On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode Two
Sequels don’t have to suck. As the second entry in what is planned out to be a four part series, Episode Two succeeds its predecessor in every way. That’s not to say that much has changed. In the sake of continuity, Hothead Games makes sure that you’re still going to want to play the first game and allows for those who have to transfer their characters. Since the games are being divided up in advance, the developers have the luxury of ending each game with cliff-hangers, teasing players until the next episode comes out.
This formula is a staple of point and click type adventures, utilized effectively in the critically acclaimed Sam & Max titles. Rather than resting on the strengths of this genre alone, Penny Arcade Adventures also falls back on the familiar combat found in RPG games. With some grace, the game balances both genres effectively, spacing out each battle with simplistic puzzles and encouraging exploration by promising various unlockable content ranging from music to weapon upgrades. Some will be earned by thorough investigation of every clickable item, and others through natural progression in the storyline.
We’re introduced to Gabe and Tycho at your place, on desperation street. The year is 1922 and following the last adventure, you’re out of a home. Thus, you’re living in a tent to make do until you find another place. That is, until the absent minded sleuths come crashing into your makeshift living quarters in their truck. They explain that they’re back on Fruit ****er Prime’s tail, enlisting your help to take him down once and for all. Thus, the Starting Developments Detective Agency is reunited. With 9 case loads to work out, your team will investigate the happenings of a Symposium of the Future of Man, an Insane Asylum, and a town filthy with wealth.
As the title suggestions, Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Episode Two is perhaps the most pretentious videogame ever created. It mocks gaming in hilarious fashion, in ways you’ll only be able to understand once you’ve gotten a feel for its stylistic tendencies and relentless streams of enjoyable text. Voice acting is kept at a minimum, leaving the audio and brilliant cel-shaded visuals to fill in on the atmosphere. Penny Arcade Adventures is essentially styled after comic books and Japanese role playing games, at its heart. It does a good job of getting both right.
Enemies are strategically placed throughout each level and although you’re able to avoid some battles, there’s really no point in doing so, since all three members of your party will be fully healed and revived afterwards, and you’ll need to fight most of the Fruit ****ers, in order to upgrade each weapon, anyway. Once an opponent is provoked, you’ll face off in your present location, after some ironic phrase flashes over the screen. Much of the combat carries a Final Fantasy-like feel to it, and is somewhat turn based – although it could also be called real time in a sense, as commands all regenerate on a clockwise cycle.
Your created character throws down with a gardening hoe, whereas Gabe simply uses his fists, and Tycho, his Shotgun. There are three different attack levels which begin with items, most of which you’ll find by breaking open objects throughout the levels. Items can be used to change your team’s status, as well as that of opponents. Second on your command list is a basic attack, which works well against some enemies who will resist more powerful types of attacks. Lastly, special attacks allow two options. Each character has their own timing-based abilities (with variations in difficulty and damage dealt). They’ll also be able to team up for a more powerful, automatic attack utilizing two or all three characters. New to the game is the reliance on timing to deal damage and also to defend against attacks. As an enemy winds up, you’re quickly prompted to “block”. If the spacebar’s hit prior to the command, you’ll even get a counter-attack in. If it’s timed right, you’ll either block, partially block, or miss the block, and lose even more damage than if you had just ignored it in the first place.
For all its strengths, PAA: Episode Two isn’t going to last for more than 6 or 7 hours, and much of what could be done is capsized, in order to lead into the next episode. You’ll obviously be able to transfer your character into the next game as well (as long as you continue playing on the same platform). This allows PAA: Episode Two to draw to a close a little earlier than it should have, maxing out character levels at 30. While some players will be able to muster up enough incentive to play through expert mode, unlocking the four treasure chests only available at that difficulty, and further strengthening their players, I was not one of these people, having seen everything I needed to on my first play through. With that said, it wouldn’t be right to fault an episodic game for not concluding properly, so just be aware of what you’re getting in to, and you’ll probably end up appreciating all of the things Episode Two has to offer.