I was first introduced to the web comic Penny Arcade my senior year of college. Its acerbic and insightful commentary on the video gaming culture industry quickly made a subscriber of me. It was a timely introduction, as I was gestating my senior thesis on media representation of gaming and gamers. Gabe and Tycho allowed me to compile some of their relevant strips into an appendix, offering gamers' perception of media representation of gamers. (They later linked to my thesis from their blog) I appreciate their graciousness, though their cooperation was a small gesture compared to greater contributions to society and gamer image they've since instigated via their non-profit, Child's Play.
Now comes yet another venture for Penny Arcade. It's not unheard of for a popular video game to transition to a comic. But who expected Penny Arcade to go from comic to game?
But today marks the release of On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, the first in a four-chapter series of games based on Penny Arcade. Trailers have been available on YouTube for almost a year, though just as informative was a recent interview with Gabe abd Tycho conducted by Xbox Live's Major Nelson (also available via Apple Podcasts). It's a Lovecraftian affair set in the Roaring Twenties with plenty of adventure and RPG elements… exactly what you'd expect from Penny Arcade, no? (No.)
There's no more evaluative experience than hands-on gameplay, so check out these playable demos for your platform of choice:
The game is also available from the Xbox Live Arcade. Give it a go … but watch your step — and your fruit.
I tried the demo on XBLA. Visually, it looks great with excellent 3D and 2D visuals. I loved the narrator's voice acting in the demo, though I've heard that he's pretty much only in the demo part of the game which is sad. Gameplay reminded me of the Paper Mario games, very much an RPG-lite. The main problem most people seem to be having with it is the cost/value ratio: it's $20 and supposedly only take about 6 hours or so to finish and being a linear RPG, there isn't much replay value to it.
Booted up the game on a Mac Pro with a 8800GT last night and the overall presentation really impressed me. The sharp, colorful visuals — especially the cutscenes — were gorgeous running at full 1920×1200. It was a good move on their part to make the cutscenes in pseudo-3d using sprites so the character model you choose can be alive in the action, with none of the compression artifacts that video would. The colors pop and it ran smoothly, even with a second monitor active.
The sound mixing was also top-notch. The music was unforgettable and beautiful. It was higher quality than a lot of games I've played recently, and was completely mixed in 5.1 surround.
I think the price point is more than fair for a game with this much polish. I think you get more playtime per dollar spent than most AAA titles out there, so I see the price as somewhat of a bargain after seeing the overall product quality. This jumped into my must-own list pretty quickly. I may, however, wait for a full boxed version of the game instead of go piecemeal. I've always had a thing against non-physical copies.
I tried this last Friday in full-screen mode on my MacBook Pro with a GeForce 8600M GT graphics card. I got to the end of the cinema after the first point of interactivity (get the rake) before the game crashed so hard, I had a black screen of death and had to reboot. I haven't tried it again, though I was disappointed how little I got to play before the cinematics took over again.
$20 for six hours sounds about right to me. I've certainly spent more on less, and I no longer have the time budgeted for much longer games.
Look for the second installment of this game on Wednesday, October 29, 2008.