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Friday, June 3, 2011

Review: Red Johnson's Chronicles (PSN)

With the return of the PSN and the PS Store, the Sony faithful have been rewarded for their patience with some awesome deals, like 50 per cent off the wonderfully strategic gameplay of Under Siege that we reviewed here earlier this week. Personally, of course, I prefer to keep my RTS gameplay strictly to PC, but some point-click adventuring on the PS3? That I can get behind.

Helping round out the deals being offered is a cool new game called Red Johnson’s Chronicles. And when I say cool I mean cool; from the smooth jazz fusion and sharp artwork of the menu screen to the faux-Communist font utilised throughout the game just because, this is a game that oozes coolness from its very pores.

So much cool...
The concept is pretty simple: you play Red Johnson, a private investigator in Metropolis. Red gets hired on by the local police force to work cases that they can’t be bothered with, which includes pretty much everything. This time around Red is hired to solve a murder case, but the only information he is given to start the case is where the murder took place. I think that's a pretty good example of how incompetent the cops in Metropolis are, wouldn't you say?

One of the first things I noticed with Red Johnson's Chronicles is how gorgeous it is. The character art is amazing and the location artwork is even better. Because the game is a point-click adventure, it's important - nay, necessary - to pay attention to every little detail in the artwork, and developers, Lexis Numérique, did everything justice. Each locale that you visit is completely unique while still retaining a similar tone. Metropolis is made out to be a dark and seedy place, but you always get the sense that there's something else just beyond the surface. Whether that's something even darker or not is up for you to decipher in the game.

Isn't that gorgeous? I haven't seen such amazingly detailed backdrops since Syberia II!

The other thing worth noting before we get to the gameplay is the spot-on character design. Putting aside the gorgeous artwork and how awesome each character looks, the demeanour, personality and mannerisms of each character are so true-to-form that it convinces you of the world you're now part of. Red Johnson is made out to be a cool and collected individual who knows what's what but Officer Rob (your police contact) is little more than a bumbling blowhard. The opening scene between Don and Red does a good job of setting up the position the PI has in the city while also making Red appear even cooler by comparing him to Officer Rob. It's a well directed scene that delivers exactly what it needs to.

As a point-and-click adventure game, I imagine most people would expect it to be nothing more than a pixel hunt. Not so in Red Johnson's Chronicles! Instead, the gameplay mostly consists of puzzles that, once solved, yield evidence to be used in the case. For instance, one puzzle involves you having to slide transistor pieces around a circuit board to create a complete circuit, while another puzzle involves you using a combination of riddles and Tarot cards to find the combination to a locked box. Quite a few of the puzzles are a bit abstract but none are too hard to understand (even if some are noticeably difficult to actually solve). 

Beyond the puzzles, a portion of the gameplay is devoted to interrogations where Red questions suspects and witnesses to attempt to glean information. It's here that another great part of the game is allowed to shine: the voice acting. Though the acting for Red himself is a little bit hit-and-miss, the rest of the cast is voiced perfectly and really bring the characters to life. Part of this praise definitely needs to go to the writers as well, because some of the dialogue is its own breed of genius and that isn't something I've said about video games for some time.

Now, as most people who have played a point-and-click adventure game know, it's often fairly easy to get stuck on particular puzzles. Sometimes your brain slips up and you can't see the forest for the trees, or sometimes the puzzles are just that little bit too difficult to handle. We've all been there! I know how alluring the internet can be: it's just so easy to give up trying and look up the answers online. Of course, once you've done it once it's hard not to continue. Before you know it, you've reached the end of the game and you can't even remember the puzzles you encountered to get there. Luckily, Red Johnson's Chronicles has a great tip system in the form of Saul.

Saul is introduced as a cool cat right near the beginning of the game; you meet him shortly after beginning the case, and you are told that Saul is Red Johnson's informer. Saul's a slick guy who knows everything on the street, including how to solve puzzles and who to talk to next. Of course, his tips don't come free: every time you want a tip, you have to give up some of the hard-earned cash you acquire by successfully completing puzzles. There isn't much worry of running out of money, though: Red starts with a sizable amount of savings and, though there are always multiple tips for each puzzle, you're almost assured to make back more than is possible to spend on tips. It's a pretty slick mechanic that allows the game to keep moving without breaking the sense of disbelief that living in Metropolis gives you.

The other core mechanic of the game is some classy quick-time events. Whenever Red gets himself into a dangerous situation (and, believe me, that happens more often than you'd think), the screen cuts all the vibrant colours and leaves us with a monochrome fight scene in the form of a QTE. It's really quite classy and the sequences are pretty simple, but it's a fairly unforgiving system. If you miss even one part of the QTE, you fail and have to repeat the entire thing over again. Luckily, none of the events are very long, but its still a pain to fail a handshake because you didn't move the thumbstick the right direction. Even still, it works well as a medium for action in this genré and I don't think it's out of place.

See? Classy!
My only real complaint about this game is that it's a fairly short title and there isn't much replay value. I mean, once you've solved every puzzle, interrogated every witness and solved the case, there's not much point to go back and see everything again. It's a real crying shame because Red is such an awesome character and the world is so beautifully created. I was really hoping there were multiple cases to solve but, sadly, there's just the one. I hope Lexis Numérique decides to continue with the exploits of Red Johnson. After all, the game is called "Chronicles"; that kind of implies more than one.

If you're looking for a new-age adventure game to wile away the hours while making you feel like a cool cat in a dirty world, look no further than Red Johnson's Chronicles. At just under $10, it's definitely worth the time and money it would take to give it a play. 

Because, really, who doesn't want to be a private eye?

- Nick J

Review: Red Johnson's Chronicles (PSN)
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