Game Review: Primordia
Can the maker repair what he makes?
By now, video games have reached a point where questioning religion, society, war, and other difficult and taboo subject matter have found their way into the subject matter. Dig deep into the lore of games like Portal 2, Bioshock, Limbo, El Shaddai, Deus Ex, Spec Ops: The Line, Metal Gear Solid, etc. and you will find deep and introspective ‘mature’ subject matter. I applaud games like this for giving the medium a much need push forward, and when a game comes out that tackles these type of themes I make it a point to play it. When I first caught wind of Primordia through the Steam Greenlight feature the concept of a post-apocalyptic world where man had become extinct and robots and androids lived on to create their own society where some had began to worship their makers, man, had really piqued my attention. Then quickly seeing it was being co-produced by one of my favorite adventure game publishers, Wadjet Eye (Gemini Rue, The Blackwell Series, Resonance), and newcomers Wormwood Studios, I knew I had to get my hands on this game. Did Wadjet continue their amazing track record, are Wormwood Studios a worthy new dev. team, did Primordia live up to my lofty expectation of delivering quality gameplay as well as a narrative that would tickle my brain? Read on. (note: I’m trying a different style to my game reviews and am now going to add a score at the end :gasp!:, hope you dig it)
In Primordia, you play as an android named Horatio Nullbuilt and his little floating head thing side kick named Crispin Horatiobuilt who follows you around the whole game providing quippy humor and can be used as a tool to help solve puzzles. At the start of the game a Horatio and Crispin are chilling on their out of service space cruiser cum home when a large robot crashes through the hull and robs them of their precious power source. Given that robots and androids need power like we need food and water, this proves a major problem for the duo. And so their adventure begins. With the Gospel of Man in hand they set out to find or rebuild a power source so they can go on living their lives chilling out in the wastelands.
As you scavenge for parts to repair the power source the world that they live in starts to unveil its self as you meet a preacher robot, a disabled titan android with a half-alive AI that has seemingly gone mad, and other interesting denizens that start to bring this strange world to life. Without spoiling anything too bad, you learn that Horatio has a fear of the big city, Metropol, that lies on the outskirts of the wastelands and that in order to get the power they need, they need travel there to reclaim it after finding out that the thief robot most likely brought it there. And when you enter the city, things start to get really interesting. The Word of Man has been outlawed, rules and law keep its citizens in fear, and it seems to have a tyrannical leader. Quite obviously, it’s time to uncover a conspiracy. And I’ll leave it at that.
When I did reach the end of Horatio and Crispin’s tale I did find myself fully satisfied with how their events led to a great conclusion. Ends were wrapped up and given that the game has multiple endings that you can achieve it was nice to see what the different ending scenes portrayed. Unfortunately, all of these endings (I discovered 7, but there may also be more) can be easily played out by making different choices or attacking the final scene in different ways, so to see them all, one must just reload the save from right before the final confrontation. I would have liked to see different endings play out based on choices made earlier in the game, however, choices or puzzle solutions taken made earlier in the game can impact what options are available to you by the time you reached the conclusion. Luckily, since I took a certain approach to solving a puzzle, the ‘best’ ending options were open to me, but if I didn’t go back and reload that specific puzzle which gave me a very important item because I noticed there was more than one solution and wanted to see how the ‘non-violent’ approach worked out, I would have missed it (pro-tip: when you encounter the 3 seemingly loony AIs, solve their problem the more interesting way). As I went on I noticed that these kind of things with puzzle solution choices popped up and upon replaying the game I saw that different ways of solving them led to different ways Horatio’s journey played out to the final scene. What striked me as really cool was how organically it all worked with the game, most of the time you won’t even notice that there is more than one way to skin a cat and just assume that is the path the narrative needs to go in. Very cool stuff.
The game also is heavy on the philosophy of religion and war. Between having logic filled robots logically worshiping their makers, like the way many humans worship a god and how it ties in with how man became extinct, the writers did a great job weaving these concepts into the narrative. There is plenty to mentally chew on, but given that I may have read one too many sci-fi books/movies, I would have like to see the game delve deeper into these philosophies. They had the opportunity to really get something cerebral going and with a bit more time and polish I think the dev.s could have expanded on the concepts to the point of them rivaling some of the best sci-fi out there (see: Blade Runner).
If you’ve ever played a point and click adventure or know what they are, nothing new in the gameplay category here. You click on something and Horatio either walks to it, interacts with it, or gives some insight on it. You have an inventory where you can use found items with different stuff in the world to solve puzzles or combine items in your inventory to make a new item to use. You can also use Crispin as an item which made me chuckle as it reminded me of Sam & Max: Hit the Road, where Max was often a hilarious solution to many puzzles. There are dialog trees, a nifty little map that lets you quick warp to various locations, and a notepad that automatically takes note of important clues for you (a lifesend), nothing too out of the ordinary.
