Last year's Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Episode One marked the surprisingly smooth and assured debut of the popular webcomic franchise in game form. The retro-style role-playing adventure game featured the art and words of PA's creators and the development muscle of Vancouver-based Hothead Games. The resulting title for the PC, Linux, and Xbox 360 received positive marks. This was a very good thing, considering Hothead and Penny Arcade intended the game to be the first in an episodic series. The ensuing months have seen work proceed on the sequel, Episode Two, which picks up where the last game left off and adds a number of tweaks to the experience. We got a guided tour of the upcoming game from Hothead in its booth at this year's Penny Arcade Expo, and we were able to check out the promising new content.
Penny Arcade Adventures follows Gabe and Tycho, the hetero life-mate founders of The Startling Developments Detective Agency, who have been looking into troubling activities in the city of New Arcadia. For those who didn't play through Episode One, their investigating led to clashes with mimes, hobos, fabulously coiffed slumlords, robots of varying sizes, and demons. In that adventure they teamed up with a hapless bystander (played by you) who was sucked into their web of excitement when a large robot stomped their house to bits. Episode Two picks up roughly where Episode One left off and finds Gabe and Tycho continuing their investigations. As for your character, life has almost settled back into routine, with your house having been rebuilt. Unfortunately, much like in a buddy cop movie, Gabe and Tycho wind up trashing your house and pulling you back into their investigative shenanigans in dramatic fashion. While this really screws up your insurance premiums, it's a perfect setup for the sequel.
The unlikely heroic trio will venture off into new areas including the Cloying Odor Sanitarium (yep, just what it sounds like), Riverbrook Park Estates (the antihobo area), and the Symposium of Man (a science conference). Our demo showed off the Riverbrook Park Estates, a gated community of rich folk who are none too pleased to have the boys around. The diamond-spewing fountains, solid gold mailboxes, and ostentatious displays of wealth offer a flashy change of pace from the more rundown areas previously seen in the game. The Cloying Odor Sanitarium is an insane asylum that appears to be pretty full. The sanitarium level shed some light on the game's story courtesy of a new character named Wolfington, who runs the place. Evidently, he's responsible for committing some of Tycho's family, which has caused some ill will that Tycho is apparently set on working through by killing him (which, admittedly, is one way to handle it). While we didn't get a look at the Symposium of Man, Hothead reps mentioned it's equal parts science seminar and comic book convention. The boys will be dispatched there in part by Ann-Claire, Tycho's science-genius niece, who's looking for the autographs of some science luminaries. The level should also include appearances from some sciencey types seen in the last game, which, we expect, will include the urine-obsessed hobo scientist.
From a content standpoint, Episode Two follows the same basic model as the original game. You'll venture to different locations and interact with characters, solve puzzles, collect items, fight a bunch of eccentric foes, earn experience, and level up. However, this time out Hothead has tweaked a few things based on feedback on the original game. The first big tweak is the addition of selectable difficulty levels and an even more challenging, unlockable "insane" mode. Combat has been tweaked, with the various minigames for character special attacks being changed up some. There have also been some changes to weapons: Tycho now rolls with a shotgun, while your character has lost the lowly rake and gained a hoe. While Gabriel still hits things with his fists, there are new upgrades to be gained as your characters level. The game will also feature some subtle additions to the mix in the form of more cues to help players. For instance, the flashes during combat that alerted you to block will now also flash the word "block" on your opponent's life bar. You'll also hear audio chimes when your support character's special attacks are ready.
In terms of visuals, Episode Two is on par with the previous installment in the series. The character editor for your custom character has gained new parts for you to trick out different elements of your virtual self. The new parts can be used on preexisting characters that you import off the save date from the previous game or if you start a new game. The 3D models based on the Penny Arcade artwork look sharp and have the same whimsical design sense. The new rich folk that you beat up look suitably snooty, and the spider enemies look menacing in the right ways.
Based on this early look, Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Episode Two is shaping up to be a strong sequel. The quality of the story looks to be on par with that of the first game, especially the humor, and the gameplay tweaks add some nice polish. The new areas are a nice, goofy addition to the eccentric world being created for the game. If you were a fan of the first game, you'll find a lot to entertain you in Episode Two. Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Episode Two is slated to ship this fall for Linux, Mac, PC, and PlayStation 3. Look for more on the game in the coming months.