Every once in awhile there's something I review that I enjoyed too much to limit to one sentence. One of those things is Penny Arcade's new foray into gaming, "On the Rain-slick Precipice of Darkness." The series is episodic and one can only hope that the episodes aren't Valve-style year apart releases.
You play a player-created character whose house is smashed in by a giant robot. Thirsty for revenge, you meet up with detectives Tycho and Gabe (the comic's creators) tracking the robot. Before you know it, you're up to your knees in hobos, urine, mimes, and vulgar little robots.
First, half of what makes this game is its style. The game is a 3d rendition of Penny Arcade's art style and let me just say it looks fantastic. It has its own unique look ala Psychonauts. If you've ever read any of the news associated with each entry of PA, you know that the authors have some way with words and that really shines through the game. Where other developers might have totally ruined the story with bad dialogue and un-funny banter, Tycho and Gabe fill it with hilarious writing and silly phrases. Dialog is split from the 3D scenes and instead in comic book form, with you selecting different responses to advance the conversation. In true comic book style, there will also be 3rd person descriptions of goings-on during the conversation (e.g. "The mime looked to his right, startled at the sight of his bloodied appendage."). Further, sometimes different sound FX will accompany events during the conversation, it's just very well thought out.
I think the most fun comes in the battles which are real-time turn based style. Each character can perform 3 actions along with 3 additional support character special attacks. You can use an inventory item, perform a basic attack, and then perform a special attack. Strategy plays into this sequence because you have to wait for each action to charge before using it and they charge sequentially, resetting if you use one. This means that if you want to, say, increase one character's attack you should use a different character's inventory action so that the target character can perform a charged special attack. In addition, there's a few cool enhancements you get in battles which I'll let you discover.
While the battle and inventory system incorporates RPG elements, the main game is an adventure game. You can click on objects to get a short witty blurb or to interact with them. The camera is fixed but it doesn't bother you or get in the way. NPCs are a bit lacking, providing only a few different lines of dialogue in an area but there are several you can do "quests" for and interact with. There are a number of cut scenes that are absolutely great and well-done. They preserve the comic book nature of the game very well.
Amazing art, hilarious story, and witty writing aside, RSPD is found wanting in a few areas. I would have preferred it to be longer, because 3-4 hours probably doesn't justify the $20 price tag. I was able to collect most of the bonus content and got all the weapon upgrades, robot parts, and maxed my characters. I think having more of the town instead of quickly traveling to your destination would have increased the time, as long as there were things to do on the way. I think there should have been more to do in general, as most cases (quests) get closed by the time you beat the end boss. The narrator of the game is amazing and I wish there had been more voice overs of the same quality because he is entertaining as hell.
That said, this is an independent game and is the first episode and because of that, it's an excellent first attempt (better than I could accomplish). They had the awesome combination of good artists and good writers (themselves) so all they had to get was good developers, which they did at Hothead Studios.