The grim reality of episodic content
Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Episode One is a game that I can't quite decide how to judge. On the one hand, it has a witty, in-your-face style of humor that's generally entertaining. On the other hand, the RPG elements don't really live up to the game's price tag. In the end, I think the dividing line for most will be how far they let the game's funnies carry the rest of the package and whether it is far enough to justify the game's relatively high entry fee.
Fortunately, those aforementioned funnies permeate every part of the game. The writing is sharp and witty (and often vulgar), and the dialog carries the narrative from start to finish. The frequent exchanges between characters tend to be lighthearted and the topics of discussion can fall anywhere from apocalyptic doom, to the nature of a mime's invisible, yet necessary equipment. All of this is great for the most part and gives Penny Arcade Adventures its distinct vibe. At some point, however, the constant level of "over-the-top-ness" can get a little silly. You'll always know that whatever is about to come out of the character's mouth is just going to be ridiculous, and that predictability can occasionally take away from its impact. In short, some of it comes out sounding a little forced, but for the most part this is a non-issue, as the game's sense of humor is almost certainly its strongest aspect.
Which, in many ways, is due to the fact that the rest of the game doesn't seem to hold its weight. At its core, Penny Arcade Adventures is a mix between a classic point and click adventure, and simple RPG elements. The adventure sequences are too linear to offer any true "adventuring", and the RPG elements feel stifled and unrewarding. Items and experience are given to you in abundance, and when combined with easy battles, they produce a quest that seems to have no real consequence. Everything you need to progress your characters and beat this short game is handed to you on a silver plate, which takes away a lot of what makes RPGs fun. There is no character building, item management, or exploration to be found here. Your entire progression is mapped out for you right from the get-go and exists without challenge to boot.
Granted, Penny Arcade Adventures is a small downloadable title, and it might not be entirely fair to fault it on these terms. At the same time, with Episode One sitting at a whopping $20 and three more episodes to follow, the entire package will almost certainly match a $60 retail game's price tag. Yet if each episode remains such a shallow snippet as this, then even combining it all won't produce an experience as involved as I'd like my $60 games to be and in the end, that was the breaking point for me. There will surely be those who can ignore this pricing issue in favor of some genuinely humorous dialog, but I prefer a little more bang for my buck in games, and Penny Arcade Adventures falls just short.
For additional information on my review style and scoring system, click here.