Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 - Staff Review  

Lightning Bolts Are So 2000-Late
by Adriaan den Ouden

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Less than 20 Hours
+ Terrific class system.
+ Excellent new combat system.
+ Great Penny Arcade humor.
- Little else to the game beyond combat.
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   You know there's something wrong when four years go by and a serialized game series doesn't get another entry. Such is the case of Hothead Games' duo of Penny Arcade titles, On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episodes One and Two. While the franchise was essentially dead following the late-2008 release of Episode 2, this year it has been revived by an unlikely source. Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 was picked up and developed by none other than Zeboyd Games, whom RPGamers might recognize as the creators of the imaginative 16-bit-esque indie RPG Cthulhu Saves the World.

   Rain-Slick 3 picks up right where the first two games left off. Gabe and Tycho of the Startling Developments Detective Agency have had a hell of a week, killing gods left and right, and more trouble is brewing in the film noir-styled city of New Arcadia. It all begins when they receive a menacing telephone call, filled with ten minutes of nothing but silence — obviously the work of evil mimes. Since this clearly warrants a scrupulous investigation, the pair sets off to uncover the latest threat to menace the city, and their old pal Dr. Blood is right in the thick of it.

   While the original titles allowed players to create their own protagonist to accompany Gabe and Tycho on their adventure, Rain-Slick 3 turns to a more traditional, 16-bit way of thinking, creating a new party of four characters to play with. In addition to the gun-toting wordsmith Tycho and his punch-drunk ally Gabe, players will be able to adventure with Tycho's ex-wife Moira and a disembodied head named Jim who lives in a jar filled with a mysterious green fluid. Penny Arcade's verbose humor is once again central to the experience, and this latest installment has a significantly larger amount of content than either the original two Rain-Slick titles or Zeboyd's other games. Zeboyd fans will be pleased to discover that a handful of Cthulhu Saves the World jokes have been inserted into the story, and they actually fit shockingly well with the game's apocalyptic motif.

This crow will totally blow your mind.  Because it's deep like that. This crow will totally blow your mind. Because it's deep like that.

   One thing fans of the first two games might find disappointing is that Rain-Slick 3 has stripped away the adventure game elements in favor of a heavier focus on RPG mechanics. While this means players won't encounter any dialogue trees or puzzles to solve, Zeboyd has instead crafted a class system that rivals even industry heavyweights like Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. Each of the four characters in the game has one unique class associated with them, but they are also able to simultaneously equip two additional classes, chosen from a huge assortment of bizarre and unusual concepts. Every class in the game has a unique function and brings with it a slew of new spells and passive abilities. Finding and equipping the right combination for each character is a blast, and there are so many potential options available that the game can be played multiple times with different strategies.

   The classes themselves are all brilliantly designed, some exhibiting a witty reimagining of classic archetypes, while others throw archetypes away entirely in favor of completely new ideas. Some, such as the Dinosorceror and Apocalypt, play on unique mechanics that offer up wholly new potential strategies. The combat system itself is a big step up from Zeboyd's other titles as well, abandoning traditional turn-based combat in favor of a speed-based, semi-realtime system similar very similar to Grandia 3's. Characters and enemy portraits all progress rapidly down the same time bar, and when each one reaches the end, they launch their attack. The bar pauses for players to select their attacks, allowing them time to strategize at their leisure. Certain attack abilities can also interrupt enemies, pushing them back down the line and delaying their turns substantially. Other abilities actually create new, automatically-controlled "characters" that progress down the bar in the same way, launching their attacks or buffs whenever they reach the end.

The only thing weirder than the classes in this game is what they can do. The only thing weirder than the classes in this game is what they can do.

   Other areas of the combat all gleam with forward-thinking design, streamlining certain archaic aspects of RPGs to keep things fast-paced and fun. Character health is restored to full at the end of each battle, allowing for tougher fights that require more strategy than most RPGs. Instead of collecting and buying new consumable items, each item instead has a select number of uses available, which is restored at the end of every encounter. And of course, in the same vein as the earlier titles, Rain-Slick 3 has no random encounters; with one exception, enemies are all visible on the map, and encounters begin when they are approached. The most intriguing new mechanic is the MP system, which is used to perform special techniques. Instead of starting battle with a large mana pool to draw from, each character instead starts with zero MP and gains one every turn. This means that in order to use the most powerful abilities in the game, players will have to prepare for them several turns in advance in order to build up enough MP. There are several methods to gain additional MP, including items and special free abilities, and this creates a whole new level of depth to the combat system.

   Rain-Slick 3 makes use of a modern 16-bit visual style, and this is by far the most impressive looking of Zeboyd's games thus far. Although Penny Arcade artist Mike Krahulik wasn't as involved with this iteration as the previous two, his style has nonetheless been brilliantly recaptured. The audio, too, features terrific 16-bit tracks and even a few 8-bit ones during a certain portion of the game. The tunes provide a great sense of mystery throughout the game, perfect for the '20s era setting.

   Although Rain-Slick 3 isn't a particularly complex game, and the basic mechanics essentially boil down to a dungeon crawl, the humor and terrific class system make it a great choice for fans of Penny Arcade and classic RPGs alike. Thanks to the mechanical 180, even those who weren't fond of Hothead's original two titles might find something to enjoy here. The game offers up a surprisingly large amount of content in its eight or so hours of playtime, and at a budget price it's hard to argue with the value. Rain-Slick 3 is a terrific little indie RPG, and hopefully the launching point for something much bigger from Zeboyd in the future.

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