Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Backwoods Entertainment
Publisher: Application Systems Heidelberg
Review code supplied free of charge by the publisher.
Y‘know, when I was but a tiny human person playing games like Driver or GTA III or Mortal Kombat I also had a love of point and click games that came from my mum. Still, as I grew up I always thought it would be a genre destined to fade into obscurity as technology marched forwards toward a presumably horrible future where sentient video games take over the world. I still loved the games, but at the time they seemed so antiquated compared to the vast worlds that were being built. What was Guybrush to do against the might of CJ as he roamed a huge map of San Andreas? And yet here I am in 2018 still happily enjoying figuring out little puzzles. Man, I’m glad I was wrong. The point and click genre is still going strong.
The star of the game is Harper Pendrell, a well-meaning guy who studiously tries to avoid hard work but who also has a love of taking things apart to see how they function. He’s a bit of a handyman, in other words, and is for the most part completely unassuming. Unlike so many other protagonists in point and click games he’s also a rather nice guy. He doesn’t act like a colossal jerk to everyone he meets. He has friends and everything, by which I mean actual friends and not the ones in other games that mostly exist for the protagonist to poke fun at. It’s almost jarring at times, your point and click reflexes automatically moving to take advantage of a character’s fear only to find out that isn’t the solution because Harper is a good guy who isn’t out to abuse everyone else.
Of course, this is a game so it doesn’t take long for Harper’s life to get flip-turned upside down as a mysterious virus hits his home of Yelltown. This deadly disease can kill in mere hours, its victims bleeding from the mouth and eyes. Harper sees this close-up when he encounters a dying woman who begs him not to call the RHC, the force tasked with battling the spread of the disease that is decimating towns. Baffled he finds himself steered toward a journalist called Helliwell. Along with her and Professor McBride, Harper goes on a journey to find out just what the hell is going on.
I’m not going to say anything else for fear of spoilers, but suffice to say this forms the basic premise of the game’s narrative. The story here is surprisingly strong stuff. There are a few missteps along the way, especially with two characters who I feel didn’t have enough screentime before the ending sequence.
Despite the bleak concept surrounding the story and the high stakes this is a light-hearted affair with an understated sense of humor. It doesn’t go in for daft visual gags or wackiness, instead opting for smart dialogue with witty lines that always made me want to explore every conversation option. Its smart design because listening to everything a character says is often important to progressing, but in so many other point and click games you can find yourself skipping through conversations because the people just aren’t interesting or the jokes don’t land. That’s not the case with Unforeseen Incidents.
The way the script was handled is utterly fascinating. The game has been created by Backwoods Studios, a German company. This can present problems when translating into other languages, especially when you’re dealing with humor where many things simply don’t translate. On the German side the writing was handled by Marcus Bäumer, while for the English script they brought in stand-up comedian Beckett-King. I can’t attest to the German version of the script but the English one works brilliantly with nary a joke, word or idea that feels alien or out of place.
I can’t tell you how nice it was to be playing as someone who didn’t take every opportunity to be a jackass to the people around him. It seems the developers were all too aware of the point and click trope as well, dropping in a number of things that seem to hint toward a puzzle solution being something mean like spiking coffee with a diuretic, but then having the real answer be something completely different. In fact, there’s a lot of red herrings here designed to throw you off the trail. Lots of items can be picked up and have full descriptions when clicked on, yet have no bearing on the game.
Despite that, in true point and click fashion you’ll spend most of your time taking anything that isn’t nailed down in case it becomes useful later, and trying to figure out the various puzzles barring your way. Again the game proves that it has studied the genre and knows what to avoid; puzzles are grounded in the in-game universe’s logic, the solutions typically making perfect sense when you stop and think about it which makes solving them feel all the more satisfying. There’s rarely if ever a massive leap in logic needed to figure something out, and the puzzles are almost universally well designed. There are a couple of clunkers in the middle, but these are offset by a couple of great ones too, including a sequence where you need to figure out some inane ramblings.
Hats off to the voice actors, too. Given this is a point and click title from a small developer it’s easy to understand and forgive that the budget doesn’t stretch to Tom Cruise and the like, but Matthew Curtis does a bang-up job as Harper, making him likable and funny. More impressively is that even the minor characters you barely interact with still get strong voice acting that helps make them memorable.
If there’s something I’d point toward and say, “there, that’s a real problem” then it would be the inventory. It’s not terrible per say, it’s just clumsy. You can open it up by hovering the cursor near the top of the screen, but especially later in the game it becomes pretty fully and to navigate it you have to use the slow arrows on either side. Where the real problem lies is that a few items have a drop-down sub-menu that is often very slow to come up on-screen or that shuts itself even when the cursor is in the right place.
The art absolutely needs to be talked about, if only so I can tell you that I have no idea how to describe it. It’s unique and likely divisive. At first, I really didn’t like it, but it grew on me as the 5-7 hours it took to complete the game flew past. I love the heavy shadows and the stylized character designs. It creates a world that feels detailed and interesting.
Unforeseen Incidents doesn’t advance a genre that has arguably hit an evolutionary dead end for the time being. It doesn’t aim to do anything new or shocking. However, it does take a love of point and click puzzle games and use it to create something fun. If like me, you’re a bit of a point and click fanatic then Unforeseen Incidents is unequivocally worth buying. The puzzling is logically sound, almost everyone feels satisfying to figure out and its wrapped up in an engaging storyline that somehow manages to feel funny despite being about a horrific virus that kills whoever it encounters.
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