Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Daedalic Entertainment
Thanks to Daedalic for providing a copy of this game for review.
Daedalic Entertainment seem determined to single-handedly not only save the once mighty point and click genre, but also bring it back to the masses who have been enslaved by the tyrannical shooters. And I’m certainly not complaining. They’ve already done the much loved Edna & Harvey series, and this year they released both Deponia and its sequel, Chaos on Deponia, both of which had me utterly enchanted from start to finish, proving that there’s still a place for the adventure game in today’s market, providing they can dodge all the bullets and grenades. Now Daedalic are back again with A New Beginning: Final Cut edition. But while Deponia easily stands as one of the best games of this year, A New Beginning struggles.
The problem certainly isn’t in the storyline itself as A New Beginning features a rather interesting and unusual plot involving time travel and a failing climate that will leave the human race dangling over the precipice of extinction. And yes, I’ll try to cut down on the usage of such dramatic speech for the rest of this review, but come on, you’ve got to admit that “precipice of extinction” sounds damn good, or at least it did to me at 3am when I was writing it in an alcoholic haze which could be described as mildly unhealthy. The story begins proper in the year 2500 where Earth’s climate has all but failed completely, leaving just a few hundred humans alive, hiding underground to survive. With the Earth in this state the next solar flare than hits is liable to wipe out the remnants of humanity once and for all, which, upon reflection, may not be an entirely bad thing: we’d finally get rid of Starbucks. In a desperate bid to save the planet the remaining members of the human race send a small team back through time in an attempt to stop the eventual destruction of their species. Exactly how these guys have managed to develop or hang on to time travel technology remains a mystery, but let’s not question this stuff. Their goal is to stop a catastrophic explosion at a nuclear power plant which causes the ecological downfall of the Earth down the line. Us players experience the storyline through two main characters: Fay is one of the time travellers, a naive girl who believes that the catastrophe can be avoided by simple talking, a view not shared by team leader Salvador who wants to stop the explosion by any means necessary, and if that involves some blood then so be it. Maybe that’s a really clever poke at today’s games belief that every problem can be solved with violence but somehow I don’t think so. Fay also believes that the game’s second lead character is the key to their salvation: Bent Svensson is a retired Norwegian scientist whose life work was a special type of algae which could produce power, potentially providing the world with a clean, efficient and sustainable source of energy. Bent’s obsession with his work, though, cost him his family. He’s now bitter and world-weary, living on his own in the middle of no where with a psychiatrist visiting often to help him with his problem of being obsessed with single-handedly saving the world from ecological disaster. Naturally when a woman claiming to be from the future shows up and starts explaining to Bent that his Algae could save the world, he’s understandably a little bit cynical about the whole thing…
With the accident at the power plant in Japan not long ago, the impending threat of GLOBAL WARMING (yes, it deserves all capital letters) and Germany’s promise to have no more active plants by 2022 there’s no denying that A New Beginning’s tale hits home hard, and while the moral lesson that we all need to change our ways is shoveled on a little too thickly, to the point that you could almost literally knock yourself out by running into it, the foundations are there for an intriguing, fantastic story of time travel and heroism. The plot is delivered slowly throughout the game but with each bit of new information coming at just the right time to keep it rolling along nicely From the start to the finish I was enthralled.
Or at least I would have been if it wasn’t for three major problems: bland characters, terrible dialogue and horrendous voice acting. A great story such as A New Beginning’s could survive with just one of these problems, possibly even two, at a stretch, but with all three it quickly gets dragged down like an innocent little antelope under the weight of three mildly pissed off lions who haven’t had lunch in a while. Our weary hero Bent Svensson is about as interesting as watching a lecture on paint drying and his voice actor appears to know this, delivering every line in the same monotone voice that the paint drying lecturer was using. The supporting cast of characters have either no personality or simply don’t get enough time to develop and show off the little personality that they do possess, or they’re just plain irritating. Although in their defense at least a few of them display a slightly higher quality of voice acting, with emphasis on slightly. Heroine Fey is the only one of the bunch that exhibits any signs of an interesting personality, but that’s quickly smothered by her voice actor delivering the atrocious dialogue in a manner that suggests she just didn’t give a damn about any of it, sticking largely to the same monotone tactic that works so well for Bent with the occasional random inflection thrown in for good measure. Ah yes, the dialogue. Oh, boy, where do I even begin? To be entirely fair Daedalic are a German company and as such all their games are, of course, written in their native language, and so problems with the translations are to be expected: Deponia certain had a few moments where going from German to English hadn’t quite worked, leaving some jokes to fall flat or lines of dialogue sounding a little strange. However, it’s not just a few problems with A New Beginnings dialogue, it’s all of it. It’s just so clumsy and messy that I can’t justifiably blame it on the translation and so the only conclusion I can possibly come to is that it’s just bad dialogue, regardless of whether it’s in German, English or Oompa Loompa. Contradicting me, however, are the German reviews for the game which largely seem to agree that the dialogue is good, leaving a vague shadow of doubt in the back of my mind that perhaps it is just the translation. Perhaps we’ll never know for sure. With these three problems bogging it down it’s hard to become engrossed in A New Beggining’s story, no matter how well written it is, and that leaves me feeling somewhat sad that the plot didn’t get to shine as it so clearly deserves to.
