Recently a post in the Just Adventure forums referred to a very interesting article regarding games with a comedy theme. The article was written by Stephen Totillo, it had the name ‘Why aren’t video games funny?’ and you can read it in its entirety here.
November 11, 2004
The Adventure Company
This review originally appeared in issue 19 of The Inventory the Internet’s largest online downloadable adventure game magazine and is reprinted here with the kind permission of its owner, Dimitris Manos.
Recently a post in the Just Adventure forums referred to a very interesting article regarding games with a comedy theme. The article was written by Stephen Totillo, it had the name ‘Why aren’t video games funny?’ and you can read it in its entiretyhere. The author emphasizes the lack of comedy titles in the gaming industry since the fall of Sierra and Lucasarts. I happen to agree with many of the points that the author makes. If someone met me last month and asked me when was the last time I played a genuinely funny adventure, I would have to go back as long as 1997 to find a suitable answer. That was when I played Curse of Monkey Island, which was a game that had me laughing from beginning to end. It’s true that The Longest Journey, Syberia and Runaway had some funny moments here and there but they were certainly not what you would call comedy adventures.
On the other hand if someone asks me today the same question I could proudly answer: ‘Last week, when I played Wanted: A Wild Western Adventure. I am happy to say that Wanted: A Wild Western Adventure (released in Europe as The Westerner) is one of the best adventures I have played the last five years and is a serious contender for best adventure game of the year. Let’s see why…
Story: Fenimore Fillmore is a cowboy that is wandering the Wild West looking for love and adventure. One night he happens to pass by Joe Bannister’s farm. At the same time some gunmen approach the farm and demand from Joe to give them his land. Joe refuses and when the battle is about to begin Fenimore (thanks to a cactus bush) accidentally jumps between the two parties. The gunmen try to shoot Fenimore but he manages to dodge their shots and lead them out of Joe’s ranch. Joe Bannister in return invites him to stay there overnight and share their dinner. It turns out that the gunmen work for the town’s wealthiest man, John Starek and that he plans to steal the farmers’ land for himself. Fenimore decides to give Joe, his family and the rest of the farmers a helping hand.
That won’t be an easy task for Fenimore but it will certainly give him some moments to remember for the rest of his life. Wanted is an exceptional story full of unforgettable characters. They will often crack you up with their quirky behavior. If I were to describe the funniest of them I wouldn’t know with whom to begin with, but let’s start with the main character, Fenimore. He’s naïve at times but his strong will usually gets the better of him and drives him forward. He has a weak spot for the local teacher, Miss Rhianon and he’d go to extremes to win her heart. Then you have the overly suspicious Sheriff who will distort facts so that they coincide with his own premonitions. The farmers’ kids are keen on trying new games and make Fenimore’s life more difficult. The local doctor is a man with a distinctive passion for alcohol. The list of funny characters could go on and on and on, but better you play the game and meet them yourselves. You haven’t seen such a bunch of hilarious personalities gathered together in one game since the golden days of Sierra and Lucasarts.
Bearing in mind that nowadays you often buy a 50 dollar game to play for approximately 10 hours, out of which six are spent on super-obscure puzzles with no feedback whatsoever, it is refreshing to play a game that lasts for a good 20-25 hours and that has a story that progresses steadily. The ending is also one of the best I have seen in adventure games. It is very cinematic, it is not abrupt and it comes as a natural climax to a satisfying story. You also have to admire the developers’ efforts to go the extra mile and include … outtakes that you will get to see right after the game ends and that are completely hilarious.
Graphics: Wanted: A Wild Western Adventure’s graphics are absolutely gorgeous. What really struck me was the fluid animation of the 3D models. Sometimes I felt like I was watching a Pixar movie. The facial expressions are probably the best you have seen in 3D models in adventure games as of yet and they give a distinctive and at the same time natural look to the characters. The backgrounds look also amazing, the colours are always vibrant and lively. The developers have absolutely managed to capture the comic feeling with the graphics surpassing every other attempt in 3D we have seen in comedy games.
