Ambitious ideas meld well with classic gameplay
There's a glint in Wadjet Eye's, er, eye that I greatly respect. Their gameplay and graphics might be evocative of Sierra and LucasArts, but they've got a quirky soul to their games that's all their own. Little touches like reusing voice actors might be born out of a budget, but I get the very real sense that everyone involved with this company is growing and learning.
And that's what makes Primordia such a delightful little romp - sure, there are elements that could've been handled better, and the game's ambition never quite reaches fruition, but the spark of life and humor kept me entertained enough to look past its faults and wound up making this a surprisingly great experience.
There's a ton of ambition here for such basic gameplay. It's a basic point-and-clicker. You find items, you combine items, you interact a bit with some NPCs, and you eventually solve enough puzzles to see the credits roll. It's not a terribly complex formula, but neither does it get particularly annoying. The puzzles all seem fairly logical, and while there's a bit of pixel hunting to be done, there's a convenient, harmless hint system in your AI companion that keeps you pointed in the right direction.
I found myself really liking the pixelated mid-nineties look of the game. While I found myself wishing there were more environments and settings to look at, I liked what little I saw of this bleak, ravaged world. The few characters are nicely done too, looking the part of machinery on its last legs very well.
Anyone who has played a prior Wadjet Eye title will recognize the game's voice actors straightaway. They bring a good deal of charm to the mostly-excellent dialogue, though they maybe sound a bit too human. I guess that goes a bit with the game's mythology, but still, it seemed a little jarring. Most of the game's other sounds are serviceable, if sparse. The dialogue is pretty great, with lots of winking nods to MST3K and all manner of sci-fi influences.
What really makes the game crackle is that world-building. Placing the game long after the demise of mankind, with robots having turned mankind into religious figures, is a hell of an intriguing move. So, too, are some of the game's NPCs, like a robotic, preaching guardian of a bomb. The whole game feels like it's just on the verge of being big, something you'd want to explore and get lost in, not entirely unlike Fallout 3 or a much more brown and drab Wall-E.
Unfortunately, that ambition is cut a bit short by the game's narrow scope and focus. You're limited to a very small part of the entire world, with tantalizing hints of other places and events. I wish the game had been a bit more than what it actually was - I really did like this setting and world building, but only a few small bits and pieces were available with a lot of backtracking in between.
It's a damn shame, because this had the potential to be a great spiritual successor to something like Space Quest. It's not that there isn't a great game here, but it's just too smal, too focused on a very small story in a very big and neat world.
And yeah, pixel hunting is not exactly my favorite chore in the world. I can't help but feel like the game could've used the scanner item you build to help you look for items of note apart from the story-based item you need to recover. Perhaps in a future game, this will become a thing.
I'd really recommend picking up the Wadjet Eye games in a pack rather than individually. They're not terrible by any means, but none are particularly long and they come up fairly frequently in Steam sales and bundles. Primordia is currently about ten bucks on Steam, which frankly, is about five bucks too much for a game that won't take anyone more than a couple of hours to beat. Still, keep a watchful eye and snag this one when it comes up on sale, and you might find yourself pleasantly surprised.
It won't knock anyone's socks off, but that's not the point. This game is a solid, pleasant couple of hours' entertainment. It's a clever, ambitious title that I hope sees a bigger sequel someday.