Runaway: The Dream of the Turtle PC Review - 25/03/2007

Pendulo Studios deserve to win lots of awards. They've been striving to reignite the passion of adventure gamers for over a decade, and have consistently produced modern, yet retro games – point and click titles with the graphics and production values of next-gen console titles.

We seem to be getting a resurgence of point and click games these days, and while Pendulo aren't the only ones pushing this revival forwards, few of the new adventure games have managed to appeal to modern gamers, or to compete with the latest first person shooters and MMORPGs. However, certain games, such as Telltale Games' new Sam and Max episodes and indeed Runaway, have the class, gameplay and style to keep the action-hungry gamers of today impressed. This will come as welcome news to anyone fond of Grim Fandango, Day of the Tentacle, or the amazing Monkey Island series – particularly as virtually all point and click adventure games these days are close to carbon copies of those titles, in terms of gameplay mechanics at least.

It is a good thing then, that the style of Runaway is very much the same as many of Lucas Arts' games, and the studios willingly admits to drawing inspiration from the masters of adventure gaming. Unfortunately, you still get all the minus points of playing point and click games, such as the fiendish pixel hunts, unfathomably bizarre solutions to puzzles, and the general 'try every possible combination' ethos surrounding it. With that said, it has moved on hugely from Pendulo’s previous games, in terms of modernisation. Brian, the protagonist, has been given a trendy makeover after meeting Gina in the first game. Starting off as a nerdy sort, he and Gina are now together and decided to take an air tour while on holiday. Typically, they ended up choosing a wacky pilot and a smashed up plane to see the islands with, and so, the pilot conked out leaving the plane hurtling towards the ground. Brian pushed Gina out using the only parachute, and stayed on board to use the carcass of the aircraft as protection for himself.

You control Brian with left clicks, moving him around, and issuing commands by getting him to interact with objects - it works well, and is a well polished system.

Waking in dense jungle, your task is to find Gina and get off the island as soon as possible. This is made all the more difficult by the military carrying out manoeuvres on the island, as well as mischievous lemurs, and disgruntled polar bears. No, this isn’t another episode of Lost, but the story takes you across the globe, keeping the action and challenges varied and fresh. While Brian and Gina’s new look won’t appeal to all, they’re very likeable for anyone new to the Runaway world. Some old favourites also crop up from the old game, but it is never necessary to have played it, with a refresher movie offered in the sequel's option menu. The voice acting throughout is pretty solid, and while some will cringe at the stereotypical Aussie accent, or the slightly demented oriental voice of an old friend, it works well in the laid back theme for the game.

Just one of the bizarre early pieces in the game, but instantly lovable and memorable

At times, you could say Runaway 2 verges on childish however. Some of the jokes, while original, are more suited to a children’s TV show than a retro style computer game, but, they are usually still funny, much like some of the stuff in movies such as Finding Nemo – adults will find certain parts funny, while children will laugh at other comedic scenes. Most of the adult humour comes from conversation trees. You can choose to insult an army general, chat up a waitress, and generally mock most characters in the game, and while these never have an effect on the rest of the conversation, you do gain some witty and funny responses as a reward. Much of the rest of the conversation, which is all voiced and takes up a large portion of the game, can drag on a bit. You will be frustrated with re-reading the same piece of text over and over for clues, just because you don’t know what the next step in a certain quest is. Thankfully, you can skip the voices and just skim read most of the stuff, and while many quest hints and clues are contained in these conversations, you can always repeat the questions and lines of enquiry later – perceptive gamers may notice trends in the conversations allowing you to work out which ‘may’ contain helpful advice, although Pendulo throw plenty of character building speech in there too, often leading you up the wrong tree and never-ever making it too easy.

In fact, it is often too difficult. If you’re used to the fast paced action of Halo or GTA, then of course, this perhaps isn’t for you. The main goal with playing Runaway 2 shouldn’t be to get the most on-the-spot enjoyment out of it, but to relax, and garner satisfaction from each completed level, safe in the knowledge that you truly earned it. Sitting down and playing Runaway 2 while reading a magazine, listening to the radio, eating, or drinking, is entirely possible. As long as you can soak up the atmosphere provided by the ambient sound effects and character voices, you’ll enjoy the game, but shouldn’t try to play it at a hugely fast pace, as you’ll just get frustrated and give up.