Having said that however, the graphics are not completely flawless. Lip-synching is almost non-existent. Apparently nobody thought of adjusting the lip-synching for the English version since a lot of times you see the characters opening their mouth long before and after they start and finish talking. Adjusting lip-synching to the localized version should not be that difficult and the fact that it wasn’t taken care of shows a small degree of carelessness for the English version. Also some effects like shadows could have been done better. One example could be when Fenimore climbs a post, and you can see the shadow of Fenimore climbing up but there is no shadow for the post itself. And a last minor complaint (and one you have probably already noticed yourselves) one can’t help but notice that Fenimore looks very familiar to a famous … Toy Story character.
I can’t also forget to mention that Wanted has some of the best cutscenes I have ever watched in adventures. They are quite lengthy, they usually act as a very nice treat for accomplishing a task and they add a lot to the overall cinematic feeling of the game.
Sound: Wanted: A Wild Western Adventure had been released in Europe long time before it was released in the States. The game had received excellent grades getting around 80% from most publications and the screenshots showed already that this game had a lot of potential. Thinking about lots of recent English releases however, I was worried that this game might also get messed up by amateurish acting. Fortunately this is not the case for Wanted. Most of the actors did an excellent job. Some of the most memorable performances were Fenimore himself, Miss Rhianon, Joe Bannister, Alvin, Tom, Livy and the telegraphist.
The music is average. The tracks played during the game are suitable for the western theme but they become very repetitive after a while. Same goes for the sound effects, which are few. It feels very cheap when all doors and wooden closets sound the same when they open up or close. I would say that when it comes to comedy and horror adventures, sound effects play a bigger role in creating the right mood compared to the rest of the genres and the developers could have paid more attention to this small part of the audio.
Gameplay: Unfortunately I happened to run across a couple of reviews of Wanted: A Wild Western Adventure on the Internet that lambasted it for its arcade sequences. An interesting issue is that these reviewers who ripped the game were obviously older than the coveted twenty-something demographic. It is also interesting that some people try to pass off the myth that the majority of adventurers are ‘older’ as the absolute truth and that all adventures should be tailored to their needs. Well guess what, that’s completely unjustified bull….excrement. There is no scientific study that proves that most adventurers are over a certain age. Adventure games appeal to all ages and sexes, apparently some ages might be more presented than some others but since there is no proof of that I don’t think one can make a rule out of it. I am not saying that developers should not think of the older people as well but there is no reason why all adventures should be made only for the more mature gamers. As the audience is diverse so should the games be too. So what does a 23 year-old male like myself think of the arcade sequences in Wanted? There are three arcade sequences altogether. Two of them are extremely easy to solve.
And as for the third one, a shooting gallery, that the above-mentioned reviewers were complaining about… If you ever been to arcades or a theme park you have probably played something similar there. You are looking on a board and there are villains coming up suddenly on the screen as well as innocent people. You have to shoot a specific number of villains without hitting any of the innocent ones. I was through with the shooting gallery on my second attempt. There have been rumors that this arcade sequence might be influenced by your system’s settings resulting in the villains coming up at a very slow speed, making it impossible to beat the last stage, but I did not experience something like that and I thought that it was very easy to win the shooting gallery. Likewise, two or three door puzzles in Doom do not make it an adventure game. Furthermore the arcade sequences do actually fit in the story and they do make sense, they are not just ‘tucked in’ there for the sake of adding them.
Now that we made that clear let’s talk about the rest and far more important features of the gameplay. First of all, Revistronic deserves congratulations for creating a 3D interface that actually works! So far I used to say that Jane Jensen was the only developer that had managed that with Gabriel Knight 3. From now on there are two great examples on how an adventure game can be presented in 3D. The way the point and click interface of The Westerner works is simple: The graphics are in 3D but you interact with the environment like you would in a 2D point and click adventure.
