Resonance Review (PC)

Wadjet Eye Games came to my attention last year with the astonishing Blackwell Deception, a basic-looking but very modern adventure involving a girl who can see the dead and the ghost of a ‘30s private detective. With likeable, interesting characters, clever yet believable puzzles and a superb story, it was the best adventure game I’d played for years. Resonance is another adventure by Wadjet Eye in the same style (and the same inability to accept higher resolutions), but it’s been co-developed with a team called xii Games. Will the joint development cause the game to suffer? Woo, mystery!

Being an adventure game the story is all-important, so it’s good that the team remembered to include one. The game kicks off with professional-looking news footage of bizarre but devastating attacks on famous buildings worldwide, such as the White House and the Houses of Parliament, and it’s a hell of an opening. We then move to a guy in his underpants sleeping in a near-empty apartment. This is Ed, and contrary to his introduction he’s not a Guybrush Threepwood-esque adventure game loser protagonist. He’s a scientist working with a Dr Morales on the Resonance Project, which is one of those wonderful scientific endeavours that could provide great benefits for mankind but will probably be used dangerously by bad people instead.

Look dad, the clouds are spelling the title!

We are also introduced to Anna, a lady with bad dreams about her past who works at the hospital, Ray, a blogger/journalist investigating something called ‘Antevorta’ that turns out to be sinister, and Detective Bennet, who is Gene Hunt from Life On Mars. In rather a shocking development all four of these people turn out to be playable characters, and after not too long at all we control the entire group at the same time and the same places. This is sheer craziness as the biggest group I’ve ever controlled in an adventure game is Day of the Tentacle’s three, and they were all in different time zones. Four in the same place at the same time is less an adventure and more The Lost Vikings.

While a neat gimmick, and each character has their own advantages, controlling all four can be rather more trouble than I think was needed frankly. In different locations it could be fun, or just dividing them into twos, but some puzzles literally need all four characters to work (mercifully few at least) and the whole thing started to feel overcrowded. Now that I’ve finished it I wonder if it was done entirely for the sake of a shocking story… but I won’t spoil anything, particularly as finding that surprise is the best bit of the game.

After that point however the story began to unravel, or rather rush to a finale. After the mysteries of the Resonance project and Anna’s nightmares are solved (at exactly the same point) the plot suddenly felt like it wanted to turn into The X-Files, with a secret government conspiracy suddenly appearing out of nowhere. The Resonance project becomes entirely irrelevant, two scruffy unimportant-looking members of the background cast become the damn Illuminati trying to run the world, and then they fail in the space of one cutscene because their plan was entirely dependant on the people knowing about it not having internet access. It felt like the developers wanted about another 10 hours of gameplay to explain all this (or introduce it all more convincingly) but couldn’t get it, so had to make do with a rushed end section instead.

It’s not helped by the game teasing choices at certain key areas only to snatch them away. In the recent remake of Syndicate there’s a point where it seems like you’re making a decision that will totally change the final third of the game. Do you stay loyal to the Syndicate or do you follow the rebels? You soon bitterly discover that there is no choice, and you’re forced down one path no matter what you choose. The same thing happens in Resonance. The same game-changing binary choice that similarly leads to identical consequences either way. I won’t mark the game down for that, but I would’ve marked it up if it had made your choices matter.

Which one of us is Ed again?

Puzzles go much the same way. I always really love it when an adventure game attempts non-linear puzzle solving, but Resonance once again merely hints at it. There are numerous points where the game suggests puzzles which instead you’re just supposed to solve to enhance your understanding of the characters... yeah. Okay guys, I hate to be blunt, but you guys aren’t exactly Valve. Very few people who buy Resonance, even the ones that like it and want to find out more story (like myself), will not want to spend an hour crawling around a flipping maze of air-vents just to find a couple of short memories of Anna as a child – which is a real point in the game. That section was incredibly tedious and the second I discovered that I had to skip it (otherwise it just loops) I was out of there in a shot. That it was also just there to add unnecessary beats to one character’s side-story and didn’t offer any puzzle solutions made me cross, not say “wow, there was more of Anna’s story to discover! I better play the game again so I can crawl around for another hour searching for memories!” as the developer intended.

The actual puzzles, although certainly linear like most adventures, are for the most part both clever and believable. Need to access your dead uncle’s records? Fine, but you’ll need a death certificate and a copy of the will. How do you get them? Well, go to police records for the will and the morgue for the certificate. Got to be some complicated way of getting the certificate from the hospital right, like using a monkey to distract the guards while you use that stolen fishing pole to grab it from the air-vents? No, you work there idiot. Just swipe your security pass through the scanner, talk to the doctor and get it. The will’s more complicated… no, wait, one of your characters is a cop working on this guy’s murder investigation. You have every right to access it, so just show your badge and do so.

Think that sounds too easy? Of course it is, since those aren’t the full puzzles. Breaking into a safe with a piece of hospital equipment or cutting through an old man’s ramblings to solve the mystery of where actually he put his wrench are better examples. The puzzles are there, they’re pretty well thought-out, and for the most part actually feel possible. One of the neater features is the ability to “remember” anything in the scene to ask characters about, which turns the simple act of asking “so, what’s that big machine do apart from go ‘ping’?” into part of the puzzle.

However, there are duds. I’m rather gratified that the developers made it rather easy for me as a reviewer, since I can simply say “all the puzzles involving magnets” suck. There’s one big corridor that requires all four characters to move between safe areas turning magnets on and off like a more tedious version of that famous boat puzzle with the chickens and the foxes. Another involving a key and a locker seemed simply broken, and was downright infuriating after a lot of trying. The only puzzle in the game I couldn’t solve involved hot wiring a security panel which still makes no sense to me now, however it turned out to be a complete red herring since I could just jump out the window and walk through the door from the other side. Was it just there for achievements? I don’t know, as I’m pretty sure there’s no secret back-story to uncover in it.

I dreamt I was in the Caribbean with two annoying wizards voiced by British comedy actors and a scruffy lounge lizard who kept flirting with me...

For the most part Resonance is a fun, modern adventure with smart phones and USB password hackers (what, you don’t have one of those? I got mine from Argos), but it’s no Blackwell Deception. The characters never really get the layers they deserve, some of the hands-on puzzles can be infuriating just to accomplish, and the story stays great until the big twist two-thirds of the way in whereupon it immediately collapses. The twist itself is wonderful, but it’s as if the developers couldn’t work out where to go from there.

It’s a real shame as Resonance is undoubtedly a compelling adventure for the majority of the playtime, but it also feels only half of one, and with the rush to the finale even a sequel couldn’t fill in the blanks. Most importantly: what the hell was with the mysterious breast-feeding Japanese lady?

Top Game Moment: Oh, the twist certainly. Aaaaand I can’t tell you what it is, sigh.

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By the_fourth_horseman (SI Veteran Member) on Jun 19, 2012