Inevitably, some challenges you just wont get, and walkthroughs are of course available for the impatient ones among you who don’t have magazines to read, food to eat, or alcohol to drink – if you want to rush through Runaway, then it’s not worth buying – you need to enjoy it, take a laid back attitude, and just soak it up. Clearly, pixel hunting in this sort of game is never going to be fun, but it is rewarding. For anyone new to the concept, this is basically where you put the mouse over virtually every pixel on screen until you find an item or clue you may have missed. Similarly, you will find yourself trying every inventory combination: i.e. Lemur with motor oil; paper with banana; and water with hammer as three bizarre examples, before you can complete each quest. On the very first level, I missed a shard of glass on the floor right where you start – admittedly, this is a schoolboy error and I should have searched the area thoroughly, but with no decent adventure game for five years, it took a while to get back into my stride (*cough*).

No, you can't read all those books – and thankfully, you don't have to to complete the task at hand

The way the tasks unfold is also hugely frustrating, with one seemingly impossible quest complete, it will simply be extended with bizarre and clearly tapped on extra missions. This seems like an attempt on the developer’s part to add a few hours to the life of the game, and in that way, it succeeds. But when you’re on the verge of running to a walkthrough, only for everything to click and for you to work out a particular task – you can be insanely proud of yourself. When the game then relegates all your hard work to worthlessness with a new, even more seemingly pointless task, you’ll feel like quitting there and then.

You can think you’re so close to completing the level only for something to be thrown in your face and add another huge section to the mission. Perhaps more, smaller, levels would have been better, as there aren’t many natural break points, and you can spend hours doing pixel searches in large rooms or open expanses, eventually find something, and have another frustrating search thrust upon you.

Importantly for a game of this sort, the navigation is very simple. You have just an inventory, and an options menu with save feature. You can look at items in the game world when a magnifying glass icon appears, or interact with them with an alternate click. This allows you to piece together the brain melting puzzles that, while none require you to really test your knowledge in any particular field, often need you to think outside the box. Brian’s analysis of every object is often humorous and helpful, but in some early sections of the game there are seemingly useful objects that you can’t get Brian to talk about, and which aren’t programmed into the game. At this point, you begin to question the depth the developers have gone to. However, this only happens in small rooms with stacked shelves or bookcases for example, and on the later levels you can get Brian to at least say ‘No’ or ‘I don’t see what use that would be’. The point is that this makes it clear to you that the item is of no use, rather than leaving indecision as to whether you have missed items in a pile and whether they are actually worth investigating.

Woops – the moment Gina is pushed out of the plane

The only real faults with Runaway 2 are part and parcel of adventure gaming. However, there are a few extra annoyances. As just mentioned, the extended tasks can frustrate, and the animations certain characters have to perform to talk to you are also hugely infuriating – if a character is programmed to be cleaning a boat, then every time you talk to them they'll slowly put the cloth down, stand up, look around, walk slowly over to you, and then, finally, start talking. Why you can't talk to people while they're in task is absurd, but in the scheme of things it doesn't affect gameplay too much.

The graphics and audio are both great, with cel-shaded, hand drawn graphics really bringing the world to life. Beautiful cut scenes also add to this, with just the right amount of blurring giving a cinematic feel to certain areas. Cheeky characters and lush locales help add to the atmosphere, and while it's all fairly tongue-in-cheek, you can't help but fall in love with the people and places, and get drawn into the gameworld.

Runaway 2 is a good, solid adventure game. It shares many similarities with the classics, and has good production values with strong voice acting and (although it’s all a bit cheesy) appropriate music. The graphical style stays fresh thanks to the varied locations, and you’ll get to like the characters by mid-way through the first few levels. It’s just a shame that in this day and age, they still had to resort to pixel hunts and bizarre puzzles to make the game work, rather than relying on the intelligence or wit of the player.

Definitely worth a go for any point and click adventure game fan, as it’s one of the strongest games in that genre we’ve seen for years – Sam and Max is equally enjoyable perhaps, but this is on a larger scale with a far more developed story. It’s a good year for the genre, and Runaway 2: Dream of the turtle should certainly be in your collection if you’ve been pining for some adventure action of old – very relaxing, atmospheric, and instantly lovable.


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