Voice acting aside, though, there’s absolutely no problems with the games visual presentation. Like both Edna & Harvey and Deponia before it A New Beginning uses a hand-drawn art-style that certainly catches the eye. Art-styles are a very subjective thing, of course, so it’s obviously not going to be to everyone’s liking, but there’s no denying that it’s a striking to behold with stunning scenery and plenty of detail chucked in for those that like to stare intently at their computer screen. In my own eyes it’s not as beautiful as Deponia, but then my write-up for that game was largely a marriage proposal vaguely disguised as a review, so I’ll just let the screenshots speak for themselves on this one. The only small flaw within the presentation is the comic-book style panels used to tell the story, which don’t look anywhere near as good as the rest of the game when it’s in motion and feature some dodgy lip-syncing that sometimes involves characters mouths moving but no words issuing forth, like some sort of puppet show gone bad. As for the musical score it’s a great piece of work that fades into the background, enhancing the game without ever actually drawing much attention to itself. It’s subtle, which is exactly what you want in a game of this style.
The gameplay itself isn’t too shabby, either. As a point and click game it sticks close to the genre staples, but at this point that’s something we’ve come to expect as there’s really not much more than can be done with this style of game, except possibly introducing a mechanic whereby it literally slaps you ever time you just start randomly combining items in the hopes of achieving progression through sheer stubbornness. The only big change here comes in the form of the control system, which left me a tad baffled because while I’m all up for trying new things and experimenting the control scheme of point and click shooters is one of those things I’ve never really felt needed to be changed. Rather than the standard single and double clicks that we’ve all grown so accustomed to you now interact with things by clicking and holding down the left mouse button which brings up a tiny little radial menu from which you can select your desired action, be that investigating said item, breaking it, bending it or just opening a door. On the one hand this little system means there’s more ways to interact with each object (up to four) than we normally get to see, and on the other hands it’s a bit clumsy to use. It’s slight, but actually doing anything using this system definitely takes longer and sometimes it feels like it’s going out of its way to make things a bit awkward, like how there’s an option to search a locker, at which point the game helpfully tells you there’s an object in the locker but doesn’t just pick said object up automatically, instead demanding you highlight it and use the radial menu to do so. It’s a small gripe, but little things like this in a point and click game can be frustrating given how polished the genre should be at this point. It also makes me think that the reason nobody ever came up with a control system that allowed more selectable interactions before is because we didn’t actually need to, because most of them are bloody pointless.
But I’m digressing here, rambling on about the largely inconsequential control issues when what’s really important lies forgotten: the puzzles! So, as a point and click game what you’ll mostly be doing is solving various different puzzles to advance through the game. Usually this involves a few different environments to wander through and explore, combining and using items as you go to achieve your goals. In short, then, standard point and click fare, but as every veteran of the genre knows it’s the game’s logic that truly makes or breaks it. Going back to Deponia again it featured a rather mad-cap style of puzzles and solutions, but the important thing is that they always made logical sense within the game’s world, requiring you to simply adjust the way you think, possibly by hitting yourself with a hammer a few times and sticking a crayon up your nose. Being set on Earth and featuring a far bleaker and darker storyline A New Beginning has opted to go with a more sensible style of logic that makes perfect, every-day, Earth sense, rather than the more bonkers logic which point and click games tend to subscribe to, usually for the sheer entertainment value that such methods provide. So, instead of doing things like mixing the ultimate coffee to wake up a girl in a coma or gathering together things to make voodoo doll you do far more sensible things that actually tend to make sense, such as using a tape recorder to distract somebody or fixing a boat DIY style with every day objects that you find around the place. Obviously a few more interesting challenges do show up, like having to disarm a bomb, but for the most part puzzles in A New Beginning are sort of…mundane. It’s not that they’re badly designed or anything, it’s just that they’re not usually that exciting to solve, and because they do actually adhere to the type of logic you use on a daily basis they’re also pretty easy. Of course the flipside of this is that you can actually sit down, look at the items in your inventory and then work out the entire solution in your head, something which can often be tricky to do in other point and click games because they’re insane.
