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Runaway: A Road Adventure

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  Reviewed by Garret Romaine
September 12, 2003
Pendulo Studios
Warning: there are no spoilers and no clues in this review that will save you from the pain of solving these intricate puzzles yourself. Well, maybe some inadvertent ones, like "keep trying" or "think outside the box." But I'm not here to ruin anyone's right to enjoy this game without having any outside help. I won't be telling you to make bullets out of lipstick containers or ... d'oh!

All I can really say is, go ahead, don't buy a book or search the Net for help. See if your head explodes.

Runaway is fiendishly clever. It is far removed from the old text-based ADVENT days, yet in some ways it is the embodiment of how the genre matured yet stayed true to its roots. The GUI stays out of the way and you are on your own, to point and click, then stare and think. The graphics are superb in places, but the bottom line is still game play, and genre fans will be right at home.

Here's the premise: You are Brian, a smart young guy about to drive from New York City to the west coast to start grad school at Berkeley. Trying to get out of town, you bump a fetching brunette as she's running in an alley and you have to take her to the hospital. She's got a story -- some Mafia bad guys are after her. She just witnessed a murder, and they know it. She has an ancient artifact they want. Soon enough you both are off on a runaway adventure. If you make it to your first class, it will be a miracle.

All in all, it's not a bad opening. I'll admit that at first, I wasn't prepared to like Brian. Being everything I'm not -- young, handsome and smart -- it took awhile before I warmed up to him. But by the end I was totally transposed and it wasn't Brian, it was ME the mobsters where chasing. And it wasn't Brian, it was ME that Gina, the lovely lounge singer with the tough breaks and nice curves, was batting her eyes at.

The introduction and the cut scene movies are good, if a bit low-res. But the real eye-candy is the in-game environment. There are intricate backgrounds and characters move in convincing fashion. The smoothness of this "adventure cartoon" might even make you want to try the game on an upgraded video card, to see if it looks that much better.

True, there are issues. Check out the movements of the mouths while speaking -- the results look more suitable for a Chucky doll than a cartoon character. But it's forgivable. The developers used a technique known as Non-Photorealistic Rendering which makes for dark outlines and vivid colors. 3D objects are thus rendered in a 2D format. It gives the game a hand-painted, interesting feel.

More nits include the voice-overs, which tend to recycle the same voices and get confusing occasionally. The excellent soundtrack makes up for the patchy voice work. Until you discover the double-click shortcut to get him out of a room, Brian can confound you with slow movement. Regular users will probably discover several shortcuts once they read the documentation, but there was no manual with the review version of the game.

Some puzzles can only be solved by clicking on everything in the room and getting a reaction from Brian, and then checking out the inventory repeatedly to formulate a plan. The logic of the puzzles may be a bit of a stretch, but in a linear game like this, the developers have a tough job. In order to provide 20+ hours of game play, there are going to have to be some really devious parts.

There is a sense of helplessness when a game is smarter than the player. There is a trapped, adrenaline-soaked moment when all is lost. Worse, repeated failure can lead to violence, which is hard on equipment. Or, it can lead to some sarcasm from Brian as you try to get him to do things he doesn't want to do. Players can be thankful that this game doesn't come with too much attitude, because there are a lot of points where desperation is a prime motivator. You'll click on anything and go anywhere, and you'll stray far off the golden path. A cruel and malicious programmer could really put the user through hell with some snide put-downs. For example: "Still trying to solve the game without buying the strategy guide? Hah!"

Maybe that explains why the adventure genre has been so sparse over the last few years -- once the game is beaten, the news spreads fast. Where would games like this be without the hints, cheats, leaks, walkthroughs and chats? I don't know how anyone can solve one of the puzzles involving Native Americans, but I imagine some point-and-click adventure game pros will breeze right through them. Myself, I'm utterly thankful for the walkthrough provided to reviewers. It's a wonder they don't number them and take them back.

(Click to Enlarge)

Minimum Requirements...
Pentium 200MX; 64MB RAM; 630MB hard disk space; monitor and graphics card supporting XGA (1024x768) and 16-bit color; DirectX 8; 8x CD-ROM.


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