was kept to a minimum, as was the inventory itself. There were only a few objects scattered around the world, so I had to get to the answer with logic and the few clues and tools at my disposal. There only seemed to be really one path through Primordia from the little I’d played, so if I got stuck somewhere wandering around elsewhere never really helped. The solution, however, would always be right in front of me.

Wonder where the barrier is...

There were a couple of problems I encountered however. Firstly, areas to go weren’t always clearly marked, as after being stuck for ages I discovered an entirely new room by accidentally moving the mouse pointer over an ‘Exit’ tag. Also much like in Resonance puzzles occasionally appear to be more complicated than they actually are – once I had to get five rods to match up but couldn’t, so I tried just using my plasma torch on them and bypassed the puzzle completely. These were rare, and that second one I could put down to a pre-release bug that hadn’t been squashed, so hopefully Wadjet Eye will have it as nice and polished as they can before release.

I’m not counting the game’s ‘90s-looking visuals as a negative, but the art style in Primordia is looking a little brown right now. Areas do blend into one another, so I’m hoping the developer will expand the colours and designs in the final game. The giant robot Goliath, which you can explore inside, was a wonderful bit of HR Giger-like organic machinery design, so I’m hoping there will be more stuff like that.

Either way, the world of Primordia has already sucked me in. Horatio and Crispin are a large part of that appeal with wonderful back-and-forth banter between the two, but the world itself is fascinating too. I love the idea of mankind being considered either a myth or robot gods, and the one time Horatio comes across a skeleton he doesn’t even recognise it as something other than a primitive robot. If you’re a fan of adventure games, in particular Beneath A Steel Sky or Wadjet Eye’s other titles, Primordia will be worth checking out when it launches December 5th this year. I will be for sure, especially as the damn demo left on a cliffhanger. Aargh!

Most Anticipated Feature: Besides finding out what happens next? The robot city of Metropol sounds especially fascinating.