[10 December 2012]
Primordia serves as a middle ground between classic point-and-click adventure games and those titles that are among the resurgence of the genre this year. It moves into the smooth interactive fiction area as well as streamlining puzzles into that fiction, while still keeping the classic feel of the games from the golden days of the LucasArts/Sierra era. However, this structure also serves as the mere skeleton of the game. Primordia is an evolution of the genre as it is leaps and bounds more interesting because its ideas are more complex and intricate than others of its ilk.
You control Horatio Nullbuilt v. 5, who is followed by his plucky, sarcastic sidekick Crispin Horatiobuilt. Horatio is a builder and a tinkerer whose purpose is to somehow fix and reconstruct the world one piece at a time. As a result, it makes sense to pick up all the random junk and scrap that you do. The normal actions taken by an adventure game protagonist become a part of Horatio’s character.
The two characters live in a broken down airship in the middle of the wastes and are soon robbed of their ship’s power core. From there on, the game becomes part hunt and part mystery. You traverse the game world looking for a new power source and the robot that took your lifeline. Soon it becomes apparent that so much out there is tied to the past of this world and is intertwined with Horatio’s own history. Mankind has retreated into the haze of time and become a kind of godlike figure for this world of robots and scrap.
The game presents a contention between the competing philosophies and the worldviews of the various players in the drama. It pits Horatio’s religious individualism against MetroMind’s practical collectivism. However, even putting it that way makes it seem like the game presents its conflict as some kind of two-sided argument. Doing so would mislead, as such a reductionist reading misses the shades of relativism presnted between the two competing views or those, like Clarity’s Lawful Neutral worldview, that rejects both the premise of both conceits. In the end, the final confrontation and choice of how the world moves forward can only happen when the past is learned and understood. From there, the player chooses one of seven different endings. Some obvious, others not so much.
The world is bleak. Browns, beiges, and grays get a bad rap as a color scheme because they are often used without thought or detail to their effect. The world of Primordia is made better for them, though. This is a world full of dull metal and rusted scrap, making the spectrum hues of rusting copper appropriate in all of this world’s 16-bit rendered glory. The game looks like it could be one from the 90s, but it works so well in adding by adding an artistic direction to the visual detail. More fidelity would ruin the warm feeling that the game gives off by contrast to its backdrop of the apocalypse. It is a world of machines, and in a way, it is cozy for them.
The music for the most part fades into the background, but the low-key electronic style reinforces the world. It’s not a soundtrack that you’ll be humming afterwards or might not recognize outside of context, but the ephemeral nature fully services the game, creating the right tone for the world. The game would be worse off without it.
And a special commendation has to be given to the voice actors. Logan Cunningham, of Bastion fame, plays Horatio and lends the right kind of raspiness to the delivery of his lines. In fact, nearly every character has been paired with the right voice actor with the right delivery for the role.
But for all the positive things I have to say about its world, its story, visuals, and sound, the game is held back by the fundamental problems of the genre. Now Primordia is no way a slave to point-and-click conventions. In a number of ways, the game does its best to mitigate the issue. There are multiple solutions to a good number of the puzzles, for example, and nothing is so out there to qualify as moon logic. Crispin acts as a helpful hint system as well as an enjoyable foil to Horatio. There is a fast travel system to mitigate tedious backtracking, and the datapouch will keep track of all the useful (and some superfluous) information your character receives. The game also uses the one click interface that I love to see show up more and more in these types of games. Left clicking always represents the appropriate verb with regards to the context: open doors, pick up items, turn on switches, give items, and look at everything else. Right clicking is then always used to look at something. This is a welcome next step in the simplification of the point-and-click adventure game’s interface. But despite all that, Primordia still gets trapped in its need for puzzles that bog down progression. You will end up going back through the same screens over and over looking for that one thing holding you back. It doesn’t happen often, and it is lessened more than in other titles. But it is still there.
I want to engage with the world and the story. I want to see the drama of the politics, philosophy, and religion of the characters and world clash against one another. Yes, the puzzles do help my interaction with those elements and structure the game, but with those positive aspects of the puzzles, so too come the drawbacks.
Ultimately there is too much to like about Primordia for a few hiccups to get in way, especially when they’re such well known hiccups that fans of the genre and newcomers alike can deal with them easily enough.
And as a final side note: more games should add a commentary like this one has.