Adventure games have had somewhat of a resurgence in recent years. Thanks to studios like Telltale Games as well as distributors like Steam and GOG, old-school gamers have been given the opportunity to revisit some of the classics from years past, and younger ones who missed out the first time around get to see what the hype was all about. Along with the old classics being reissued, developers are taking the basic tools of the genre and using them to craft entirely new stories. One of these is Resonance by xii Games and Wadjet Eye Games. It is a contemporary thriller in which you navigate four characters, each with a part to play and a stake in the outcome, as they work to figure out the cause of a mysterious explosion and the implications of the technology behind it.
On the surface, the design of Resonance is familiar. If you’ve ever played a point-and-click game, it will feel familiar right away. If not, there’s a handy ‘How To Play’ tutorial accessible from the main menu. Left-clicking the mouse triggers context-sensitive actions, and right-clicking will examine an item and provide you with vital information. Once you have items in your inventory, you can use them on items by selecting and dragging them over to a person or thing. It’s an intuitive system that minimizes the amount of trial and error gameplay that often plagues this genre.
The User Interface is clean, unobtrusive, and generally quite easy to navigate. There are three areas which can be accessed by characters: Inventory, Long Term Memory, and Short Term Memory. It also provides a ticker tape of context-sensitive hints for puzzles. on the right side of the UI is the character selection, in which you can immediately switch between them as needed. Items can (as long as they are not intrinsically linked to a particular character) be traded from one person to another. As the story progresses, the mechanics of item sharing and character switching becomes essential to solving puzzles.
The ‘Memory’ functions are unique to Resonance. Long Term Memory records critical story information as a log that can be accessed by clicking on it. It is useful for remembering an earlier conversation. Additionally, it can be applied to conversations and puzzles as a solution. The way Short Term Memory works is that you hold the mouse button down on an item and then drag it into your ‘STM’ area. There are about 10 spaces for memories. What you need to do is, when talking to someone, drag the memory over to the conversation and it will trigger you talking about that particular thing. This one in particular is innovative and unique, but it does take a little getting used to. It works well and is easy enough to do once you have done it a couple of times. It can be a little bit awkward and time-consuming, however, having to go around collecting ‘memory items’ not knowing which one(s) are useful or not. It feels like a bit of a throwback to the olden days of Point-and-Click in which you just needed to cycle through your inventory until something happened.
The puzzles themselves are challenging, entertaining, and (most importantly) logical. Make no mistake, they can be tough particularly when you’re switching between characters or trading items between them. However, at no point during this game did I complete a puzzle and think to myself, “How the Hell was I supposed to know THAT?!?” Some context-sensitive actions (i.e. cutting a rope with a piece of broken glass) add to the tension and break the monotony of point-and-click puzzle solving. Resonance handles Fail States very well. Some points in the game can be very tense (more on that below), and it is possible to fail from time to time. Instead of reloading a save however, it just does a ‘fast rewind’ to the beginning of the scenario. In a sense, it is basically just restarting the level but at most I only lost about 2 minutes of play-time. The only puzzles that fall flat are unfortunately near the end of the game. They are a couple of critical conversation puzzles in which you need to choose the right prompts or you have to start over again. They certainly didn’t damage my overall enjoyment of the game, but they seemed less about creative solutions and feeling clever than ticking boxes in the right order until the green light goes on. The fact that they were right near the climax of the game makes it doubly disappointing because of how riveting it is up until then.
[+Handy tutorial] [+Easy to use interface] [+Innovative 'memory' system] [+Clever yet logical puzzles] [-Short Term Memory mechanic slightly clumsy] [-Conversation puzzles are unforgiving, and a frustrating way to end the game]
For such a modestly produced game, the voice acting is quite impressive. The performances are nuanced and convincing; certainly more so than many games with exponentially larger budgets (I’m looking at YOU, Heavy Rain). The soundtrack to Resonance is also wonderful. It changes gears to suit the twisty nature of this story and complements the overall presentation nicely without being overbearing.
Because gameplay options are limited with this genre, Point-and-Clicks earn their keep on characters and story. Resonance has both in spades. This game begins with an explosion in a lab and introduces you to four people, connected to the event in various ways, who try to figure out the mystery behind it. You play as Ed (a Lab Assistant), Anna (a Doctor), Bennet (a Police Detective), and Ray (an Investigative Journalist). As the game progresses, each character’s background is slowly revealed, evoking equal parts empathy and unease towards their true motivations.
Right from the start, I was completely enthralled by the characters and story, which made the plot twists that much more jarring. There are some legitimately shocking moments that I didn’t see coming, were brilliantly executed, and made me want to go back and restart the game immediately after finishing. This is a mature game for mature gamers, and it has little to do with its content. While there is swearing and some shocking violence, Resonance addresses complex themes such as institutional control, convenient alliances, and the concept of information management as an arms race. In some ways, this game ventures into Metal Gear Solid 2 territory by never letting the player stand on truly solid thematic or narrative ground. From the ‘sit up and pay attention’ opening to the haunting ending (well, endings — there are a few depending on how the last section plays out), Resonance is an exceptional experience.
[+Solid voice acting] [+Varied and well-implemented soundtrack] [+Memorable and realistic characters] [+Ambitious and provocative story]
Resonance can be purchased directly from the official sites of both developers or from GOG. It costs $9.99 at regular price. It takes about 5 hours to complete the first time through, and my in-game score was 303/340. There were some undiscovered threads that clearly I missed out on, so I’m going to try again. Also (and I can’t get into this because of spoilers), because of how this story plays out it is definitely worth going through a second time to see how major events are foreshadowed. In short; at least two playthroughs at $10? That’s a fantastic deal!
[+Only $10] [+Plot twists and multiple endings guarantee at least two playthroughs]
It’s been a long, long time since I’ve played an adventure game …Hell, a game PERIOD… whose story has commanded my attention as much as in Resonance. While there are a few annoying puzzles that have survived the cryogenic slumber of Point-and-Click adventures over the years, this is overall a slickly produced and mechanically sound package. It is an adventure game that makes the player feel smart and engaged. Story-wise, this game is an object lesson for game designers that; regardless of budget, graphics, or popular trends, there is no substitute for a gripping story with well-developed characters. Resonance is well worth playing if you are a veteran of adventure games, and an appropriate gateway for those new to the genre.
[+Handy tutorial] [+Easy to use interface] [+Innovative 'memory' system] [+Clever yet logical puzzles] [+Solid voice acting] [+Varied and well-implemented soundtrack] [+Memorable and realistic characters] [+Ambitious and provocative story] [+Only $10] [+Plot twists and multiple endings guarantee at least two playthroughs] [-Short Term Memory mechanic slightly clumsy] [-Conversation puzzles are unforgiving, and a frustrating way to end the game]