Collector asked me to post this review here, originally posted by me in the Sierra Gamers page on facebook.
Alright, I've had enough time after finishing the episode and starting two new playthroughs that I feel like I'm in a good place to share a more thorough review.
First thing's first:
I like it. The game has won me over, despite my initial misgivings and my distaste for some of the on-rails "modern" sequences (more on that later.)
The most important element of this game is whether or not it successfully does what it sets out to do, which is to blend classic adventure gameplay with "modern" (God, I hate the way that word is used to talk about dumbed down gameplay) sensibilities. I would go so far as to say that the result is the best mainstream modern adventure game out there right now. Granted, the only competition is Telltale, so go figure.
Telltale really did a number on adventure games. It's no secret that I utterly loathe Telltale's game design philosophy. Perhaps more than just the fact that their games are not my cup of tea, I hate the way they've had this serious impact on what the world at large thinks contemporary adventure games should look and play like, and the way they should be structured and released (episodically.) The fact that The Odd Gentlemen deliberately tried to deviate from this arguably safer approach and has successfully blended old and new deserves much praise, in my opinion.
Okay, now to specifics:
I've said it before and I'll say it again; I think the way The Odd Gentlemen is handling the narrative is the best possible way to revive the series. The framing narrative that allows the game to seamlessly combine prequel, sequel, and reboot is brilliant. The writing is charming, the characters fun and memorable, and the humor is both witty and kid-friendly (though your mileage may vary.)
That said, I stand by my criticism that this game gets the tonal balance wrong. Despite the disparities between individual entries in the classical King's Quest series, there was a consistent tone (up until 7, but that's one of the reasons why I hate 7,) and while this game doesn't miss the mark completely, it is different enough that I found it very distracting and off-putting at first. It is objectively sillier and more cartoonish in both its humor and world logic than any previous KQ game, but I think that's okay. I can accept taking the series in a fresh tonal direction, even if it does feel somewhat derivative of other, better adventure games (Curse of Monkey Island, for example.)
No surprises here. The game looks and sounds great. Your mileage may vary on the art direction, but at least it's consistent, and they absolutely own the visual style. It fits with the more cartoonish tone, and looks vivid and beautiful on a big screen. People have already discussed the great voice acting at length, so I won't go over it again here. It's great. The music is evocative and perfectly suits every scene where it appears. The classic KQ melodic hints are great, and I hope we get more of that kind of thing in future episodes. The classic point chime is a nice touch, but I wish it was used more frequently when you actually accomplish tasks, as opposed to just picking up inventory items. Still, it was an effective nostalgia device, certainly.
Here we come to the heart of the matter, and the area where I certainly find the most faults. I've already said that I think this game manages a perfect blend of old and new, and once it opens up and allows for freedom of exploration and some non-linear puzzling, it becomes a really good time.
That said, they opened the game in just about the worst way possible. It's not JUST the on-rails sequence in the well, but really the first 2 hours of the game are extremely linear, find the single hotspot, and push A to proceed. This was a terrible decision if they were trying to draw old school adventure game fans into this game. I've read a number of posts on different forums of people who basically gave up on the game because SO much of the first portion was straight, linear, and overly simplistic. I can only hope that this is just a feature of this first episode, to try and gradually introduce new players to adventure game mechanics, but if future episodes maintain this pacing and those long linear stretches of gameplay, I'll be sorely disappointed.
Again, once you get to the tournament and the game opens up, the experience really starts to feel like a classic adventure, albeit a simple and easy one.
The controls work well and feel a lot like Grim Fandango on PC, but with more fluid animation and movement. I think all the people lamenting the lack of fast travel are lazy crybaby morons, but I suppose the addition a sprint button wouldn't be a bad compromise. A sprint button could also add some depth to the action sequences, too, if you had control not only over direction, but also speed.
My one big gripe about the controls is the lack of a dedicated Look function. I have never bought the apologist argument that better graphics removes the need for a Look function. There were plenty of instances in my first playthrough where I found myself really missing the ability to right-click and get a description of the item, instead of just pressing a button to do the one single available interaction. When you have to choose between wheel substitutes, for example, it's very obvious that choosing one is going to lead you down a specific path, but you only have the option to interact with it; I'd have loved to be able to get an actual narrated description, maybe with Graham offering some thoughts about the implications of choosing that object, BEFORE I decided to pick it up.
