If the only gamers interested in Runaway: The Dream of the Turtle were those who played the original Runaway: A Road Adventure, I could save everyone a whole lot of time and energy with a mere four words: more of the same.
That's a simplification, to be sure, but one that will undoubtedly resonate with many players. Far more than most games, the original Runaway produced a polarized love-it-or-hate-it reaction upon its English release in 2003. To some, it was the embodiment of the modern classic, retaining the style and charm of the golden era adventures while using current technology to make it all feel fresh and new again. With other popular series shifting to 3D or more action-oriented gameplay, Runaway was the new standard bearer for old school adventures coming of age. To others, however, the game represented a pale reflection of the genre greats of yore, undeniably beautiful but deeply flawed and with a shocking lack of depth and substance. A victim more of failed expectations than its actual quality, perhaps, Runaway became something of a poster child for the disenchanted.
Almost four years later, the sequel is now upon us, and for better or worse, not much has changed in The Dream of the Turtle. Depending on which side of the fence you're already on, then, "more of the same" will either be a triumphant declaration of the same tantalizing promise or a bitter lament of the same agonizing disappointment. Of course, not all players are given to such extremes, and there are many more who haven't yet played the original -- a fact strategically reflected by the lack of the number "2" in the sequel's title in some territories. So for those not immediately swayed by the resemblance to its predecessor, let's dive into the details.
Picking up not long after the events of the first game, the story of Runaway 2 begins with Brian Basco and Gina Timmins still (or again) lounging about in Hawaii and feeling not a care in the world, let alone the cares of the world. Needless to say, that's about to change. Trouble in paradise is not far behind, when a seemingly harmless tour flight goes horribly awry, forcing Brian to shove Gina from the plane with the only parachute while he's left to crash land on the remote island below. And so begins Brian's new adventure of "save neck and find girlfriend", a rather frequent necessity in the original game that's carried over here on a much larger scale. You don't need to have played the original to follow along here (and in fact a handy recap option is included), but for those who have, the familiarity will leave you feeling like you've never been away.
This time around, Brian's pursuit of Gina takes him to the farthest corners of the world, and maybe a little beyond -- from tropical jungles to the frozen north, from an archeological underground dig to a sunken galleon deep underwater, through trans-dimensional space and into the depths of pure imagination. Along the way, the plot thickens with details of advanced alien technology and government conspiracy (naturally, where one goes, the other is sure to follow), and it becomes clear that Gina's whereabouts is closely connected to the larger story developments. It's silly, flimsy, preposterous stuff, which is exactly what Pendulo Studios had in mind. At no point does the game ever take itself seriously, knowing full well that the tongue-in-cheek premise is just the backdrop for a madcap romp filled with urinating toys, polar bear perfume, wannabe pirate credentials, and cockatoo resurrection. This whimsical sense of "adventure" is easily one of Runaway 2's greatest strengths if taken in the spirit intended. Even so, the game's ambitious scope does catch up with it before all is said and done, but more on that later.
Adding to the wacky flavour of the game is the bizarre cast of characters. Several are familiar faces from the original Runaway, including the eccentric Douglasville gang of Sushi the techno-geek, Saturn the inventor, and Rutger the Rastafarian. Also along for the ride, this time in a much more prominent role, is Joshua, the self-proclaimed genius with an unhealthy UFO obsession. The return of these characters is generally welcome, as each has a distinct, offbeat personality that suits the game well. Joshua is sure to get on your nerves as much as he does Brian's over time, but he's as endearing in small doses as he is annoying in large ones. Of the new characters, highlights include an uppercrust gourmet chef with no shoes and no home but plenty of attitude, a grizzled American army colonel who craves war as much as cigars, and a beer-guzzling lemur with a penchant for mischief. There are plenty of others characters you'll encounter in your travels, some of whom are entertaining, while some are completely forgettable and others are simply under-developed -- at least for now.
You'll spend plenty of time gabbing with this ragtag bunch throughout the game, and conversation is a fairly painless affair, if a little cumbersome. Dialogue trees offer several topics at any given time, and each leads to multi-tiered branches that further flesh out the subject. Eventually, though, you'll need to wind and weave your way through all of them, so you'll frequently find yourself looping back around just to try a different path. All options remain available even after exhausting them, and there's nothing to distinguish used topics from new, so you're on your own to keep track of what you've already covered in full. A bigger nuisance is the identical animations that occur each time you initiate another conversation with the same person. Most are relatively short, but they add up over time, and they end up feeling like an animated load screen that'll make you think twice about how much you really want to talk to someone again.
One of the biggest complaints from the first game was not the supporting cast, but the stars, as many felt Brian and Gina to be bland and unlikeable protagonists. It's safe to say that there's a marginal improvement here, though perhaps not enough to satisfy everyone. Surprisingly, while given equal billing to Brian in the game's advertising, Gina is a non-factor in The Dream of the Turtle, remaining a background motivation but never a player throughout this particular adventure. Alone in the spotlight this time around, the ever-yappy Brian has shed his former dorky bookworm image here, but even duded up with a swagger and 'burns, he still lacks much in the way of charisma, which is in stark contrast to the colourful characters around him. He may look cool, but he's still the same ol' Brian underneath.
While probably the right idea to have the protagonist play the (relative) straight man, the decision emphasizes a problem partially concealed by the zaniness of the NPCs: the game just isn't very funny. While goofy accents and outrageous personalities are amusing at first, they're simply no substitute for quality writing, and the dialogue in Runaway 2 regularly falls flat. The lack of humour isn't an inherent weakness, of course, except the game so desperately wants to provide laughs that you can't help but notice it generally doesn't. There are a few smirks and chuckles to be found here and there, but by and large it's a fairly yuk-free experience.
At least the dialogue received a solid translation from its original Spanish (a few too many subtitle inconsistencies aside), and the diverse cast is brought to life by quality voice acting for the most part. Like its predecessor, Runaway 2 makes the mistake of over-using the same actors for multiple roles, which is really distracting at times, but not often enough to matter. I'd also have preferred to puncture my own eardrums than listen to Sushi's out-of-character ditzy bimbo performance any longer than I had to, but such problems are thankfully the exceptions rather than the otherwise positive rule.Continued on the next page...