Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Adventures – Episode 3: Muzzled
The latest of Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Adventures takes fans out of the house and into a genuine carnival of gameplay delights. Alright, perhaps players will not be literally taken out of their houses, but they will be huddled indoors for the duration of what is presently the greatest title in the series. Gameplay is, as always, very simple and easy to learn. The keyboard still moves the character throughout the environment, while the mouse can be clicked on most objects to initiate any possible interactions. Scrolling the mouse wheel enables any object in the player’s inventory to be utilized as quickly as the idea pops into one’s head.
While both Wallace and Gromit are once again playable characters, the game does not allow the option of switching between them at will. This enables the game to have a consistent focus on narrative. Additionally, there’s a lot to be said when experiencing an interaction or location through the eyes of two different characters. Wallace remains the clever but timid inventor, prancing about with his hands held in front of him like a squirrel. He might not be the super-masculine protagonist we’ve come to expect in our games these days, but the comedic potential is beyond question. Conversely, Gromit fills the role of the quintessential “straight man”, always ready to meet any challenge and face any obstacle with his canine determination. For a mute mutt existing in a video game world, it is truly amazing just how much character and expression is evoked by Gromit; he is, as always, the show stealer.
Of course, any fan of the series knows that Wallace and Gromit have their roots as clay characters in stop-motion animation films. Consequently, the characters are constructed based on their clay origins. Their lip-syncing, although not always perfect, does have the jagged effect one normally expects to find in a true stop-motion film. The character models are also reminiscent of their clay counterparts, with simple organic shapes and even the odd smudge mark, possibly to imitate the fingerprints of the animator. Admittedly, Wallace and Gromit manages to successfully balance the simple design aesthetic without making the game too ugly or too sluggish. Adjustable graphical settings should help players run the game on any number of systems, but the title ran perfectly when set to maximum on my modestly powerful PC.
Taking a hint from some of the earlier gripes of the series, Wallace and Gromit do indeed leave the house and head out into the great beyond for this adventure. It’s certainly nothing staggering, as most of the familiar locations are still visited along the way, but the overall change in atmosphere is refreshing nonetheless. The infamous Monty Muzzle visits West Wallaby Street on the pretense of holding a carnival fund raiser to benefit stray dogs. Of course, only Gromit seems to sniff out the smarmy stranger’s true intentions, made painfully obvious by Monty’s laughable attempts to pass himself off as a selfless philanthropist. It’s not long before the heroic duo find themselves caught in the middle of Muzzle’s nefarious schemes. The most memorable moment can be found during the game’s climax, which manages to marry humor and heart like no game I’ve played in years.
One of the nice bonuses of Muzzled is that a great deal of attention seems to have been given to the narrative. Rather than simply wandering about on arbitrary fetch quests, each obstacle has meaning and each problem seems to scream of urgency (though some more than others, obviously). There are also certain “timed” events, and although there is no harsh penalty for failure to complete an objective, the game generally does reward the quick thinker. Instead of walking and clicking mindlessly through the world, Muzzled contains some great moments where players will be genuinely excited to witness the turn of events as they make connections between problems and their newly discovered solutions. Aside from the player’s eagerness to take down a genuinely loathsome villain, there are innocent puppies in need of rescuing. This makes for some surprisingly effective emotional cues, creating a stronger incentive to complete any given task.
While this review build did seem to have the occasional audio-related bug, there wasn’t anything in the game that disrupted most of the overall experience. Players will sometimes speak without their mouths moving correctly, and certain audio effects – such as Monty’s altered voice when using a microphone – appear to need tweaking. Even so, this problem can be easily overcome by enabling subtitles. As a complete product, Muzzled stands very nicely among its predecessors. It is by far the most entertaining, thought-provoking, and possibly the longest game in the series. Fans of the show are in for an especially grand adventure.