(PC Review) Resonance

Developer: XII Games
Publisher: Wadjet Eye Games
Genre: Adventure
Players: 1
Reviewer: Nick Stewart

Overall: 8 = Excellent

Minimum Requirements:
P4 1.8 GHz, 512MB RAM, 3D graphics card DirectX 9.0c comp., 1GB HD, Win XP/Vista/7

Of all genres, adventure is one of the strangest creatures of gaming. While you’d be hard-pressed to satisfyingly replay some of your favorite first-person shooters from years past, the classics from Sierra and LucasArts still stand up astoundingly well to this day, in large part because they’re about story and great ideas and less about graphical strength. As such, it’s interesting to see the number of games in recent years that have intentionally reached back in a note of pseudo-nostalgia to embrace an older style. Wadjet Eye and XII Games’ Resonance is one of the most recent examples of this approach, as its pixilated look and strong writing clearly hearken back to a different time, while still presenting a nicely stylized offering for adventure fanatics.

Resonance flaunts its cinematic ambitions from its very first moments: after a live newscast outlines a variety of massive explosions in major centers the world over, the result of some unknown terrorist organization, the game spins back 60 hours earlier. From there, you’re put into the shoes of four seemingly disconnected folks, which include Ed, the nerdy mathematician working on some truly earth-shattering research; Anna, a kind-hearted doctor with a tragic past; Bennett, a plays-by-his-own-rules police detective; and Ray, a blogger/journalist who’ll do anything for the next big scoop. Following an explosion at a research facility and the murder of its key scientist, all four see their paths converge as they look into the crime and race to prevent Mysterious and Nefarious Forces from sparking further disaster and bringing the world under their nebulously defined bootheel. It’s a great concept that’s executed well, by and large, bringing a great deal of urgency and suspense to what turns out to be a pretty solid conspiracy-style thriller.

An otherwise interesting adventure game can stumble if the inventory/puzzle system isn’t handled well, and it’s something that Resonance handles with some creativity. There’s your standard inventory, where you can look at, use, or mix and match whatever you’ve happened to jam into your ridiculously voluminous pockets, which is fairly straightforward. The game also makes use of a “memory” system to help guide your interactions with others. There’s each character’s “long-term memory,” which acts as a sort of notebook for referring back to key plot events or some life event that occurred prior to the game’s timeframe, usually to sniff out some sort of clue. Each protagonist also has access to a “short-term memory,” which allows you to drag any highlightable item in the gameworld into their memory bank. From there, they can be brought up as discussion points during conversations with the game’s NPCs, or even the other protagonists. It’s a system that easily could have fallen into a gimmicky role, but instead, it manages to let you suss out answers to puzzles or even flavor dialogue in much more organic ways than your standard adventure game process of hoping something is in the conversation tree.

The memory system also helps to jazz up solving the game’s many puzzles, which although dicey at times, are more hit than miss on the whole. When they’re good, though, Resonance’s puzzles can sometimes even be great, offering a nice latitude and blend of approaches that typically aren’t seen within the genre. Sure, there are your standard “combine Item A with Item B, and use with Item C” puzzles scattered throughout, and they’re competently handled, but it’s the more creative ones that really shine. Take Ray’s portion during the opening scenes of the game, where he’s trying to hack into a shadowy medical corporation’s top-secret servers: following a trail of clues left in corporate emails, manually navigating computer command trees and digging through file folders provides a feeling of investigative thrill very much akin to Interplay’s 1988 version of Neuromancer. It’s a great segment which, although isolated, still lets you know that Resonance has more than a few different tricks up its sleeve.

There are some real duds, however, and when they arise, they tend to bring the game’s otherwise considerable momentum to a grinding standstill. A number of them require an awful lot of trial and error, with a considerable amount of repetition—sometimes because you’ve “died” and the game rewinds to the last autosave, but more often because the process of discovering the solution is built in such a ways as to demand that you try, re-try, and re-re-try. This is often made worse by the fact that the characters move fairly slowly, which would otherwise be forgivable except for the fact that the sheer quantity of repetitive actions and trial-and-error drags things out much longer than it ever really needs to be. The game also includes some of the worst elements of other adventure-type games, including a take on Max Payne’s blood-trail fever dream, and yet another version of the dreaded Tower of Babel puzzle. In any other game but this one, this combination would be a stone-cold killer; it’s a true testament to its otherwise fantastically good gameplay that you can overlook these sometimes considerable missteps.

It should be pointed out that, as a package, Resonance works really well, even though your first impression is that it shouldn’t.  At first blush, the four main characters seem like little more than an amalgam of various hackneyed clichés; however, each one’s quirks and personalities are fleshed out nicely throughout the course of your travels, helped out as much by the solid writing as it is by the terrific voice acting. Your goals are almost always spelled out, and the vivid atmosphere created throughout builds a truly well-defined movie-style thriller structure around your actions. Even the graphics are pitch-perfect, a throwback to the golden age of adventure gaming, pixilated and blocky as they are. All together, it creates something with a strong pull that’s likely to spark most players to polish it off in no more than two or three sittings.

As a great added bonus, the game also features a special commentary mode that provides you with all kinds of points of view from various folks involved with the game, including the main designer, Vince Twelve, as well as publisher Dave Gilbert.  With this mode active, you’re walked through the design choices that went into the plot, scenes, character naming, pacing, and much more; you’re also given access to some truly amusing bloopers that took place throughout the recording of the dialogue tracks. For an adventure game, it’s a terrific addition that really provides you with a strong reason to go back and play through a second time, especially for those who aren’t sufficiently motivated by the achievements. Plus, for a game as great as this, it’s nice to get those added bits of trivia from those who care about it most.

With its throwback graphics, strong voice acting, and innovative combination of puzzle styles, Resonance is a game that not only looks as though it belongs in the golden age of adventure gaming, but it plays like it too. The story is strong, the presentation is fantastic, and the gameplay is enough to keep you glued to your computer screen—though this isn’t to say that there aren’t areas that couldn’t have used some improvement. There’s a mite too much repetition in the puzzle-solving area, which would otherwise knock any other game off its perch; Resonance, though, is strong enough, interesting enough, and entertaining enough to withstand these errors to make a truly engaging  adventure.

(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)

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