GAME REVIEW: Resonance

Once banished to the “back in the day” wing of the video game hall of fame, adventure games have seen an increase in popularity in the last couple of years due to titles ranging from the evolutionary equivalent (“Heavy Rain“) to the pure point and click (the Telltale collection).

Resonance,” from Wadjeteye Games, is part of the latter. Rather than try to update and gentrify the genre for a new audience, though, the developers have gone the route of nostalgia and created an experience that is artistically and fundamentally similar to the original crop of adventure titles that helped popularize the genre in the early 90s.

“Resonance” is the story of four people (that you control, anyway) who find their lives intertwined by the search for a brilliant scientist’s prototype for a new electrical device that looks to have caused mass destruction in several major cities across the globe. Their reasons for the pursuit are all different, but it becomes clear very quickly that all of them will need each other, not just for their own benefits, but for the greater good as well.

More than any technical aspects like graphics (though the art style is quite good for what it is), the biggest draw of any good adventure title has always been a great story, and that’s why I’m happy to report that “Resonance’s” plot is indeed a great one. It contains all of the twists, turns, and old fashioned intrigue you would expect from such a conspiracy setup, and it constantly manages to move the player and its characters from interesting scenario to interesting scenario with very few lulls. The real driving force of the game’s story is its characters. You control each of them independently and in groups throughout the game, and along the way you really do get a great feel for their unique circumstances and individual motivations behind their journeys. I hate to use the old cop out, but to go into any further detail would ruin the number one reason to play this game.

Unfortunately, the quality writing of the overall plot does not extend to the game’s dialogue. While there are clever lines and quips sprinkled here and there, the actual script seems weak and relies mostly on predictable and heavy-handed lines and poorly-timed jokes. A good part of the title is voice acted, but the performances do little to cover for the weak script. It’s not like any of them are horrific, but you will rarely meet a character that doesn’t come across like they’re reading straight from a script. Considering the great narrative the game is working with, the actual conversations that build it should have been stronger. Maybe I’m spoiled by classic adventure tiles like “Grim Fandango” and “Curse of Monkey Island” having some of the best dialogue bits in gaming, but there is still little here that makes itself memorable.

Of course, for most games, something like that wouldn’t really matter much if the gameplay is exceptional. Unfortunately, this is another area were “Resonance” is hit and miss. The puzzles that make up the majority of the game are often creative and feature a welcome level of challenge that will prevent you from breezing through the title without making you feel like you’re using more than deductive reasoning to figure of them out. There is a genuine sense of accomplishment in solving the game’s tougher mind teasers, and that is an absolutely vital factor to the enjoyment level of titles like this.

However, there is a considerable number of the game’s puzzles and levels that fall victim to “Resonance’s” biggest shortcoming, the “memory system.” In addition to the usual inventory of items you will acquire, you can also keep a mental inventory of sorts about the game’s environment. Basically, anything in the environment that can be interacted with or examined can be kept in your short term memory inventory for reference in conversation (as well as a long term memory bank which is often added to automatically at key points). The idea is that you can use these mental notes in a conversation to help draw the correct information from someone and solve a large number of “Resonance’s” puzzles.

It’s a fun and original idea that falls apart in execution. Too often you will find yourself juggling your limited memory inventory between all the objects in the game, and just trying to bring up every one of them in conversation with everyone you meet, with the vague idea that it’s somehow what you are supposed to do. For the most part, it’s a system that is either frustratingly simple or incredibly difficult when the idea of what you’re supposed to be referencing to whom is not clear.

There are also too many instances of knowing exactly what you need to do to progress, but not knowing exactly what bit of information you need to get there. When you combine this with the game’s traditional inventory, which can also (and often must be) referenced in conversation, you find yourself spending most of the game juggling through your inventory menus even when you know what the solution is, not to mention when you’re just fishing for a clue. It’s a shame, because there are a few parts in the game that do make good use of this system, but ultimately feel like a teaser to what could have been if the memory idea was used more conservatively at better ventures instead of as a necessity that evolves into a burden.

“Resonance” is really a hard game to sum up in a review score. While its easy to harp on the game’s flaws, much of what makes the experience memorable and worthwhile (the great story, fantastic art direction and specific puzzles) are either difficult to properly explain or simply impossible to detail without ruining the plot. “Resonance” is a game that’s been in development for around five years, and the parts of it that shine reflect that full level of commitment. However, that also makes the parts of the game that come up short that much more frustrating. There were so many opportunities for this game to be something more, and it constantly prevents itself from doing that.

While “Resonance” isn’t exactly a case of one step forward and two steps back, it is a game that finds itself jogging in place for most of its runtime. If you can accept its shortcoming, and especially if you are a fan of the genre, you will find that once the game does take off, it does so in a memorable way. As a love letter to adventure titles and a new path down memory lane, “Resonance” succeeds. It’s just a shame that in a game filled with so much intrigue, there is no mystery as to who exactly it is intended for.

  

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