Runaway: A Road Adventure is a new entry in the traditional adventure game genre from Spanish developer Pendulo Studios. Well, Runaway is new to the United States--the game's been available in Europe for quite a while, but it's just now showing up on these shores with fully translated text and English dialogue. In the fast-paced world of PC games, a delay of just a few months can make your game look dated when it's finally released, so you might expect a delay of well over a year to be Runaway's death knell. However, adventure games depend more on creativity than technology, and it's for this reason that Runaway is just as enjoyable today as it was when it was originally released. The game is a reasonably well-made attempt at revitalizing the adventure game spirit of old, and though it may not quite live up to the standard-bearers of the genre, it's certainly of sufficient quality that adventure fans should give it a look.
The story in Runaway follows Brian Basco, a recent college graduate based on the East Coast who's looking to continue his studies out West. Brian takes off on a road trip so he can begin a postgraduate stint at UC Berkeley, but he doesn't even make it out of town before his plans are reduced to shambles by a collision with damsel in distress named Gina. Brian's big heart demands that he help Gina, who is not surprisingly being pursued by some jackbooted mafiosi, and together they take off to flee the thugs and also discover the secret of a mysterious artifact entrusted to Gina by her slain secret-agent father. If this setup sounds a little far-fetched, it is, but as you wend your way through the plot, you'll find a fair number of interesting places and people, as well as some unexpected twists (especially toward the end). Overall, the story is pretty evenly paced and should satisfy all but the most discriminating gamers.
If you've played just about any point-and-click adventure game from the past decade, you'll be right at home with Runaway's control scheme. If you click a spot on the ground, Brian will walk there. The cursor is context-sensitive, so if you pass over an object, you'll get a magnifying glass that lets you examine it, and if you highlight a path for moving offscreen, you'll get an arrow that lets you go there. Hitting the right mouse button lets you cycle through any other relevant actions, such as operate or take. Your inventory is available at the touch of the Tab key, and you can even move to a new screen without waiting for Brian to walk there by double-clicking (which is a huge time-saver). The puzzles are almost all of the "combine item A with item B and apply to hot spot C" nature, which is what you'd expect of an inventory-based adventure game, though there's a good amount of dialogue-tree character interaction going on as well. In gameplay terms, Runaway is pretty much by the numbers, but it works well for what it is.
Visually, Runaway has a lot of panache. Adventure games are scarce enough as it is these days, and it seems like most of the ones that do come out use CG as the basis for their backgrounds, whether they're real time or prerendered. Given this, Runaway's look is refreshingly traditional. It features a huge number of lovingly hand-painted backgrounds that will remind longtime adventurers of their old favorites, and the character models are cel-shaded 3D models that animate very well and blend in perfectly with the backgrounds. It's really a treat to see this much style put into a game's visuals, especially in a game that will run on an original Pentium with no 3D accelerator. The game's sounds are less remarkable, however. What few effects there are generally sound fine, and the music is pretty good, though a bit understated. The voice acting, alas, ranges from pretty good to pretty bad, and it's even glaringly obvious in a couple of spots that the same actor or actress was used to voice multiple characters. None of the voice acting is so horrendous that you'll want to cover your ears (or just turn off your speakers), but it does detract from the charm of the game somewhat.
Runaway has a few other shortcomings. For instance, the game just isn't as humorous as it could have been. Perhaps it's because this version of the game is a translation, but the humor demanded by some of the game's story elements, like a trio of drag-queen divas stranded in the desert, isn't quite there, at least not in force like it ought to be. The writing isn't a total bore, but you won't get the constant one-two comedic punch as you would from a game by Tim Schafer or the Two Guys from Andromeda. On the technical side, some of the objects you're meant to interact with are nearly impossible to pick out from the backgrounds, and you'll probably end up having to comb every pixel with your cursor looking for a hidden hot spot before you locate certain essential items. This can be a real pain sometimes, though on the other hand, it does make you pay more attention to the details in the game's art. Finally, some of the puzzle solutions are really on the odd side and not entirely logical, so you'll end up picking up every available item and trying to put them together in every possible combination in hopes of stumbling on an unorthodox solution.
Nevertheless, if you've been searching for an adventure game worth your while, Runaway: A Road Adventure is for you. It has pretty much everything you'd want out of a solid adventure experience, like diverse settings, a good storyline, wacky characters, and lots of complex puzzles. Even if some of its elements aren't up to the standard set by the greatest adventure games ever released, Runaway is still a good game that's recommendable to fans of the genre, as well as those who maybe haven't tried this style of gaming before.