Resonance Review: Long Term Memory
Whoever said "they don't make 'em like they used to" when it comes to videogames probably hasn't played Resonance. This new but decidedly retro point 'n click adventure game looks like it came straight out of the early '90s, when the genre was at its peak, driven by then-giants Sierra and LucasArts. It looks old, but feels mostly modern, thanks to smart puzzle design, a sharp script and solid voice acting to back it up. It flounders in all these areas every once in a while, but in sum it's a reminder of what is great about the genre.
The core conceit is that a group of seemingly unrelated individuals are united in their search of a vault containing a new technology that has the capacity to provide either limitless, 'clean' energy or great destructive potential. The game opens with a short vignette of each character, introducing them to the player in an extremely effective way that gets its hooks in early on. Soon enough, scientist Eddings (call him Ed) and detective Bennet come together to find out what happened to Ed's mentor, who was caught in a lab when a mysterious explosion occurred. Shortly afterwards, Ray the journalist and Anna the nurse join the two, and from then on you're free to switch between each character at will.
This core mechanic is both one of Resonance's great strengths and one of its biggest flaws. The puzzles use the character switching in some interesting and clever ways, but actually switching between characters and having them interact is a cumbersome affair. To have a character follow your currently selected avatar, you must needs enter into a conversation with them and ask them to follow you, which gets wearisome before long. Likewise, items must be manually given from one character to another. Realizing the item you need is in the hands of the wrong character, who is currently in a different screen, is a frustrating situation. It's just more busywork that doesn't add anything of value to the experience. It may not happen very frequently, but it grates when it does.
When it comes to actual puzzles, for the most part Resonance is intelligently designed. It's very low on the dreaded pixel hunt, only rarely requiring you scour previous locations for items you may have missed. In fact, it happens so rarely that when it does happen, and it really is maybe once or twice, it completely threw me off. Most puzzles give you everything you need to solve them in the same room, making solving them a matter of wits rather than desperately trying to combine all the items in your inventory. Some puzzles have multiple solutions. For example, a journal locked by a combination lock can simply be broken, but this will upset Anna, as it belonged to her uncle. Examining her items and memories can give you the combination. Ofttimes the solution is hidden in plain sight.
Resonance is full of puzzles that make you feel smart for solving them. Thinking logically, rather than trying to think like the designers, is generally the solution. The game fumbles near the end with some dialogue puzzles that feel more like trial and error, which is a shame, as it's so good about being logical for the most part. They're not huge missteps, but big enough to be a little disappointing, given the overall quality is so high. Likewise, the game's unique Long Term Memory and Short Term Memory systems yield mixed results. Long Term Memory automatically saves story-relevant situations in characters' memories, which can be recalled in conversation or at will to help solve puzzles. This is an interesting system that both serves as a story refresher for players and holds the key to solving several puzzles. Short Term Memory requires you to drag items from the environment into it so you can call upon them in conversation, which is kind of like making your own conversation tree. The Short Term Memory system is barely used, however, and sometimes it just seems to add more noise - I'm in this room specifically to check out the mainframe, why do I need to drag it over to STM before I can bring it up in conversation? Almost as if the designers realized this, they drop the Short Term Memory wholesale around two-thirds through the game, after which it never needs to be used again.
The story carries the game from beginning to end, clocking in at roughly six hours. The Resonance technology itself is essentially a bit of a MacGuffin until two-thirds of the way through, but the underlying murder mystery and characters keep the story moving. The characters aren't the most complex people ever rendered on the screen, occasionally veering close to stereotypes. A plot twist at the two-thirds mark throws a considerable wrench in the works, though, and changes the dynamics in interesting ways. It all leads up to two different endings, neither wholly good or bad, true to the game's hard sci-fi genre. All the dialogue is fully voiced, mostly convincingly, and the writing is equally solid. The dialogue is believable and gives the characters their vital spark, while the story does a solid job of tying all its plot strands together, even if it ventures into some typical conspiracy theory territory at the end.
Not flawless, then, but ultimately engaging through its clever puzzles and interesting, well-told story. It doesn't overstay its welcome and does its damnedest to avoid the classic point n' click pitfalls, mostly succesfully. Anyone pining for adventure games of old or simply wanting to experience a gripping interactive story would do well to give this game a look.
Bought from http://www.wadjeteyegames.com/ (DRM-free, comes with Steam code). Demo available.