Like most games in the genre there are also a few moments when logic goes entirely out the window, but thankfully they’re pretty rare, like that one puzzle solution which involves a bloody obscure reference to baldness. The game also isn’t always that great at giving you an idea of what you should be doing. You’ve probably never noticed it all that much but point and click games usually do employ subtle (Ha!) environmental clues and dialogue hints to guide you along and keep the gameplay flowing, but A New Beginning has several sections where the designers entirely forgot about that stuff leaving you to wander around clicking on things until something happens which illuminates the way forward. Again, though, these moments are rare.
In short, then, A New Beginning’s actual gameplay is solid but far from a shining example of what the genre is capable of. The puzzles are usually well designed and usually adhere to logic like a Vulcan trapped in the middle on your average Internet argument, but they’re also not terribly exciting and only a couple of them could actually be described as challenging. To be fair, though, balancing the difficulty in games like this is a tricky business because you can never be entirely sure about the IQ level of the gamer in question – on the one hand it could be Steven Hawking playing, while on the other it could be somebody thrown out of the military because they couldn’t even manage to spell “X” correctly when it came to signing the papers. The developers have played it safe by placing their game on the easy side of the fence to ensure people will actually get to see the end, but with internet walkthroughs readily available it would have been nice if a A New Beginning offered a bit more of a challenge for genre veterans. However, I am coming across as rather harsh here and so I repeat that the puzzles are indeed solid, so even though you may not find yourself scratching your head all that much you should still have a good time getting through them. I’m also pleased to report that the game also continues Daedalic’s trend of having the Space Bar highlight all interactive objects when its held down, which is damn handy for those us us that don’t want to have to search every square inch of the screen for a tiny object that was gleefully hiding behind something else.
I do have a bit of a bone to pick with A New Beginning, though: where on this dirty little planet is my fullscreen mode? It’s the year 2013 (or 2012 if you’ve not fully recovered from the New Year yet) and yet for some baffling reason A New Beginning is stuck in the 4:3 aspect ratio, stubbornly refusing to move like a greedy, fat kid at the candy shop, leaving me playing through the entire game with two black pillars on the sides of my screen, something which can only be described as bloody annoying in this 16:9 age. This problem certainly doesn’t ruin the game or anything, but it deserves mention.
Actually, there’s a few other problems as well, such as odd audio glitches and moments where the conversations sound like they’ve been stitched together with voices ending or starting a touch too early. And then there’s the fact that the subtitles quite often either don’t match what’s being said or contain spelling errors. Oh, and sometimes the game reverted back to German for no apparent reason, unless it was homesick but I didn’t stop to ask it. There’s a few glitches chucked in as well, such as a cutscene replaying itself when I walked through a door, another where I got teleported across the map and another one where my inventory wouldn’t close and I couldn’t do anything. Also, there was one where the radial menu popped up and wouldn’t go away, even when I started shouting at it and threatening its family.
Right, so A New Beginning – how do I honestly feel about it? And the truth is that my overriding thought about the game is, “It was alright”. I completed it, and then, as the credits rolled, I thought, “Yeah, that was alright.” Now, as I write this review and think back to the game, nothing truly jumps out at me: there’s no memories that instantly present themselves with labels like, “that bit was great,” and, “Remember this?”. I enjoyed playing A New Beginning, and I’m sure any other point and click fan will as well, but if you’re not a fan of the genre or you’re new to it then this isn’t the place to start, rather you should go and pick up Deponia, because it’s a shining example of why point and click games are still ace.
+ Great story.
+ Looks good.
+ Solid, logical puzzle design.
– But not exactly exciting puzzle design.
– Voice acting. Good grief!
– Boring characters
A New Beginning does look rather pretty, doesn’t it? Art-styles are always a very personal thing, but somehow I don’t think many people are going to dislike the visual style that A New Beginning presents.
The music manages to balance out the bloody awful voice acting to a degree.
I found this hard to score, because on the one hand the actual storyline is worth a good 8 or 9, but the dialogue, voice acting and boring characters quickly weigh it down and make it hard to actually get into what’s happening. Therefore, taking this into account, a 7 feels fair.
The puzzle design is solid and the solutions almost always feel logical and sensible, but there’s just not much here that makes A New Beginning standout. I enjoyed solving the puzzles, but they were hardly exciting nor that fun.
A New Beginning should last you around 8-10 hours, obviously depending on how well your mind matches up with the style of puzzles.
The Verdict: 6.5
A New Beginning is worth your time if you’re a big point and click fan looking for something new to play: the storyline does get marred by those problems that we shall no longer mention, but if you can handle that then it’s pretty good, and the gameplay itself is solid point and click fare. In short, it’s alright. It’s okay. Just short of being good, but above average. I admit this is hardly something the publishers are going to quote on the box, but at least it’s honest.