The interactivity in the game also leaves a lot to be desired. From the standpoint of a fan of classic adventure games, this game world feels very sparse in comparison to the old games. There is a lot of great dialog here, and the multiple interaction responses for repeatedly clicking on certain objects are a lot of fun, but I can't help but feel like all that extra voice acting could have been better used if they had spread it around over MORE HOTSPOTS. There were a lot of beautiful screens that are visually dense that would have really benefited from the ability to examine non-essential objects and scenery to add some more narrative flavor to the world. The town square is a good example. The only extra object, other than the three shop doors, is the tree in the middle, but there's SO MUCH stuff in that scene. As is, in most cases, the only interactive objects are the items that are directly needed to progress the game. There are some exceptions, but I think a better balance could have been reached here, and it would have gone a long way to making the game feel more like a classic King's Quest game.
The puzzles themselves, while easy, are actually quite well done, I think. They do a nice job of getting gradually more complicated as the story goes on, which I think serves new players well. I would have liked to have seen a few more difficult or complex multi-stage puzzles, perhaps optional, so that more hardore adventure gamers would have had some stuff they could really sink their teeth into, but the sheer fact that there actually are this many puzzles in a mainstream adventure game made in 2015 in the shadow of Telltale (f*cking Telltale) is something worthy of admiration. Thank you, Odd Gentlemen, for actually giving me something to DO in your adventure game.
The game runs nicely on my somewhat outdated laptop, which was a pleasant surprise. That said, I have encountered a number of minor bugs in my playthroughs. Nothing gamebreaking, but certainly some immersion breaking stuff. Graham's cape has a tendency to glitch out and stretch across the screen for a split second when changing scenes and in some closeups. I also had a few instances where the audio for dialog failed to play, and the mouths failed to move on characters, even though the characters themselves were clearly supposed to be speaking--they were gesturing and moving their heads, but no audio and no moving mouths. Weird. In any case, the game runs very smoothly, even on older hardware. I've got a shitty integrated Intel graphics card and only 4 GB ram, and I had very few issues and a smooth frame rate even on highest graphics settings.
This was another pleasant surprise. There is a LOT of optional dialog and content here. The game is obviously set up to be played at least 3 times to see the full extent of the different story choices and scenes, but what I was really impressed by was the amount of small changes from playthrough to play through. Little insignificant dialog choices seemed to have a lasting impact on the way certain characters approached you and interacted with you. The interactions with the bridge troll for example, seem to change quite a bit depending on a few different factors. I expect that some of the choices will have repercussions in future episodes, but it was nice to see so many little divergences within THIS episode itself. Another step up from Telltale, I'd say.
My one major gripe about the different choices is that the main divergent path choices are far too obviously sign-posted. Choice works best in games when you don't realize it's happening until you've already headed down a specific path. The sense of discovery is better when you can find the different paths out for yourself, as opposed to the game clearly telling you that you were at a crossroads and then giving you a big "Are you sure?" Yes or No prompt to confirm your choice. That kind of ruined it for me a bit. The Odd Gentlemen should take a page from The Witcher games and make the choices a little more subtle in future episodes, please.
I enjoyed this first episode a lot more than I thought I would, to be completely honest. The gameplay formula that The Odd Gentlemen have created here is fun and engaging, and is a successful blend of classic and "modern" design. That said, I think a lot of what I like about this episode is the POTENTIAL that it has to become a great adventure game series, if they increase the gameplay complexity a bit in future episodes, and tone down the narrative silliness. The emotional beats in this game's story are really nice, and I hope that future episodes will give us some heavier moments of pathos.
As it stands, I'd give it a solid B-, maybe a B. Its adventure game heart is in the right place, but it feels a bit too much like it's pandering to the worst aspects of modern gamers--the lazy, GIVE IT TO ME NOW, ADHD attitude. Lose the on-rails action moments and the linear corridor runs, add a few more interactive hotspots to add more descriptive meat to the world, and give me a few more taxing puzzles, and this game could go from decent to great very quickly. All of the pieces are there.