Second Precipice

The episodic Penny Arcade Adventures continue to march along. We jump in on the second leg of the journey, but will we be lost?
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: February 2, 2009
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There was a bug in the original PSN release of Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness - Episode 2, and it was a nasty one.

At a certain point toward the end of the end of the short-ish episodic adventure, you'd get a Trophy notice. There or shortly thereafter, your game save may or may not just decide to shit the bed. You are screwed if you got to this point, because the bug corrupts your savegame file and there's no way to un-fuck it. That's the bad news. The good news is that as of a few weeks ago, you're now able to download the 2.00 update and never experience this bug to begin with. Do not play this game if you haven't applied the patch. I hadn't, got the bug, and lost seven very happy hours to something that should have never have left QA department -- on either HotHead Games' or Sony's part -- without being addressed.

And here's where a bad story starts to turn good. The folks at Hothead Games were well aware of the issue (in fact, they'd responded as such on the Penny Arcade forums and announced they were working on a fix shortly after the bug was discovered) and graciously offered up a savegame file for me that was just about at the end of the game where I'd been when the bug struck, putting me right back on track to finish things up and just get on with this review without having to re-play everything like anyone else who ran into this issue pre-patch.

It wasn't a perfect fix, of course; their savegame was wildly different from mine, as I'd spent plenty of time leveling up, collecting parts to upgrade my weapons and carefully learning the timings of enemy strikes to build up a few qualifiers for Trophies (more on those latter two in a second). Still, it was an incredibly kind gesture, and I wanted to make note of it before moving any further with the review. The Hothead crew (and their PR complement, Flash Fire Communications) really are a classy bunch, and they really did try to fix things for me. In the end, though, I ended up just starting over anyway.

Let me say that again, because it bears repeating: I was essentially given a free ticket to pick up where I left off -- one that other players wouldn't have the luxury of accepting -- and I turned it down in favor of retracing those seven hours of the game again. Why? The short answer is just that PAA:OtRSPoD Episode Two (yes, I'm too lazy to type it all out) is a really good game -- so good, in fact, that that bug (which has since been fixed) was really the only thing that annoyed me about it. So much of what Hothead Games and the Penny Arcade folks have done here recalls the classic adventure games from Sierra and LucasArts, and that's not by accident; Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert helped serve as a consultant on things, and there's definitely an old-school LucasArts feel to things.

Banishing that growing lump in the back of my throat at the thought of where adventure games have gone, Rain-Slick simply oozes old-school tribute in how it handles the typical daisy-chained series of tasks and fetch quests, but rather than using that "get item E to help out character D who gives you trinket C that completes character B's project which finally gets you the original item A" sequence as a crutch, it's instead turned into a foil for some absolutely hilarious and downright brilliant dialogue. The decision to just make the game M rated from the start means there's no shortage of "fucks" and shall we say... generous use of italicized text or carefully-laid punctuation. Lots of carefully-laid punctuation.

At the same time the nostalgia was smacking me upside the head, though, the game's vaguely twitchy combat system started to really get its hooks into me. It's best described as a more reactive version of the Active Time Battle system from the early Final Fantasy games (if that makes any sense), but the actual attacks are tiered, so after a player takes a turn, a little time wheel fills and first items are made available, then basic attacks and then, finally, a super attack that reveals a little character-specific mini-game (Gabe resorts to fisticuffs in a quick little L1/R1 tapping sequence, Tycho is a variant of whack-a-mole using the face buttons and your created character simply has you tap X when an arrow bounces back and forth between sweet spots at increasing speeds).
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