With the recent announcement and release of the third episode of Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, I decided to finally play the first two games after sitting on them for several months. Released on PC, Mac, Linux, and Steam in 2008,the Hothead Penny Arcade games mark the webcomic’s foray into the world of gaming, and many wondered if the comic would translate well into the video gaming medium.
The first two Penny Arcade Adventures episodes, set in 1920’s America, follow the story of a player-named and player-created character on his or her quest to find a new home after a large robot crushed the character’s abode. Along the way, the character meets up with the comic’s two main characters, Gabe and Tycho, and the three set off to solve the mysteries behind the giant robot and the many groups of villains that have begun to pop up. The writing, as one might expect, is the game’s strongest point; the Penny Arcade brand of raunchy humor carries over very well into video games. In these first two episodes, the party runs into hobos, mime cultists, rich snobs, evil clowns, a “urinologist”, the robotic “Fruit Fuckers”, and more. The narrative and writing are certainly not for everybody; people who do not like the Penny Arcade webcomic almost certainly will not care for the game’s particular style of humor. For those who do like the comic strip, though, On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness provides more of the Penny Arcade humor its readers have come to expect.
Gameplay-wise, the two Hothead PA games are not terribly noteworthy. The battle system uses an ATB-like system of turn development; at one level of gauge, the character can use items, and the second and third levels allow basic attacks and special abilities, respectively. Correctly timed presses of the space bar during enemy attacks allow characters to block some, most, or potentially even all of the damage from an attack, and a perfectly timed block allows the character to get a free hit in on the enemy rather than taking damage. The out-of-combat controls do take some getting used to, as movement is done by clicking the mouse on the place to which the player wishes to move. This form of movement is extremely clunky and not particularly efficient. The combat is not terribly exciting but it is at least solid and fairly balanced. Items in these two Penny Arcade Adventures games are extremely common and useful, to the point that all of the buffing and debuffing items were nerfed in the second game. Overall, the gameplay is not amazing nor particularly bad; it is average and manages to stay interesting enough that the writing can carry the game along.
The graphics of the Hothead PA games are not very good; the 3D models for the characters look especially awful. The 2D models during dialogue, however, are good and look like they were lifted directly from the comic strip. The games’ major cutscenes use an almost comic-book style of art and action, which does make for good looking cutscenes. It is really a shame, then, that the 3D parts of the game look so bad, since the 2D looks just like the webcomic. The music is by and large forgettable; the overwhelming majority of the tracks are not especially good, bad, or really interesting at all. Given the games’ fairly low price points, though, it is not unsurprising that the technical aspects of the games are somewhat lacking. These technical flaws, however, are still worth noting.
So then, are the first two Penny Arcade Adventure games worth the price of admission? Fans of the webcomic are advised to pick these up on a Steam sale, as the games are a decent expansion of the comic. People who do not like Penny Arcade, though, are better off avoiding these two games, as the gameplay by itself is not very exceptional or notable. It is worth pointing out that Zeboyd Games, makers of Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World have signed on to finish the series, with Episode Three released in July 2012 and the fourth and final game slated for release sometime in 2013. Reviews of those two, however, will have to wait for another time.