Resonance

[25 June 2012]

By Mark Filipowich

Resonance is an adventure game. Ultimately, that’s what any review of the game must boil down to. While genres in games may cross over and blend into one another as developers experiment, the adventure game remains a breed all its own. A small group of characters get to know one another while solving puzzles, acquiring keys, and Mcgyver-ing household items together. Resonance follows the formula fairly strictly but only seldom to its detriment.

The game opens up with a news report of several unexplained explosions occurring in cities worldwide before cutting back 60 hours to the game’s events. Opening in medias res feels a little manipulative, but it’s nonetheless effective in pulling the player into the experience. It seems to serve no point other than to snag the player’s attention with fast, broken images, which feel out of place in a game with such intimate, deliberate mechanics. After the opening cutscene, the player takes control of the four protagonists of the game, Ed, Anna, Ray, and Bennet, in separate segments that set up the story and teach the player how to play.

The characters are endearing, even if they are clichés. Ed is an absent-minded math student with a heart of gold, Anna is a successful woman with a dark past, Ray is an investigative reporter with a fetish for “the truth,” and Bennet is a middle-aged detective that cares more about solving the case than following protocol. The cast and their relationships are fairly shallow and straightforward but in a way that actually makes them easier to follow and understand. They fit fairly basic character tropes, but they’re likable. The tone of the game makes it hard to criticize for being formulaic. Even when it’s dealing with unnerving subject matter—weaponizing a physical principle the moment that it’s discovered, a government cataloguing it’s citizen’s DNA—it never takes itself too seriously. There’s always a joke not far off that prevents the game from getting devoured by its own melodrama.

That said, Resonance does create tension effectively. There are a few well designed dream sequences from Anna’s childhood that are creepy and paced well enough to feel like there’s actual danger, which in a game about solving puzzles can be tough to pull off. The game stays within its boundaries. It doesn’t let itself brood or goof off too much at any time. The story itself is a fairly compelling conspiracy-mystery, and, again, what it lacks in originality. it makes up for in execution. There’s always a compulsion to take the next step and peel back the next layer. Unfortunately, however, the game is not always clear on the order the layers should be pulled back. There are many instances when it feels like the game overwhelms you with tasks without telling you which one to tackle next. Normally this freedom would be appreciated, but when certain puzzles are contingent on solving others first, it can be frustrating to have such a long to-do list.

A part of the frustration, however, is part and parcel of all adventure games. Puzzles have one solution. It’s the old Resident Evil problem of being faced with a rickety wooden door with a rusty lock that requires a key from the other end of the city, but you can’t use your boot, crowbar, shovel or grenade launcher to bust it open because it would lower the property value. This is the sort of logic that plagues all adventure games. Getting stuck on a developer’s moon logic can easily make the whole experience unapproachable. The real problem comes when overcoming challenges becomes so obtuse that they’re no longer worth thinking about, and random experimentation proves more fruitful.

Resonance doesn’t ever become so confusing that it’s not worth moving on, but the game’s particular system of puzzles often adds its own complications. Not only does each character have their own inventory list, they also have their own long and short term memories. Plot events that they witness are locked in their long term memories, but the player fills their short term memories with articles from the environment. You can bring up memories in conversations to open up new things to talk about.

For the most part, it’s an interesting way to keep conversation with NPCs moving, but it isn’t without its flaws. The player can know the solution to a riddle, but the character won’t bring it up unless the right memory is brought up in conversation. Eventually these kinds of puzzles can be reduced to a process of trial-and-error, which cheapens the times when the player was clever enough to come up with the answers on their own. Still, solving puzzles is satisfying, and the greater emphasis on conversation and interview makes the world feel fuller and more alive.

In fact, it is good to see such a fleshed out world with, despite small locations created and such limited graphics. Everything is composed of 2D pixels. The character models and backgrounds have a kind of Super Nintendo aesthetic to them that actually really works for the game. There’s a charm to the sprites, and even though we only see a room or two of every building, they’re laid out in a way to suggest a large and active city. The music doesn’t often stand out, but it blends into the experience organically and the writing and voice-acting go hand-in-hand.

Resonance is not earth-shattering and it borrows liberally from well-worn tropes. Yet it’s also one of the most memorable games I’ve played in a while. Clichéd or not, it’s a well told story about likable people unmasking an interesting mystery. It’s hard to say how much replay value the game will have once all the solutions are discovered and the mystery is unveiled, but for $10, it’s well worth going through once. Resonance is short and well crafted and in every meaningful way a good game.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/160066-resonance/