Broken down to essentials, adventure games are fairly simple machineries, having more in common with pure UI design than the abstract notion of physicality of traditional video games. Two components need to work – puzzles and story – and if you nail both you immediately have something brilliant on your hands. No need to tweak the elusive feel of a jumping mechanic, no need to fine tune the sensation of feedback from an assault rifle. In fact, the elements that make up a classic point and click adventure are well established and refined already, and ambitious diversions from the formula usually only serve to distract and and annoy.
Wadjeteye’s output has ostensibly been particularly conservative, evoking the look and feel of the golden era of point and click adventures, while also putting an interesting spin on familiar mechanics. Resonance is no different.
The story begins by putting you in the role of four seemingly unrelated characters on a Sunday morning. Their lives are intertwined when a mysterious lab accident claims the life of a professor whose research into “Resonance” becomes the centre of your adventure. What follows is a conspiracy thriller and a race to uncover what Resonance is, what its applications are and who wants to get their hands on it.
Adventuring is done in familiar point and click fashion, but there are some neat new details about the interface that make it a more methodical and thoughtful affair than usual. In order to inquire about a certain object or person in the environment, you click and drag them into a “Short Term Memory” sub menu. While in conversation, you can open said menu and select these as topics to bring up. The result is that you always feel – and need to be – involved in this game, whereas some adventure games can get away from you as the characters “remember” things you never consciously made a note of.
You initially jump between characters by clicking a set of panels between chapters, but you’ll eventually manage all four characters simultaneously as they move around the game world. The roles of the different characters – and to an extent their personalities – dictate who you’ll want to task with what, and it all feels very natural and dynamic. Switching between characters is done from a convenient sub menu, but moving multiple characters at once requires some rather clunky daisy chaining. One character has to ask the others – one by one – to follow. It’s rarely required to bring all characters with you at once, but when you want to, simply being able to “select all” from the menu would’ve been welcome.
Giving items to another character is also a bit unintuitive and only allows handing over one item at a time, restarting the conversation after each one. To a degree, this serves to make you more conscious of what you give to whom, and an outright inventory juggle-fest could perhaps have been unnecessarily overwhelming. As you grow more accustomed to the mechanics and your intentions start outrunning the interface, however, it can get a little annoying. The good easily outweighs the bad in both cases, though, as these components of the game add a welcome dimension to puzzle solving.
The puzzles themselves are exceptional. Always logical and part of a natural line of thought as you approach a situation, they handily escape the notion of “placing yourself in the designer’s shoes” to guess the sequence of hoops to jump through. You often find yourself stumped, only to sit back and think about what you’re trying to accomplish – tracing the steps backwards from your desired result, and finding the correct path. That’s not to say the puzzles are easy. On the contrary, they are sometimes elaborate multi-step processes that require constant awareness of what you’re doing. This, quite the opposite of Yesterday, which often saw you halfway through a puzzle, barely realising where things were heading.
Between the excellent puzzle design and the neat interface ideas, Resonance had the potential to become something pretty spectacular. Where it falls short, then, is in the same area as Gemini Rue – Wadjeteye’s previous adventure effort. The characters and story simply aren’t very compelling.
You understand the archetypes these people represent, and they fill their assigned roles just fine, but they seem so occupied being this or that type of character, they never truly develop into actual characters. It’s difficult to care about “the cop” or “the reporter” – let alone invest in them. Spreading the game across an ensemble cast and designing the world to allow switching between them limits what you can do from a character moment standpoint – contributing to the anonymity, but the real culprit is the writing. Every sentiment, every emotion these characters express come across as robotic and clichéd.
The plot plays with some cool elements, but it, too, quickly settles into aping “stories like this”, and while the final act and resolution are comparatively the most engaging, they are telegraphed just enough in advance to deflate their intended impact.
Purely from a gameplay standpoint this is one of the most consistently well designed adventure games I’ve played, and tackling its scenarios was a delight, but while nearly any other video game genre gets away with its particular narrative vices, story and characters are such crucial aspects of this one. Poor characterisation and a too familiar storyline is ultimately enough to render Resonance a mechanically impressive adventure game that sorely lacks personality.