The Preposterous Awesomeness of Everything PC Review
In the long list of bad excuses for crappy behaviour, “it’s a satire!” is right up there with “it was a social experiment!”. The Preposterous Awesomeness of Everything, developed entirely by one-man act Joe Richardson, describes itself as a satirical point-and-click adventure game – but that’s no excuse for this game’s uninspired design, half-baked execution and, frankly, piss-poor sense of humour.
Oh, how I wanted it to be different. The humble point-and-clicker has been one of my favourite genres for as long as I’ve been able to hold a mouse, and nobody has been more excited than me to see it re-enter gaming’s mainstream over the past few years.
But in the genre’s long, post-Grim Fandango wilderness years, the flame was kept alive by the devotion and commitment of legions of indie developers, labouring away with Adventure Game Studio and the like, producing – as labours of love – the kind of games no publisher thought commercially viable. From this fertile scene sprung the likes of Zombie Cow Studios and Wadget Eye Games, now rightly recognised as some of the greatest developers in the genre’s history.
The point is, the point-and-click adventure is one genre where the little guy can punch above their weight. Individuals or small teams can produce truly genre-defining work: all they need is the vision, talent and commitment.
Indeed, I was impressed when I first laid eyes on TPAoE and noticed it was the work one individual: the game really does look remarkably polished. Many indie point-and-clickers still settle for the expedient choice of a heavily pixelated 90s aesthetic: it’s easy to draw and provides instant nostalgia cred.
Instead, Richardson’s settled on a distinctive collage-like style that’s certainly striking – but also rather grotesque. It’s reminiscent of the ‘Land of the Living’ scenes from Grim Fandango, and it’s pretty well executed.
Sadly, though, my hopes for the game evaporated once I started actually playing the thing. TPAoE fails as a satire, as a work of humour and – perhaps most unforgivably – as an adventure game.
Let’s start with satire. The game’s premise is that your unnamed character has woken up on a beach to find himself part of a primitive society of naked human beings. The goal of this society has long been to build a rocket and escape – but because “the Majority of People” (an actual character) are “mutton-headed simpletons” (an actual quote), they’re kept ignorant and thoroughly Earth-based by a barely-more-intelligent political class of two interchangeable individuals.
That’s the extent of the analysis. The game has no real point to make, and as satire it’s as about as incisive as blowing a raspberry. But it can still make you laugh, right? Well, erm…
In the two hours it took me to complete TPAoE, I saw precisely one joke about rocket science which made me laugh out loud. Fair play here: it was a good joke. But that’s not a great track record – and it’s not even the worst part. At times, the game’s humour is noxiously juvenile to the point of being hateful.
Take the game’s only female character: she’s described in one of the game’s lengthy prose expositions as surviving on free drinks and food given by men. Later, one of the game’s few puzzles sees you paying this character to lift up her shirt, so you can snap a picture and sell it to a journalist. There’s no critique or satirical context provided: it’s just what you do to progress in the game. It’s nasty, regressive and without question the game’s nadir.
Of course, not all of the game’s humour sinks to this level. Mostly, it’s just not particularly funny. Rather than lines that are actually funny, there’s a reliance on a detached, ironic tone of voice that just comes across as smug and self-congratulatory. But from time to time, it’s downright mean-spirited.
So – it fails as a satire and as a work of humour. And as a game?
Well, it’s honestly not much of one. If you’ve ever played a point-and-click adventure before, you’ll breeze through TPAoE in less than a couple of hours. Most of the puzzles make immediately obvious use of the few inventory items, and there isn’t even any pixel-hunting tedium to liven things up.
The game’s space-based final act does, at least, jettison the weak attempts at social commentary and open up into some weirdly creative places as you travel the galaxy – but just as I felt the developer was starting to use his clearly substantial imagination, it was all wrapped up with the most derivative of endings. Realistically, though, if I hadn’t been writing this review, I’d have given up long before.
The whole game smacks of the least possible effort. It fails as a satire, as a work of humour and as a game.
But it gets a point for the art. It can have another for the music, which could absolutely be worse. Finally, it earns one more for this one instance of self-awareness:
At one point, your character has the option to create a satirical video game – and as the game launches into one of its many lengthy game-over monologues, you learn what the developer really thinks about his own project.
He describes how the metaphor “that seemed so concise and meaningful in the planning stage becomes strained and daft”. He bemoans a “curmudgeonly refusal to collaborate,” and even expresses an awareness that “while you were exhibiting lots of different skills here, you weren’t proving to be especially proficient in the practice of any single one.”
And the sad thing is, it sounds like a pretty accurate diagnosis. You get the impression that if Richardson had someone to bounce ideas off – someone to pick up the slack and point out the bad ideas – he’d be capable of something that’s actually interesting.
Instead, he’s released a work that I really hope doesn’t show him at his best.