Pennies on the Dollar
This article was originally posted on BnBGamingon February 6th, 2011.
Penny Arcade is an online webcomic that follows the antics of two gamers named Tycho and Gabe, whose real life counterparts Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik write and draw the comic. They are veterans of the gaming comic scene and have their own charity, gaming convention, podcast, live video series and thanks to Hothead Games their own videogame, an RPG/adventure hybrid loosely based on the comic.
The game is set in a fictional steam-punk universe during the 1920s and features characters from the comic alongside the player. A giant robot, modelled after the comic character "fruit fucker" has destroyed your house and you set out after it, joining forces with Tycho, Gabe and others while you uncover a mysterious plot involving homicidal hobos, cultist mimes and a horde of animatronic predators.
The game is filled to the brim with ridiculous humor, akin to the style found in the Penny Arcade comic. Jerry's distinct writing style is to be found everywhere and it lends itself well to the self-referential setting. The story itself is actually quite complicated considering the short completion time and does well in exploring the "original" mythos created for the game. It never takes itself too seriously and goes from ridiculous situation to ridiculous situation with the tounge-in-cheek humor that Penny Arcade has become known for. Mike has lent his drawing skills to the cutscenes and dialogue screens, which are top-notch as always, and the creators' long relationship together allows this game to shine because of it.
The gameplay on the other hand is mediocre at best and the control scheme seems not very thought through, at least in the PC version. The combat gets repetitive very quickly and lacks any of the real depth that is usually found in RPGs. The adventure aspects are also very limited as items are picked up and used automatically and it doesn't take a lot of exploration to uncover all the areas or dialogue options. On top of that is a 3D engine which is made to try to replicate the artist's distinct drawing style, but doesn't do a good job of it, resulting in odd-looking characters that usually only pass for good when viewed from a specific angle. Initiating a dialogue with a character and seeing his/her drawn counterpart really puts the 3D model to shame.
The Final Verdict
This game is short, which is a good thing considering the repetitive gameplay and lack of any depth. The story, as well as the humorous tidbits that can be found along the way, are the only redeeming factors which would keep someone playing. Mike's style of drawing doesn't translate well into 3D, which becomes glaringly obvious at times when his drawings are used during cutscenes and dialogue. If you're a fan of Penny Arcade, you'll have a good time enjoying the story and seeing their type of humor squeezed into a new setting, as well as finding all the comical phrases and descriptions hidden everywhere, but if you're here for an enjoyable adventure/RPG experience, you'll be left disappointed.