The real meat of any adventure game is the puzzles, and Primordia does a very respectable job in this department. Like I stated back in the story section, many puzzles have more than one solution, which I found pretty neat and welcome more games to use the same approach. I find it fun to discover all the different ways a puzzle can be solved and it adds to the re-playability of the game, something that is severely lacking in many adventure games. The ones with single solutions are also fun to crack, ranging from use the right item with the right environment to doing some code cracking. A couple of my favorites were one where you need to first take an unconventional method to hacking a computer and then using search terms discover truths behind the conspiracy. It really melded well with the game world, and even when you chose an incorrect search term, more often than not it would lead you to an article explaining more about the game world and often inside those you would find more words/ideas to try to search out as you work out the solutions. Another required me to crack a 16 digit code based on a seemingly random sets of numbers. Not the most original puzzle, but when I finally uncovered the solution I was pleased with how the code breaking played out by not using a completely obscure method for cracking it or something too common making it too easy. Said code can also cracked by enlisting the help of a code cracking robot if you wish not to break out the graph paper and work it out for yourself which is welcome for those more interested in playing the game for the story instead of the brain benders.
Another thing I enjoyed about the puzzles and how they played into the narrative was how, since you are in a robot world, everything should be able to be logically solved (another big theme in the narrative), but alas, not everything can be solved by always using logic. Often times you need to think outside the box to get ahead, playing into the whole free will and logic can’t rule all themes. Some excellent insight by the dev.s there and I give a huge round of applause to them for that.
All in all, the puzzles are great and none too difficult, though some who are just here for the story may find themselves referring to a walkthrough at times. Never anything wrong with that.
If you have played any games published/developed by Wadjet Eye you know they have a thing for the pixely retro look of the VGA era. While the resolution may be quite low, all the hand drawn sprites and environments look beautiful. Again, this really helps tie you into the game world, since, ya know, robots, pixels, computery looking stuff and all. The general aesthetic is very drab and more than once brought to mind Blade Runner ranging from the color palette, environmental design, and the nifty duster that Horatio wears throughout the game. If I did have one gripe in this dept. it would be the over use of the color brown, but at the same time, the oversaturation of the dirty color builds the world into the grimy, robot run, crashing utopia it is. I don’t think the style would have been the same with out it, but feel the art design team could have added a bit more color in certain points.
The sound is excellent with all the voice actors delivering excellent performances, notable as Wadjet Eye mainstay Abe Goldfarb as the always humorous Crispin. The voice of main antagonist, whose name eludes me and Google isn’t helping me find, is also of note, delivering some wonderful monologues and the voice of a jiving robot repeatedly cracked me up. The various robotic voice filters used on all the voices were always done with great taste effectively adding to the personality of each character of the game.
The music was very fitting to the world. No piece really stood out to me, but it always worked to build mood and atmosphere. Referencing Blade Runner yet again, it reminded me of the films more ambient pieces, though I thought the game could have really benefited from a big memorable piece at the end like the music from the ‘Tears in the Rain’ sent the ending of Blade Runner into possibly one of the finest movie moments ever.
If you are a fan of adventure games you should check out Primordia without hesitation. The puzzles and story are great and the open-endedness of much of it makes it one of the few adventure games you will playthrough again for more than reliving the story for the umpteenth time. Those interested in the concept might feel a bit shortchanged if they are searching for something huge, but I feel that there is enough philosophy to chew on to get you right to the satisfied level. The story was fun and well worth going on and the funny quips by Crispin and other denizens of the world did a nice job of balancing the stoic Horatio and the drabness of everything around them. I loved the game in the end despite feeling that there could have been a good amount more added to the game. It really does just fall short of being an instant classic, but will remain a forever memorable game to me. I am well into my second playthrough (about 6 hours for experienced adventure gamers on the first playthrough, though I can see some less experienced players spending much more time trying to work out solutions to the puzzles) and am enjoying taking different approaches to things and enjoying the included developer commentary getting more insights into the game. So, yeah, give Primordia a play, it receives my seal of approval. And those with ancient computers, you have no excuse to miss out on this one as I could easily run it on the Windows 98 machine sitting in the attic, and now that I think about it, hooking it up to an old CRT monitor would be really neat and add to the look of the game even more.
4.25 out of 5
Posted on February 20, 2013, in News, Videogames and tagged Adventure Games, Indie Games, Primordia, Puzzle Games, Religion, Retro, Sci-Fi, Videogames, Wadjet Eye, War, Wormwood Studios. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.