Mike “Gabe” Krahulik and Jerry “Tycho” Holkins, the creators of the Penny Arcade comic, have worked on their own videogame for some time now. It is an odd proposition: a comic commenting/venting on videogames releases a videogame, based on itself. If you’re a PA fan, this may seem slightly less unfathomable, but even still, one wonders if they know what they’re getting into. They’ve been very vocal about their misgivings of the game industry, the media, the fans and all that is associated with the medium, and surely this is a great time to tear them a new one.
I was very interested in the game from the get-go. The guys’ taste in games is pretty close to mine and they are champions of things very dear to me, such as red d20s and the Cthulhu Mythos. They’ve explained that once they realized they could make a game (because of their considerable fanbase, almost guaranteed to buy it), they had to do it. What videogame fan wouldn’t jump on the chance? Thus I wasn’t looking forward to a Penny Arcade -themed game per se, but rather to Mike’s and Jerry’s attempt at creating a videogame.
It is a strange beast, this On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness (episode one). You move around a sort of steampunkish, noir New York of 1920s, solve simple puzzles, fight Fruit Fuckers, hobos and mimes, and read lots of text. The PA element comes from the distinctive art and the style of the writing. Design-wise, it’s a kind of old-school point and click (advised by the mighty Ron Gilbert) meets Final Fantasy, albeit with more interesting combat. There’s a demo available for PC, Mac, Linux and the Xbox 360, go check it out.
The art is gorgeous and the limited in scope character generator works very well. Your character looks exactly like a Penny Arcade cartoon and he’s both 2D and 3D, as is all of the game world. The cut scenes are static comic panels, whereas the main game works in 3D. My brain doesn’t quite get around how it works, but it does look wonderful.
The combat is the main ingredient here and it takes a novel approach, stealing from all over the place, but bringing it all together in a new way. It’s basically classic Final Fantasy fare, with rows of combatants taking turns to hit each other. Except it never pauses. You’re waiting for your guys’ action gauges to fill to be able to use items, attack, or use special attacks, all the while watching the enemies closely, because you need to time a block attempt every time an enemy attacks. Initially it’s bewildering, but you soon get the hang of it. I quite like the system.
I’m not done with the game yet, but I’m happy with what I’ve had thus far. Good stuff, but probably only for fans of the comic. There isn’t so many in-jokes, but you either like their style or not. There’s a lot of swearing, animated gore and offensive themes, granting this a PEGI rating of 18+, effectively off-limits to minors.