Review: The Low Road

Noomi Kovacs is a young spy who wants nothing more than to be assigned to real field work, to make a difference as a secret agent. The beginning of The Low Road, a 1970s corporate espionage graphic adventure, finds Noomi meeting Barney “Turn” Turner, who was once a legendary spy himself, and showing off her prowess of deduction through a phone call while sifting through different slips of paper and information. Turn is a washed up command jockey, afraid to make any real meaningful choices aside from NOT allowing Noomi a chance to work as a field agent. Noomi’s initial goal is to manipulate Turn to get him to put her to work in the field.

Like many point-and-click adventure games, The Low Road presents players with many different puzzles to solve and objects to interact with. The trick is to figure out which items are supposed to go together in order to reach what, at times, can feel like arbitrary solutions.

The game starts out with a folder of various documents containing clues that lead to the right choice for directing how a particular phone conversation plays out. This mechanic is used later in the game as well, and brings a unique twist to the point-and-click norm. While Noomi manages to get more information out of a woman named Lacey during the conversation, Turn still won’t send her out in the field. Noomi is determined to prove her worth, and thus players must figure out a way to get Turn to change his mind. Walking around the office, Noomi meets other characters that either provide additional information, which can be used to further the branching dialog options, or operate as barriers to moving forward. Various objects can be collected, like invisible ink, to help Noomi achieve her goal.

Beside the typical point-and-click aspect and flipping through the folder full of potential leads for dialog options, The Low Road adds a clever pickpocket mini game, as well as other first-person interaction sequences. Holding down the right trigger allows objects to be grabbed onto and slowly dragged through a maze of jacket liners and other objects found within a particular pocket. A meter on the left of the screen fills up and determines whether or not the person detects that his or her pocket is being picked. The dialogue system becomes layered onto this mini game in a neat way later on, when Noomi has to choose several dialog options to help delay a conversation, which gives players a longer period of time to pick a particular pocket. If the right dialog choices aren’t selected, then players have a much shorter time to pick a pocket.

One other thing that The Low Road does a bit different is offer fail states that don’t simply end with a hard “Game Over” screen. These fail states provide a glimpse of what inevitably happens to Noomi, Turn and other characters, but then the game flashes back via a neat VCR rewind scrubbing effect, allowing players to try again without necessarily having to load from a previous save file. This is a pretty cool feature, and one that I would love to see used more often in other games with hard fail states.

Without spoiling too much of the story, Noomi eventually proves her worth and is allowed out into the real world on a mission that explores industrial espionage involving cars powered by plant-based perpetual motion. This spy work leads to a bigger conspiracy that almost too conveniently includes characters presented early on in the game. The Low Road is smartly written and has some very clever and humorous moments throughout, especially when Noomi’s actions directly involve play between Turn and another spy Horace, who is a bit of an unwitting heel to Turn, but is a good guy in the grand scheme of things.

My only real complaint is the same issue I have with many point-and-click adventures. Too often puzzles can feel ridiculously arbitrary with what objects are necessary to combine or in what order tasks need to be completed to advance the game. Additionally, some objects are easy to miss due to the fact that there isn’t a completely free roaming cursor. Instead, the right stick will snap to specific objects, but only if Noomi is close enough to allow the cursor to be moved. Every few steps I moved Noomi, I found myself constantly moving the right stick to see if the cursor would snap to a new object. After a while this tedious method took me out of the immersion of the game and I would find myself missing necessary clues because I felt like I was looking for the next hotspot instead of just playing the game.

The interface is somewhat inelegant, but overall The Low Road is a smart game, with a well crafted story fueled by funny characters, strong voice work, and a great soundtrack. The art style is pretty great and the animation of each character is silly, yet charming. Mix in some of the different gameplay aspects, like pickpocketing and sorting through documents to drive conversations, and The Low Road becomes elevated above just another standard point-and-click adventure. The game first came out last year on PC, but playing the newly released Switch version was nice as I could play on the go and enjoy a full gaming experience that traditionally I would only play using a mouse and keyboard.

BuyIt

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on Switch, also on PC
Publisher: XGen Studios
Developer: XGen Studios
Release Date: Switch – 8/23/2018, PC – 7/26/2017
Genre: Adventure
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1

Source: A Nintendo Switch code for The Low Road was provided for review consideration by XGen Studios.

Buy From: Nintendo.com and Steam for $14.99.

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.