The camera angles are predetermined and they change automatically when you move Fenimore far away from the center of the view. If you move your cursor to the left or right edge of the screen you can slightly scroll the view towards that direction but not much. There are some slight problems in terms of path finding but they only happen on a few spots throughout the whole game. If you pass your mouse cursor over a hotspot you have two options. One is to look at it from a close distance and the other is to perform an action with the selected hotspot (pick up/use an object, close/open a door/closet or talk to a character). On the top of the screen you can find all the objects that Fenimore picks up throughout his adventure.
The tasks that Fenimore has to accomplish are for the most part logical and original at the same time. There are no puzzles of the slider/lever-pulling sort so if you are into this kind of thing this adventure is not for you but if you enjoy inventory-based tasks and character interaction Wanted will send you first class to adventure heaven baby! The gameplay is non-linear and you can visit most of the locations already from the very beginning of the game. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time. It is an advantage because it gives you a sense of freedom in terms of exploration but it is a disadvantage because gameplay slightly looses structure and it might seem quite vague (especially to inexperienced players) what has to be done next in order to proceed to the game. The developers have managed to address this issue to a certain extent by dividing the gameplay in tasks that Fenimore has to do for the farmers and by making most of them easy to accomplish.
There are however 2 or 3 moments where the solutions to some of the problems are quite vague. For example *Spoilers* Fenimore has to light a fire and in order to do that he has to cut the logs first in a special machine in Alvin’s farm and then put the split logs on a tree stump and cut it further with an axe. There is no feedback by the game whatsoever throughout this whole process and I didn’t understand that I had to cut the logs once more at a different location. Another quite vague problem solution is when Fenimore has to send a telegram to the telegraphist by climbing a post and connecting a mobile telegraph to the connection on the post. Again there was no feedback whatsoever that Fenimore needed to connect the mobile somewhere. *End of Spoilers*. Apart from these few examples however, all the rest of the tasks make sense and result in very amusing situations.
There are also some unusual errands that Fenimore will have to carry out in the game and that reminded me a bit of the Quest for Glory series. You need to ride your horse to go from one location to the next. Your horse has 5 points of stamina. Every time you pass by a location the horse looses one point of stamina. If the horse reaches 0 points you can’t go to another location. In order to restore the horse’s stamina you have to feed it with carrots. There are carrots almost in all locations and you can plant new carrots in Joe’s farm, but it is advised that you get a lot of them with you from the very beginning so that you don’t get stranded at one location. This is something that could have been handled better, i.e. the horse could spend only one stamina point for every 5 or 10 locations you are visiting so that you wouldn’t have to water carrots and pick them up all the time.
Another issue you have to take care of is money. You will have to buy some of the items you need and to do that you have to find the money first. You can find money by looking in places you’re not allowed to, by borrowing money from the bank or by fooling other people to lend you some money. I found the money aspect quite fun, as it became a task that was intertwined with the rest of gameplay.
General Info: Wanted: A Wild Western Adventure is actually a sequel to the lesser-known 3 Skulls of the Toltecs. 3 Skulls was given as a bundle offer with the Westerner in some of the European releases, but this is unfortunately not the case for the US version. Although the first version of The Westerner in Spanish became notorious for its numerous bugs, the English version I played was flawless and I did not encounter a single bug. The game offers unlimited save slots, although it would be nice to have the option to delete saved games.
In a few words… If you miss playing an adventure that makes you laugh out loud and that gives you the feeling that you are starring in a comedy movie, then make sure to not miss out on Wanted: A Wild Western Adventure. I have not playedThe Moment of Silence yet, so I cannot say with all certainty that The Westerneris the best adventure this year, but it is definitely the best comedy adventure I have played since The Curse of Monkey Island. Adorable characters, luscious graphics with fluid animations, a 3D interface that lets you enjoy the game while you lie back on your couch instead of fighting with the keyboard and a witty scenario with a great ending will make you remember this game long after you finish it. It is not perfect but it is damn right close to it. Revistronic and The Adventure Company deserve congratulations for delivering such a great title to the adventure fans
Final Grade: B+