[4 March 2013]
If there could be a blander title for a video game that still returns results on Google than A New Beginning, I don’t know it. Soon enough, though, the game defines itself as one that concerns time travel being used in an effort to stop the end of the world from a super ecological disaster. That disaster will start a chain of events that lead to the literal end of the world after decades of suffering and death. I was worried that like most works that has an environmental theme that it would beat me over the head with it and succumb to the sin of becoming a piece of preachy dreck.
Surprisingly the game starts out by introducing the player to a man living out his retirement alone in a forest cabin lamenting his misspent youth and the damage that it has caused to his remaining familial relationships. Shortly after this introduction, a strange woman appears and tells him a story. The game doesn’t stick with this interesting set up for long, but I appreciate being thrown for a loop anyway, if for just an hour or two. No, soon the game is repeating the same story beats and exposition over and over about how we humans are terrible for our wastefulness and irresponsibility to the environment, becoming more one note in its approach as it goes on. That the game also introduces its ultimate villain as a mustache-twirling, power-plant-owning billionaire that tries to blow up the only hope that humanity has left with regards to renewable energy to protect his profits also doesn’t help.
In all respects, this damaging shift in tone and focus makes criticizing the game overall pretty much fair game, but in doing so, that would make it seem like this is the major problem with the game. It isn’t. The game becoming preachy environmentalist drivel is only incidental to what is wrong with A New Beginning. It’s the not the catalyst to everything else that doesn’t work here, nor would I say it’s symptomatic of what is fundamentally wrong with the game. It’s just a festering mold upon the rotten substructure of a poorly constructed point-and-click adventure game.
The whole game feels shoddy. The whole design feels half finished. A New Beginning succumbs to the two bugbears of the genre, pixel hunting and moon logic. When you hover the cursor over them, items and interactive points are highlighted and display the name of the object that they represent, but some are so small that you will pass them by—often among very cluttered and busy environments. This means that you will walk through rooms over and over missing what you need to advance the plot and won’t know why you hit a wall. This happened to me a number of times, at least twice a chapter. The puzzles are also inconsistent in their difficulty, falling into a range between “ho-hum” and “holy hell, how was anyone suppose to figure that out?” It’s not that most of the solutions aren’t logical. It’s that they are logical from the particular point of view that the game is training you to think in. It’s very free with information that we already know and understand, like the stakes or our place in the story or what a character is feeling, but when it comes to the particular situation that we are in or what our goal is or what room we should be working on next, the game clams up.
The puzzles are obtuse, even nonsensical sometimes. It wants you to perform things in exactly the right sequence for no other reason than because it says so. So you end up back tracking through the same half dozen rooms over and over, progressing by inches, and that is only if you can figure out what it wants you to do. In one case, there was a vending machine with a big lock on the cash box. It’s very obvious that I’m going to need the money locked in there, but none of the three solutions that I cooked up based on my current inventory would work because it wasn’t yet that puzzle’s time.
There’s nothing that redeems the game’s more tedious aspects either. The story is eye rollingly terrible with a presentation to match. The voice acting ranges from acceptable to laughably bad, the switch often happening within the same performance in the same scene. English is not the first language of these voice actors, or at least, I hope it isn’t. But it’s not entirely their fault. Honestly, the performances could have been appreciated in the “so bad, it’s good” sort of way, but the script is too terrible to even provoke these kinds of moments. Most of the characters speak unnaturally and are full of clichés that aren’t even appropriate to the situation. It’s also just dull. In addition, there are portions of the UI that at times contain words that are randomly left untranslated. The cutscenes, which are done up like a page from a motion comic, fall flat due to their tedious pacing. Finally, I won’t say anything about the characters other than that they are flat with only tone-deaf attempts at depth squeezed in at moments.
The last straw for me was a switch puzzle that was supposed to stop a bomb from going off. The puzzle finds you having to plug in circuits in order to get various LCDs to read the right numbers. After working on it for several minutes and even logically thinking it out, I had to resort to a walkthrough. Apparently I had understood the solution, but the game didn’t recognize it. Two of the LCD readouts were displaying the wrong numbers. There was a problem with the 1s and 0s in the game’s code, making this puzzle unsolvable. The game generously provided a skip button, but I couldn’t be bothered. I asked myself why was I still playing? Did I even care? And no, I didn’t. There was nothing in the game that I cared about one bit. The story is a joke, the puzzles aren’t well constructed, and worst of all, the game on every level is boring. I just wanted the game to end.
There are so many better adventure games out there. We are in somewhat of a renaissance for the point-and-click genre in particular. Find and play one of them instead. This is a game that would have been considered bad no matter what era it was released in.