Reviews: Hector: Badge of Carnage Episodes 1, 2 and 3
Feel like being naughty? Oh, hell, do you feel like just being . . . . really, really wrong?
At the risk of coming off like a non-objective Tell Tale Games fanboy, I must report that the busy adventure studio has another big winner in Hector: Badge of Carnage.
A word of warning: Do not play Hector while your kids are in the room. This is not a criticism. Probably the most inappropriate adventure game I've ever played, believe me when I tell you that Hector is a riot. And when I say inappropriate, take me at my word. This is a game that has fun with drug addiction, alcoholism, murder, terrorism, prostitution, pornography, torture, animal testing, farm animal abuse, regurgitation, and bathroom humor. This game would make Stupid Invaders and its Turd Museum eligible for the Disney Channel.
A collaboration of Straandlooper (an animation studio in Northern Ireland which is evidently populated with maniacs of deliciously low taste) and adventure game stalwart Tell Tale Games, Hector is another one of those episode-based adventure games. This review will discuss all three episodes of the game.
Full disclosure: I have special weakness for the look I call "Kinetic Comic Strip." It's when animators take the conventions of a comic book:: bright, simplified, 2D graphics, frames and panels, etc., and merge them with the conventions of film and animation: dynamic parallax, sound and music, and other types of animation. I'm a huge fan of this approach, and I tend to really respond to it in games.(2)
I really liked this look in the recent A New Beginning, and particularly loved its implementation in the episodic Penny Arcade Adventure: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness.(3)
Hector takes place in the British town of Clappers Wreake, a not-precisely- quaint place where the police department is enthusiastic, if not always exactly competent. The title character is a big, profane, but dedicated detective with a working class British accent thick enough to use as wallpaper paste.
The adventure consists of three episodes, each anchored by a nasty toilet that's appalling in its own unique way.
The toilet in first episode, We Negotiate With Terrorists, is in a filthy jail cell, where our hero has been stuck for the night. It's a clever beginning, from a writing perspective, to begin with your detective incarcerated like a common drunk. It also provides a solid beginning, game-wise, as the locked room predicament is a classic staple of classic third-person adventure games. Your first set of puzzles consists of getting Hector the heck out of there.
The signature feature of these games is a gleeful tastelessness, and it begins immediately: one of the important objects you need is in the aforementioned filthy toilet.
Once you manage to spring Hector from his cell, he gets introduced to the heart of the story: There's a mad terrorist holding the city hostage. He's armed with a sniper rifle, with which he has accumulated a pile (literally) of cop corpses. Even though Hector is hung over and barely appropriately clothed, apparently he's the only marginally competent detective on the force. So it's up to him to, you guessed it: attempt to negotiate with the terrorist.
It turns out the terrorist has three curious demands: Hector is tasked with 1) closing down the local porno shop, 2) repair the town's old clock tower and 3) contribute to a local community beautification society. The remainder of Episode 1 is concerned with meeting these three demands.
As you help solve these puzzles, Hector gets to meet a variety of daffy and hilarious characters. There's Filthy Rich, the prosperous porno purveyor; a dopey Clappers Wreake booster who's trying to make the town a better place, the town drunk, and a wheelchair-bound unhinged veteran clocktower keeper.
The puzzles are fair, funny, and reasonably clever. They definitely fall into the traditional wheelhouse of third-person adventures. There are no "special screen puzzle" puzzles. Everything can be solved through dialog and manipulation of objects. It's important to remember to get creative and attempt to combine items, use items on the environment, and to explore each screen carefully. As in most games of this type, if there's something weird and obvious in the environment, there's a pretty good chance you'll need to use it before the end of the game.
Once Hector meets the mysterious terrorist's demands, the game quickly builds to a cliffhanger ending, which leaves you primed and ready to leap into Episode 2: Senseless Acts of Justice.
Senseless Acts of Justice begins with Hector once more stuck in a small environment. This time around, it's a destroyed building. What does he have to work with? A disgusting toilet. Plus, huzzah, he's got help: his dippy partner Lambert.
Lambert is everything Hector is not: He's trim, neat, polite, and likes to play by the rules. It adds a welcome bit of complexity to the second episode by giving you the ability, for some sections of the game, to switch at will between the two characters. Lambert is outside of the building Hector's stuck in, and you have to help them work together to free Hector so he can continue attempting to foil the terrorist's nefarious plans.
Once the dynamic duo succeeds in freeing Hector, it's on to the working the game's central mystery: Who is the mysterious and deadly unseen terrorist who's threatening the safety of the town of Clappers Wreake?
In Senseless Acts of Justice, Hector has a new set of puzzling challenges to solve. These include: getting a reservation in the town's fanciest restaurant, tracking down a phantom meat delivery boy, negotiating with a pair of game prostitutes, and infiltrating a Catholic-church-themed sex club (yes, there's a pole-dancing nun).
The pleasure in this kind of game comes from that "connect the dots" feeling. With each new problem you solve, the world opens up a little bit you get through that locked door, or get that person to talk to you or give you that object. The world of Hector is absurd, but from an adventure game point of view, it's also logical and fair.
After another cliffhanger ending, you're on to Episode Three: Beyond Reasonable Doom.
This episode opens up once again on a locked-room puzzle, and once again you have to solve it by having Hector and Lambert work together. But Lambert gets to do more this time around, because there's an extended sequence that takes place at a very curious farm during which you can continue to switch back and forth between the two characters at will.
Once you make it back to town, Hector has to solve a series of puzzles at a town fair. This gives the game creators a chance to have a tasteless field day (the town police booth features "Meet a Murderer" and one of the rides is very frankly called "The Regurgitator"). Only Hector and Lambert know the dire trouble the town is in, and they're on their own as they solve the puzzles to try to foil the bad guy.
And yes, there's a really, really disgusting toilet. That you have to use to solve a puzzle. Don't ask.
Length-wise, the episodes get longer with each installment. The first episode is two to three hours long, the second about three to four, and the last one about six.
One of the things I admire the most about Hector is the feeling that the game's creators are jamming working class British humor into every nook and cranny they can think of. The interface is funny (you have to admit you're a big wimp in order to exit the game). There's a built-in hint system, and it's funny (yes, you have to take a lot of abuse in order to avail yourself of the hints).
The game even has self-referential jokes, commenting things like the game's length. The dialog is always funny, frequently hilarious. It's worth taking it slow and reading all of the possible questions and responses you can get from the various characters.
If Hector isn't the funniest adventure game I've ever played, it's certainly one of the funniest. I cannot emphasize enough that you should not play this game if you are easily offended! But if you aren't, you owe it to yourself to try all three episodes of Hector: Badge of Carnage.
(2) You'd think that this would mean that I'm a huge comic book fan, but I'm actually not.
(3) Speaking of which, how about releasing the third episode already? It's been over three years since Episode 2!!
Final Grade: A