Fans of the popular Web comic Penny Arcade know it to be many things: smart, vulgar, irreverent, vulgar, witty, vulgar, and so on. Those elements are certainly on display in Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Episode One, a graphical adventure game that features Gabe and Tycho from the comic strip, along with other characters. What’s not so familiar, though, is the setting, an alternate 1920s universe where suburbia, pre-Great Depression America, a lot of weirdness comes together. With the game due out in the second quarter of this year, we got a chance recently to watch an extensive play session that showed everything from character creation to combat to the first boss fight. What we saw will appeal to Penny Arcade fans, however its colorful style and even more colorful humor may strike a chord with those who haven’t read the strip.
The demonstration that we were given expanded a bit on the one given at last August’s Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle. It’s 1922 in New Arcadia, the fictional burg where Gabe and Tycho run their detective agency, Startling Developments. You, however, don’t get to play as either of them. Instead, you create a new character minding your own business when a giant robot crushes your house. There’s no motivation like good old-fashioned revenge (forget high-minded ideals), so it doesn’t take long before you join up with Gabe and Tycho and battle robots both big and small, along with hobos and other foes. This isn’t an action game, though, but an adventure game with a fairly involved and deep battle system.
The entire first level of the game is a tutorial of sorts, and it has your character (who can be either male or female) battling down a suburban street against Fruit Fornicator robots. (Yes, fans of the series will recognize the robots have a different name in Penny Arcade, but we’re trying to be clean, here.) Basically, you’re raking the leaves in your front lawn one day when a super-sized version of the Fruit Fornicator stomps on your abode and takes off down the street. With your rake in hand, you go in pursuit, having to battle smaller robots along the way.
The combat system looks like its taken from Final Fantasy and other Japanese role-playing games, but it’s not a strict turn-based affair where your characters make and move and then the enemy takes a turn. Instead, it’s a simultaneous system where characters can attack or execute an action as soon as they are able. Whatever action that you select for your character, from attacking an opponent--using a buff to temporarily boost your attack rating or speed, a debuff to strip away an opponent’s buff, or using an item in combat--activates a cooldown timer that must run down before you can make another movie. Once the timer runs down, you can perform another action. If you have a party containing Gabe, Tycho, and your character, you’re basically juggling all three of them at once. For instance, Gabe might make a melee attack, and afterwards while his timer is cooling down you might have Tycho execute a special ability, and afterwards while his timer is cooling down you might have your character use a bandage to heal Gabe. At the same time, the enemy is also making attacks and performing actions. It’s a bit complex, but it makes for a very challenging and surprisingly deep system.
Pervading the game is its sense of humor, which is highlighted in the many conversations that Gabe and Tycho will have with your character, enemies, and with each other. To say it’s a bit colorful would be something of an understatement, as swear words are thrown about constantly. At the same time, there’s intelligence in the dialogue, a pop culture hipness almost. The dialogue and text for the game was written by Jerry “Tycho” Holkins, but it seems like it could have also been penned by famous writer/director Kevin Smith.
The entire game will take anywhere between six to eight hours, though more deliberate players who want to take their time and explore everything can take up to 10, we’re told. Keep in mind that this is but the first episode of the series, as well. Joel DeYoung of developer Hothead Games says that episode two is deep in production, and work is even underway on episode three already. The plan is to release episodes on a quarterly basis. The game will be distributed digitally for PC, Mac, and Linux platforms, and there will also be an Xbox Live Arcade game. It’s possible that once a certain amount of episodes have been released a retail compilation could also be put together. Episode One looks like an intriguing and downright funny game, and we’re looking forward to its release.