Developer: E-One Studio
Publisher: E-One Studio
Available on: Windows PC Only
There is a bit of an uprising in games development recently in the less developed countries of the far east. Obviously, Japan has been the powerhouse that has been making classic video games since day one and China has been emerging for quite some time as well now, but smaller countries such as Malaysia and Singapore are now taking a foothold – with digital distribution allowing smaller development teams to share their games with the world – in a self-published state. That is where Hoodwink has originated from. The Kuala Lumpur based team at E-One Studio have taken on the resurgent Adventure Game genre, and put a very eastern slant on proceedings, then they have mixed that with a Film Noir vibe; which is certainly very western. How does this mash-up gel together?
STORY: The story begins knowingly, cramming in all of the traditional Film Noir clichés. You start off in a dark Detective’s office, with a fan spinning in the background and smoke hanging in the air. A voice-over introduces us to the situation as we find the protagonist is seeking a valuable ring. So far, so Noir. However, soon we find out that you aren’t actually the Detective who works here, you are just a petty thief, as the real Detective barges through the door angrily; and get this, he is a humanoid Leopard…interesting.
We find that the story is actually set on Global-1, a dystopian world where the last corporation on the planet, Unicorp, has restricted everything that the populace can buy, sell or do. The company manufactures cheap medicine and augment the humans who are less fortunate with strange mechanical upgrades and experiments. You play as Michael, a chancer who lives in the underworld, where the populace try to work around the law. He has found himself a girl, Francesca, and wants to marry her but he gets mixed up in the conspiracy behind Unicorp, and ends up having to unravel the secrets behind it all.
The story is an interesting one, but it unfortunately strays from its Film Noir references and influence, to Sci-Fi and Animé ones, and seems to be a little unsure of its identity. Couple that with the fact that most of the tasks you end up doing actually seem fairly mundane and the story is progressed more often through cutscenes, and the game seems to lack a little excitement and impetus. It is a shame that the game couldn’t focus its attentions more in one direction, because the result that we find in the game is a bit disparate and the whole thing just tends not to merge together very well.
GRAPHICS: There is a very distinct divide in Adventure Games between the 2D, hand-drawn classic style games, and those that try to create fully 3D environments. Hoodwink falls firmly into the second category. The game uses fully-rendered 3D backgrounds, which can be explored from fixed camera positions, as well as character models who are also 3D. This is a bit of a shame though, as the characters have obviously taken an eastern – somewhat Animé – style, which would have worked far more successfully in 2D I feel. Even the in-game tutorial screens feature 2D drawings of Michael, showing you how to play and those drawings are full of a lot more charm and character than the, rather lifeless, 3D models. They are detailed, however, and well animated, albeit in a cartoonish style, rather than realistically. The robots are particularly well done – obviously a robot is easier to create than a human – but they seem to have more character and individuality.
There is a lot of detail in the backgrounds too, and the fact that you can move around within a scene to different camera angles is a nice feature, so you get to see the areas from all angles. This is something that most Adventure Games won’t allow as they have a metaphorical fourth wall that we never see, but again, these environments don’t necessarily tie in with the Noir aesthetic. They do capture the neo-Noir feeling that was made famous by Blade Runner somewhat, but perhaps if the Animé style that obviously influenced their characters was implemented into the environments, it might make the design stand out from the crowd a little bit more.
SOUND: There is no denying the influences behind the musical score. The game features a variety of authentic Jazz and blues Noir-style tunes. The soundtrack does make you feel like you should be within a hard boiled crime drama from the 1940’s, whether the visuals match up with that or not. This music does seem to fit in with the sleazy underworld settings quite well, and serves to create a nice atmosphere. The voice acting in the game is also quite strong, albeit, once again, all acted out in an over-the-top cartoon-like way, but that is obviously intentionally meant to fit in with the character design. It does, however, tend to undermine the more serious aspects of the game a little, as even these come across in a rather joke-like way.
GAMEPLAY: The game may be presented in three dimensions, but the player controls the game just like a traditional point and click adventure title, with simple, mouse-based play. Your cursor will change to the appropriate action when you hover over something, such as a hand when you want to pick something up or the speech bubble for a conversation, all quite obvious stuff.
Unfortunately, because the environment is semi-3D, you sometimes find yourself wishing that you did, in fact, have direct control over Michael. At times it just feels like it would be more precise to manoeuvre around objects and reach exactly where you want to get to with direct control as the walk icon to move your character doesn’t function at absolutely every point in the environment, you have to find the right places to click on to move to.
The game is mainly conversation and inventory based, with you talking to characters in order to learn what quests you need to undertake or what you need to find to help someone in particular, and then gathering and using items where required. These are never too taxing, and the game does have a built-in hint system (that you can choose to turn on or off) that will help you a bit when you are really stuck. The puzzles mainly make sense, and you could piece the solutions together by yourself, given a little time to think. They aren’t obtuse like some games, and the fact that you can work it out without help makes them feel more rewarding and serves to make them more enjoyable on the whole.
However, there are a few occasions where you have to take part in semi-action sequences. These play out like arcade mini-games, and are a little like whack-a-rat where you are trying to grab or get creatures who are running around in front of you. Unfortunately, the detection in these sequences is quite horrible. For instance, in the first one, you are trying to grab some nutated flowers as they run away and you have to click on the items and hold the mouse button for several seconds to capture them. At the same time you have to follow them with your slow-moving cursor, and it becomes incredibly frustrating, with the game not always recognising your actions correctly, sometimes the grab icon won’t even appear. The mouse control always seems a bit too sluggish for these sections, and doesn’t have the one-to-one control you would like. These sections needed to be more intuitive and needed more testing really, as they are not fun puzzles to play through.
LONGEVITY: Players are likely to struggle to find much longevity in this title, unfortunately. The story is pretty short and you will find yourself flying through the few short chapters in a matter of hours. After that, there is nothing to play through, with no replay factor in the game, as everything is only completable in only one way; there are no multiple solutions or endings. On top of that there are no unlockable items or secrets to discover. This game is probably only going to be one that you play once and never come back to. However, as a download-only title and for a fairly low price, the issue is lessened slightly.
VERDICT: Hoodwink certainly does feature some interesting ideas, and some of the features such as the background art and the musical score are very well accomplished, but the overall package just doesn’t all sit together comfortably. The overall theme of Noir clashes a little with the cartoon-like Sci-Fi setting, and the different aspects just don’t pull in the same direction. That isn’t to say that the game is without its merits. The majority of the puzzles in the game are fun to solve, and make sense, rather than the illogical ones that litter some badly-designed adventure games.
The team have obviously worked hard on building this imaginary world and its inhabitants, and there is certainly some charm there, it just needed a bit more shaping and polishing to create a more coherent whole. Non-fans of the genre would find very little to take away from the game, and unfortunately in its current state, even hardcore Adventure gamers would be a little let down. It offers some hope for the future if E-One Studios decide to refine their ideas and work in the genre more, and it is good to see emergent developers from new territories, but this isn’t a game that is likely to draw much attention, and with its woefully low replayability, this will probably be soon forgotten.