On On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness

Last weekend I bought Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode 1, and spent entirely too much time this past week playing through it.

I was curious about the game for two reasons. First, I like Penny Arcade, which happens to be the very first webcomic I was introduced to, way back when I was a freshman. Second, they actually produced a Linux version of the game, which you see pretty rarely in the world of commercial games. It seems like the sort of thing I should encourage.

Since they had a free demo of the game, I was first able to see if the game would actually run on my four-year-old laptop, which meets the minimum specs, barely. It does, albeit with swapping everything else out of RAM on startup and taking a long time to switch between areas. But doing the game itself, performance is acceptable, at least one you get used to the slight amount of lag in areas where timing is important. (Most noticeable in the Vandalism minigame, where I’d need to hit the space bar when the meter was centered over the left or right stack if I wanted it to stop over the center one.) Of course, this is more the fault of my old, ill-suited-for-gaming hardware; the game is indeed entirely playable.

The demo got me hooked, and the rest of the game didn’t disappoint. The battle system is nicely done, encouraging you to do more elaborate things than just “attack enemies until they die” to get the bonuses. There’s no random encounters — in fact, enemies never respawn, period, so there’s no grindiness to be found. Plus, you get to beat up barbershop quartets, which is always fun.

Really, the game is largely devoid of the typical set of annoyances you find in games. No random battles. A “Case Log” that reminds you what needs to be done to advance the plot. Auto-saving after any significant event (including battles). Automatic healing after battles. A tutorial level (the demo) where the tutorial content is both entertaining and skippable. You can tell the game was designed by people who play a lot of games, and decided not to put in the things that make games stop being fun.

But where the game really shines, naturally, is the humor. All the cutscenes are filled with precisely the sort of dialog you’d expect from Penny Arcade. My favorite, for some reason, is when the player tries to get a reaction out of The Silent Pope by singing The Name Game for “mime”, pausing after each line to wait for a response.

The game is fairly small in scope, but the level of detail is impressive. Loads of things on each screen have a humorous description or two to be found when you click on them. It turns out there’s a lot of things you can say about trash cans, or ice cream cones dropped on the boardwalk. It’s also a nice touch to have the little robots — you know the ones — say “01100110 01110101 01100011 01101011″, which means exactly what you think it does.

And for the record, the cat is not worthless. It is possible for its attack to do non-negligible damage, and it happens with greater than the roughly 1-in-2,000,000 probability claimed in-game.

Now they just need to come out with the next episode. My character needs revenge. And a house.