I can’t recall a game that has achieved better harmony between nostalgia and more modern game design. Resonance takes a decidedly old-school aesthetic and genre (the classic, pixellated point and click adventure), innovates on the interface and the gameplay and it ties it all into a well-written, well-acted, simply well-crafted story. It’s a fantastic game, and worth playing whether you even liked adventure games back in the mid 90s or not.
You play as four different characters, all of which have their secrets and motivations. Each person is involved at some level with an accident that occurs at a high-tech lab, and throughout the game, you’ll switch off amongst the group, interact with one another, and generally muddle through using their various skills.
In terms of gameplay, you have your usual inventory system (and interestingly, some items can only be carried by a specific characters), as well as a “long term memory” and “short term memory” lists, which can be used in conversations with other characters. Long-term memories offer story clues and important background details, while the short-term memory system works much like a conversation inventory – you can add almost any selectable object to the list and use it in conversations. It’s handy (and necessary), since many of the puzzles make heavy use of the conversation system in order to gain inventory items.
There’s also a very welcome “rewind” feature that mitigates the annoyance of death in the game. If your character(s) happens to perish, the game simply rewinds to the point where you made a serious mistake, and allows you to start from there.
The writing and voice acting are standout features, especially for a genre known for being on the lower end of the old production budget scale. The characters are exceptionally well written with rich back stories and compelling motivations. The overall plot is interesting and exciting, with plenty of nice little sci-fi/action nods. The voice work is outstanding, with Bastion’s Logan Cunningham starring as hardboiled detective Bennett. He sounds as if he’s in a noir film from the 40s, and loving every moment of it.
It’s also a beautiful game. In much the same way that Fez came along and made me a believer in the 8-bit palette’s ability to make a gorgeous, evocative world, Resonance takes the 16-bit mid 90s PC adventure game look and feel and does marvelous things with it. It looks a quite a bit like the grungy, lived-in Beneath a Steel Sky (a true classic in the genre, and often overlooked next to its more cartoonish LucasArts brethren), and each animation, object and even background image has been lovingly rendered. I adored the pixilated art style and sweet, fluid animation.
One detail that impressed me especially was the inclusion of a main character that is not only a woman of color – but also a doctor. There’s been a lot of noise lately about the representation of women in games – much of it negative. I can practically count the number of non-white women (who are actually written as such, I’m not talking about characters created in an editor) in prominent roles in narrative-based games on one hand. Anna is a fantastic character – as are all four of our leads – and Sarah Elmaleh expertly voices her. It’s a small touch, certainly, but Resonance deserves a nod for going against the grain in this way.
That’s not to say Resonance is flawless. A couple of throwaway characters that were clearly intended to be comic relief fall flat – especially compared to our rich, interesting (and non-stereotyped) leads. And yes, there is a bit of pixel-hunting and an obscure puzzle or three (though nothing that comes truly out of left-field), and I will admit to checking a walkthrough when I thought I had encountered a bug (I hadn’t), but nothing that spoiled my enjoyment of the game.
The adventure genre has been evolving as of late – games like Machinarium and Botanicula seem to be carrying the torch for the more “classic” style with a heavy emphasis on art style, where LA Noire showed just how adventure can be brought about on the AAA scale (and merged with GTA, but that’s a story for another day). TellTale is doing its own thing as well with the awesome (so far) Walking Dead games. Resonance is a throwback to an earlier era, but it’s a smart, elegantly polished one, full of excellent writing and a few modern niceties that keep the genre’s less pleasant quirks to a minimum. Here’s to XII studios and their achievement – I hope to hear more – much more – from them in the future.