A reverberating echo from the golden age of adventure games.
Wadjet Eye Games wants to live in a world where the adventure game genre never suffered the Black Death of FMV-ridden, incredibly obtuse puzzles that robbed it of its vitality for so long. It's content to pick up where the adventure game's golden age left off, with the gloriously rendered sprites of LucasArts' (then LucasFilm) and Sierra's stalwart heroes exploring well-realised worlds following well-told stories. Wadjet Eyes' earlier works, such as The Shivah and Gemini Rue, managed to craft equally elaborate settings with what appears to be a shoestring budget, if the telltale header of popular open-source software game-maker "Adventure Game Studio" that appears upon starting the games is any indication.
Despite this, each successive game Wadjet Eye creates is filled with even more confidence in its delivery. Gemini Rue was met with almost universal acclaim by the Indie market, especially with the current dearth of adventure games with their demand only being met by a few other talented contemporaries like Telltale Games and Spanish developer Péndulo Studios (and not Pendejo, as I keep accidentally typing. Probably because I am a pendejo.) Their latest, Resonance, follows a quartet of disparate playable characters as they uncover the mystery behind an explosion at Juno Labs that causes a city-wide blackout in the near-future fictional berg of Aventine City. It turns out the explosion was caused by a powerful new scientific discovery with potentially devastating offensive capabilities.
It's a very standard "we can't let this technology fall into the wrong hands" sci-fi thriller structure that's elevated by the secondary sub-plots and characters that surround it. These sub-plots come to the fore with an early conceit that follows each of the four characters separately at the start of their day, approximately happening one after the other chronologically: Anna dreams about a traumatic period in her childhood, as she's chased around her bedroom by a monstrous presence; Ed is on the subway and strikes up a conversation with an attractive young woman (revealed to be an adult Anna); Detective Bennet is pursuing a shady character in a rundown part of the city against the wishes of his superiors and Ray appears to be a maintenance worker in an office until you receive the prompt to check his smartphone for directions, which initially read as some sort of felonious heist. Each does a superb job of introducing their respective characters whilst simultaneously creating four truncated environments to ease the player into the types of puzzle they will face when the game begins proper. Ed's is all about solving a puzzle by choosing the right conversation options; Anna's introduces you to the game's all-too-infrequently-employed tense time-sensitive sequences; Bennet's is sheer adventure game resourcefulness 101 and Ray opens your mind to the sort of password-finding and email clue hunting cyberpunk puzzle we've come to expect from this type of setting. It's a deftly executed masterstroke in familiarizing the player with the game's world, its characters and its individuality.
Later chapters of the game suffer and shine in equal measure, with some sequences a little too dependent on inscrutable trial-and-error solutions while others utilize the multiple character aspect very adroitly, including one memorable sequence where all four must pass through a massive and strongly magnetized supercollider. The story's a little goofy in parts, as these sci-fi thrillers often become, though there's plenty of twists and turns and a few quite tense sequences that keep it flowing along nicely. I realize it's a bit of a spoiler to let it slip that twists even exist, but I suppose there are very few good yarns that don't have some sort of unexpected outcome. The voice work, too, is fairly competent. The actors are fully cognizant of their character's feelings, attitudes and motivations and the script never devolves into overly gratuitous profanity, even when events start to go south.
It's worth noting the unique features and innovations this game brings to the genre, which had been another aspect that had started to dry up by that forsaken era of by-the-numbers FMV moon logic debacles. The most prominent are the separate "short term memory" (STM) and "long term memory" (LTM) inventories. The former simply allows you to catalogue nearby hotspots and use them in conversations, such as dragging a wall clock into your STM inventory to alert an NPC of the time. The latter is where important events and sequences are kept, which - while they can be used as puzzle keys in a similar fashion - can also be revisited at any time by clicking on them. If a dying character left you an important hint, let's say, you can recall that memory in your mind as often as you'd like. It's a far more congruous method of allowing the player to remember vital clues than looking everything up in a notebook (though the Ray character is able to recall less-vital passcodes, passwords and emails in his smartphone in instances where the memory system might not apply).
Equally novel is a twin system of achievements: One is the regular points system you'd find in many older text and point-and-click adventures; it rewards you for taking every plot-relevant action, with the maximum only attainable by those who have uncovered everything the game has to offer. Likewise, there are actual in-game achievements similar to those provided in modern console games that will reward you for courses of action that might not be the ideal way to go about things, such as deciphering an incredibly tough safe puzzle without a requisite item that makes the sequence far easier. It's not often a game so heavily dependent on its narrative strength will give players reason to play a second time, but this game pulls out all the stops to ensure you get your money's worth. It's admirable, if nothing else.
Really, "admirable" is the word I'd use for much of what this game does. It's an Indie game, absolutely, with all the negative connotations about smaller budgets and severely reduced play-times that go together with such an appellation, but had it been released in the 90s era of graphic adventures that Resonance's developers so obviously cherish, I don't doubt it would be amongst the very best that period had to offer. Such a commendation is probably music to Wadjet Eyes' ears (or.. wait what?). Whether that distinction actually means anything to you, the reader, is another matter entirely.