Review: Primordia

Primordia

With the rise of console gaming and increased demand for cutting edge 3D graphics, there is a common perception that classic point and click adventure games are a dying breed.  Sierra and LucasArts were the titans of the genre, but while these developers are no longer the gaming powerhouses they once were (or in the case of Sierra–don’t even exist any more) adventure games are indeed alive and well.

Early adventure games brought a wide variety of humor, wonderful stories, puzzles and visual styles. They were often presented in crude 8-bit sprites that titillated the imagination (pun intended of course for Leisure Suit Larry fans), but because the stories were so interesting, flashy graphics weren’t required.  Moving beyond simple 8-bit graphics to deeper color palettes and complex animations meant adventure gaming could offer humor, stories and interactivity while potentially rising to the level of cartoon animation.

Having wonderful visuals doesn’t always mean a game will be any good, as has been proven time and again.  Solid mechanics do more for a game than flashy visuals.  Add in a complex, well-crafted narrative with characters that are engaging and compelling, and a game doesn’t need excessive eye candy to succeed.  This concept is exactly what Wadjet Eye Games has been delivering for the last few years, with games like The Shivah, The Blackwell series and the more recent Resonance all providing top notch storytelling without requiring a powerhouse computer to play.  Continuing their winning track of wonderful adventure games is the newly released Primordia, developed by Wormwood Studios and available today at PrimordiaGame.com, Steam and GOG.

Set in a future where robots rule and man is merely a forbidden myth, Primordia tells the story of a robot named Horatio and his hovering companion, Crispin, as they attempt to recover a stolen power cell.  While Horatio and Cripsin attempt to retrieve this vital energy source, Primordia unravels a wonderful story of conflicting factions struggling against each other, all in the attempt of progress, redemption and rebuilding what was once a great world.  Now the world is a wasteland of the broken, rusting, destroyed remnants of a past glorious civilization.  Horatio is a robot with good intentions thrust into a situation where a healthy and positive moral outcome is questionable. I don’t want to get into too many details without potentially spoiling anything, but I can say without a doubt that Horatio, Crispin and all of the other robots throughout game are some of the richest characters I’ve had the pleasure of playing with in quite a long time.

Along the way to recovering the power core, Horatio and Crispin scour junk piles, encounter schizophrenic robots–even zombie bots–and discover what caused the world they live in to become such a barren, dying wasteland.  One of the best things about good science fiction isn’t the fantastical future tech or the luxuries it brings, but rather turning the events of the future into a parable of what is wrong with the course of modern man and society.  Primordia isn’t exactly a warning of what will happen to our current society, but it does raise some interesting questions about our dependence on automation.  Man built robots to help build, or so the Gospel of Man in Primordia states. The game further explores what happens when robots want to do more than build or, in other words, when a robot designed to perform one function becomes all powerful.  Now I’m not saying that a robot designed to mold plastic ejected dashboards would end up ruling our world, but the game posits the idea that robots are only as smart as the task they are programmed for.  If they take over the world, even after 392 revisions of programming, the world would likely become a rusting, power starved, rotted junk heap.

Point and click adventure games are great for being able to build strong characters in unique locations all while running a simple, intuitive interface.  Typically games of this ilk are a “hunt for the right pixel until the mouse cursor changes” and the real challenge comes from figuring out what inventory objects need to be placed together in order to solve a puzzle.  Primordia follows the same sort of ideal, but goes a step further by including an in-game hint system via Crispin, the hovering droid sidekick.  I love playing adventure games, but I’m stupid when it comes to figuring out what I need to do next in a lot of these types of games. I admit that I’m usually playing with an FAQ or a walkthrough by my side.  Sure it can sometimes ruin the magic of a game, but how often in real life does any one ever think that “if I combine a hose with a pumpkin, I’ll be able to open a door?”  

Adventure games are often known for having crazy solutions like that, but thankfully Primordia doesn’t fall victim to puzzle obscurity.  Maybe I’m smarter than I think.  Or maybe all of the puzzles make sense in this game. Maybe Crispin’s clues are just worded so perfectly that I never once had to fret over needing a walkthrough.  What I’m getting at here is that Primordia goes to great lengths to ensure that its puzzles can be solved without putting players into a position where they have to look to an outside reference for aid.

Crispin will offer clues, but not right away.  Clicking on him will return several replies such as, “Do you hear clicking?” or “I’m just a sidekick, why do you keep asking ME what to do next?”  The game is full of sly self aware humor; the writing is fantastic.  Not only does the game question the world’s moral gray areas (and in turn the real world), but the writing also provides some truly laugh out loud moments with interactions between Horatio, Crispin and various other robots.

Writing such great characters goes a long way to creating a wonderful game, but Primordia goes a step further by having a fantastic cast of voice actors. Logan Cunningham, most notably known as the Narrator in Bastion, stands out once again as the star of the game.  Logan does a wonderful job, but he is not alone in spectacular performances.  Abe Goldfarb performs as Crispin, and the banter that is tossed back and forth between the two characters adds a charm that almost goes against everything that Primordia would seem to represent.  Sarah Elmaleh voices Clarity, a mid-game character that brings another layer of depth to the narrative.  Normally I wouldn’t find it necessary to call out individual actors, except that part of Primordia‘s lasting impact is due to these fantastic voice-over performances.

There are two other aspects that I want to mention about Primordia before wrapping things up.  The first is the fact that not every puzzle needs to be solved, nor do they have to all be solved the same way.  That’s not to say that every puzzle can be skipped, but it shows that Wormwood Studios put a lot of effort into giving players options when faced with solving sections of the game, which is welcomed change in a genre that is mostly known for high linearity and almost no player choice.  Not solving one puzzle has the potential for impacting future interactions with other robots, and because of this the ending is also not so cut and dry.  I must have replayed the end at least five different times, just to see how many variations the game had to offer.  

The second thing that needs to be pointed out is the fact that the developers also include a commentary track which offers some fun insight and inspiration into the design process of the game.  Developer commentary is something I think more studios should add to their games and I’m always happy to see this type of feature.

Fans of story-driven gaming should not pass up Primordia. Clearly a lot of care and hard work went into creating this game, and the results are a wonderful journey into a decaying world filled with mystery and unique, memorable characters.  An adventure game that offers humor, optional ways to solve puzzles and a clean, intuitive interface, Primordia truly is a shining example that old school point and click gaming isn’t dead, but is in fact thriving more than ever before.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Rich, mysterious game world
+ Engaging characters supported by top notch voice acting
+ Multiple ways to solve puzzles
+ Optional developer commentary feature is a nice touch
+ In-game hint system offers clues and solutions without holding a gamer’s hand

Cons:
– Resolution settings aren’t available within the game interface

Game Info:
Platform: PC
Publisher: Wadjet Eye Games
Developer: Wormwood Studios
Release Date: 12/5/2012
Genre: Adventure
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.