Clever, twisting storyline; some intriguing hard science fiction; fantastic use of character-switching mechanic; innovative “memory” system; excellent puzzle design; charming retro graphics; multiple endings.
Characters are a little thinly drawn; one brutally unforgiving puzzle; multi-character manipulation can occasionally be tedious.
4.5 stars: "A superb game that excels in just about every area, held back only by one or two notable flaws or a collection of smaller ones that prevent the game from earning full marks."
Resonance took a long time to arrive, but this meaty, challenging sci-fi thriller has unquestionably been worth the wait.
Short-term memories, on the other hand, are basically hotspots from the environment that can be dragged into the short-term memory bank so that they can be referenced in dialogue. Need to ask a receptionist for access to a computer terminal in the room? Drag the terminal into the short-term memory bank and then click on it while talking to the receptionist. This works really well, simulating more abstract thought processes and forcing players to take a more active role in the dialogue rather than just interacting with everything and then waiting for dialogue options to appear that push you in the right direction.
The memory mechanic never gets boring and always teeters on the right side of the "just hard enough / too dang hard" divide. In other words, exactly what we want out of a challenging adventure game. Some of the puzzles are truly brutal; the developer has been very open about his love for Riven's unforgiving challenge level, but he also seems to understand that not everyone wants to hit a brick wall every few minutes. You'll generally able to augment the toughest puzzles with an extra item (as in the case of a literal puzzle box that can be solved as-is or with the "help" of another item that gives you an advantage) or in some cases can circumvent the puzzle altogether by simply finding another solution to the problem. There is one exception, however—a dialogue sequence near the end of the game that feels unfairly obtuse, especially compared to the plethora of subtle hints embedded in the other challenges. For a game that lasts around 9-10 hours, it seems ridiculous to spend an hour and a half of it on a single dialogue tree with seemingly endless possible fail states. But it speaks to the quality here that as soon as I passed the offending puzzle, I was right back to loving the game.
Something else worth noting is the prevalence of computer terminals in the game. There are at least four or five completely unique computer interfaces that you'll encounter and almost every one features a surprisingly fleshed-out interface. Whether you're using Ray's smartphone or a command line-only mainframe terminal, it's clear that a lot of care has gone into crafting the look and functionality of each interface. It's a small touch, but one that adds a lot, especially considering how many of the puzzles take place partially or entirely within these interfaces. The rest of the game's standard point-and-click interface is polished and intuitive—left clicking on an object will use or take it, while right-clicking will examine it. Items and memories can be dragged from their respective storage banks into the gameworld to use them on characters or hotspots, or can be dragged into a small box on the dialogue window during conversation in order to discuss them.
It's not unusual for independent games to feature retro-style graphics, so it comes as no shock that Resonance tries for a mid-'90s pixel art aesthetic. What is unusual is how successful it is. It feels more like a big-budget game from 1994 than a low-budget independent game trying to look two decades old. Backgrounds are packed with detail, and while they may not have Gemini Rue's painterly atmosphere, they're certainly nice to look at, and many of them have classy little touches like cars passing in the foreground or birds flying overhead. These add a lot of life to what would otherwise be very static environments. Variety rules the day again, with locations around Aventine City ranging from graffiti-splattered alleys to sanitized hospital hallways. The game also features a single video sequence that kicks off the action in spectacular style, featuring frantic shaky-cam news footage of destruction around the globe. It certainly makes you aware of the stakes.
The high point of the presentation is the character design and animation. Every character, playable or not, looks distinctive, with subtle touches like Bennet's bad hairstyle or the Tortoise Security owner's weird cyberpunk monocle. Better yet, there are several unique animations for each character rather than relying on generic, canned animations for everything. Characters even manage to express some emotion physically, a rarity in games with this constrained graphical style.
Most of the emotion comes through the voice acting, of course, which is quite good. Pre-release coverage has made a big deal of the casting of Logan Cunningham, better known as the narrator from Bastion, whose performance in that game made him something of a minor voice acting celebrity. As Detective Bennet he does often steal the show with his sardonic and gravelly quips, but everyone does a great job. Sarah Elmaleh as Anna is the other standout—she provides the game's heart and has the most demanding and wide-ranging performance to give. The music isn't quite as memorable, providing the appropriate atmosphere but without much zeal.
There are a few different endings, and while the decision that alters the finale only crops up at the very end of the game, it does so in a refreshingly organic way. Rather than confront you with a dialogue box with options A or B, you're presented with a specific situation to see how you work your way out of it. It's conceivable that the uninformed player might not even realize that there are multiple solutions depending on their interpretation of the story up to that point. The endings themselves aren't wildly different in their execution, but they are very different in their moral implications. These aren't merely 'good' and 'bad' endings; rather they all exist in a deliciously intriguing and tormenting moral grey area.
While many games with lengthy development periods end up disappointing, Resonance will grab you from the start, challenge you all the way through, and leave you fully satisfied by the time the credits roll. It may not have the most memorable characters or the most evocative world, but it features strong storytelling for people who value a good sci-fi yarn, and clever, devious puzzles for those who want to test their mettle in a polished and relatively lengthy package. It's even very affordable at a bargain budget price. What more can you ask for in a game?
|Digital||June 19 2012||Wadjet Eye Games|
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