On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode One - Staff Review  

The Lightning Bolt is for Being Awesome!
by Adriaan den Ouden

Click here for game information
Xbox 360
Less than 20 Hours
+ Great story, great humor.
+ 2D animation is fantastic.
+ Battle system is simple, yet highly engaging.
- 3D character models don't look quite right.
- Signal to block difficult to see.
- May brick your Xbox 360. (Kidding!)
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   "Four Gods wait on the windowsill, where once eight Gods did war and will. And if the Gods themselves may die, what does that say for you and I?" Thus begins On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode One, the beginning of the much anticipated downloadable RPG series from the creators of popular webcomic Penny Arcade. While it came as no surprise that the creators of the game-centric webcomic would eventually try their hands at a game of their own, what is slightly astounding is that the game is actually quite good. With a twisted sense of humor, a great setting, a surprisingly well-developed, if completely ludicrous, plotline, and gameplay that is both simple and engaging, On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness is the beginning of what could be a great series, despite a few snags.

   As the game begins, the player is prompted to create a character in Penny Arcade's signature art style. The options for facial construction are quite diverse, but sadly there are only three sets of clothing to choose from, though this is improved somewhat by the ability to change the coloring. The player can also choose to be male or female, but clothing options are identical for both. After finalizing a character, the player is greeted at his suburban home by a disembodied voice with a mysterious identity, who delivers a warning not to dwell on his mysterious identity. A large robot then crushes his home, setting into motion a sequence of events that will pit him, rake in hand, against nymphomaniacal juicing machines, feral (and smelly) hobos, and evil mimes in the service of a dark lord, among other foes, as he explores New Arcadia, 1922.

   The protagonist won't be alone in this endeavor, however, as he is quickly joined by Gabe and Tycho of the Startling Developments Detective Agency. He receives help, as well, from several other unlikely allies, including Tycho's mechanically-inclined niece Anne-Claire, a reprogrammed and attractively decorated nymphomaniacal juicing machine, and a lazy cat. To say the least, On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness captures Penny Arcade's brand of humor perfectly, and the characters feel right at home in the bizarre, film noir styled world that has been crafted for them.

How could it not be cool? How could it not be cool?

   Penny Arcade's art style is also recreated brilliantly. While the 3D models never feel quite right, particularly the animations, the 2D artwork and animation are terrific. One notable feature the game provides is creating both a 2D and 3D representation of the character the player creates at the beginning of the game, a feat that is really quite remarkable. The 2D representation of the character appears in all animations and dialogue sequences, and they look fantastic. These sequences are all portrayed like a comic book, with moving panels and split view-points. The sound further adds to the game's unique style. The music is excellent, and sound effects are also used extremely well, particularly the ambient noise throughout the game world.

   The Penny Arcade humor is, of course, the main reason to begin the game, but surprisingly, developer Hothead Games has backed up the name with solid, if somewhat simple, gameplay. Although there are only three areas to explore in this first installment of the series, the player is able to interact with an incredible number of objects throughout the world. Trash cans, crates, and other similar objects can be found all over the place and smashed to bits to reveal items. Anything that can't be destroyed can be inspected, often revealing bits of random humor and even hidden collectibles. Mailboxes are sinister, birds sing haikus, and trash cans hold numerous cats — but it's okay! They're having fun.

   Many interesting, but more often mentally disturbed, individuals can be spoken with as well in order to progress the story. These conversations follow a dialogue tree reminiscent of those seen in BioWare games. The choices made rarely affect the story other than changing the dialogue slightly, but they are, nonetheless, extremely humorous and laden with puns.

   In much the same way, combat also takes a page from other games, in particular the Final Fantasy and Paper Mario series. Like older Final Fantasy games, battles are a hybrid of turn-based attacks and real-time action. Each party member has three abilities: Use an item, attack, and special attack. As time passes during battle, each ability, represented by a circle, begins to fill up sequentially. When a circle is filled, selecting that character and pressing the corresponding button will perform that action. What this means is that more time needs to pass before stronger abilities can be used. Once an ability is used, all the circles reset and begin filling again. The Paper Mario aspects come in the form of timed button presses used to block and even counter attacks, and learning this timing is vital to success.

Level 14 certified. Level 14 certified.

   Blocking can be difficult, however, as the signal for the timing is often hard to see and the window of opportunity brief. The enemy's health bar will flash for a very short duration, and only during that time can a block be performed. The health bars are small and don't really stand out, making it easy to miss the vital moment. Thankfully, the game is fairly lenient with the timing, and while perfect timing yields the best results, it's possible to perform a partial block if the timing is slightly off.

   Special attacks, which take a significant amount of time to build up, have other effects aside from doing more damage. When one is performed, a small mini-game pops up, prompting the player to input a specific button or timing sequence. These games differ for each character, but if they are successfully completed and the attack kills its target, that character receives an Overkill bonus at the end of battle, permanently increasing his damage by one. The number of these bonuses that can be acquired by each character is limited, however. Characters can also combine their special attacks to perform powerful group attacks. These special attacks don't require a mini-game, but they don't award Overkill bonuses either.

   Although it seems simple, the battle system is quite frantic and a lot of fun. A minor irritation, though, is that there is a finite limit as to how many battles one can actually experience. Unlike most RPGs, encounters in On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness are all predetermined. Once an enemy group is defeated, it disappears from the game entirely, never to return. While this does make exploring a lot easier, it has the unfortunate side-effect of removing any opportunity to level up, as well as any post-game play options. The game is fairly challenging, and it is entirely conceivable that some players may find themselves stuck and unable to progress due to this feature.

   Being a downloadable title, and the first in an episodic series nonetheless, it's no surprise that the game is only seven to eight hours long. However, the price is right, and the game's quality makes it well worth the price of admission. Despite a few stumbles, the game is largely a success, and I for one am eagerly awaiting the next installment.

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