Published on December 8th, 2012 | by James Kulas
Primordi-me, Primordi-you, Primordia
Adventure games are my safe place, a regression to my gaming roots. As such, Dave Gilbert’s Wadjet Eye Games have been a welcome security blanket, wrapping me up warm in the silent small hours as I bash inventory items together. There’s a certain soothing magic to be found in solving puzzles at my own pace and scouring dialogue trees for clues, or maybe I’m just peculiar.
Following up the excellent Resonance isn’t an easy task, some of the nerdiest puzzles I’ve ever solved without a guide combined with an innovative ‘memory’ system really set it apart. Primordia is a different machine entirely, very much of Beneath A Steel Sky pedigree in both its aesthetic and sense of humour. A bold claim I know, but bear with me.
Taking up the role of Horatio Nullbuilt Version 5 in a bleak post-apocalyptic world, you subsist scavenging scrap. Your leather-bound copy of “The Gospel of Man” charges all of robotkind with maintaining the world in man’s absence, revering the distant memory of humanity as “perfect machines”. Remnants of an ancient conflict litter the landscape but go largely unacknowledged by Horatio, even the occasional skeleton is identified as android, the passage of ages obscuring the truth for now. At this point I’m wholeheartedly on-board, the promise of uncovering a story steeped in ancient mystery is too much to resist.
Along for the ride is your wise-cracking floating companion Crispin, the latest in a line of sarcastic sidekicks. The inspiration for whom is clear (Joey – Beneath A Steel Sky, Morte – Planescape Torment), but holds his own with every bit of personality and wit of his forebears. In true sidekick style he’ll provide hints if you linger too long without making progress, and taunt you mercilessly for attempting questionable item combinations. The banter between Horatio and Crispin is really the lifeblood of the experience, a tried and tested formula employed to great effect. Gravelly-voiced Logan Cunningham of Bastion fame turns in a somewhat understated performance as Horatio, but hits all the deadpan notes required to counter-balance Crispin’s upbeat chirping.
Interacting with the world is uncomplicated and intuitive for the most part, but lacks the innovation of its predecessors. I found Gemini Rue particularly fiddly in places, but Resonance’s memory storage was slick and original. You do get a dedicated button for Crispin which greatly simplifies interacting with him, other than that left click interacts, and right click will examine. Inventory is responsive and robust leaving you to worry about solving the puzzles rather than grappling with the interface. Finally, there’s your datapad, a pip-boy style device which stores coordinates for quick travel, and pertinent clues for easy reference. Think of it like an in-game digital notepad, but looking down at my notes as I write, there’s no substitute for pen and paper with this genre.
From the desolate dunes to the faded majesty of Metropol, character sprites and pre-rendered backgrounds breathe life into the world with an astonishing level of detail. Given the resolution limitations it’s certainly up there with classics like The Dig. High praise indeed. On the other hand the detailed environments at times do an excellent job of concealing interactive elements, resulting in the occasional frustrating pixel hunt. One such puzzle saw me frantically waving my power detector around a junk heap, all of which had the same mouse-over caption. It goes with the territory to a certain extent, but could have been avoided in most cases.
My only other major criticism is borne out of my enthusiasm for the story. Having learned so much of the vast “City of Glass and Light” from its inhabitants and the info kiosk, I was quite disappointed to finish the game without paying many of those locations a visit in person. It’s important to keep in mind just how small the teams responsible for Wadjet Eye’s releases are, so it would be unrealistic to expect them to produce a twenty-plus hour game in a sensible time-frame. It’s a testament to just how much I enjoyed Primordia, that at the end of my brief but engrossing journey I was left with an overwhelming curiosity to discover more of its world.
Perhaps Primordia’s greatest triumph though, is the way it handles its puzzles. Some of them can be solved in multiple ways, in-turn affecting the items you have to tackle subsequent ones. Some are even entirely optional, the rewards for which are generally background information and story, or affect which of the six-or-so endings you receive. In addition to multiple endings, there’s room within each one for a number of slight variations, again governed by how you handled each stage. There’s also a few which you can fail entirely. Traditionally puzzles will go round in circles until the desired outcome is discovered, not so here. So make your decisions wisely or save regularly. There is a welcome autosave feature, but it has a habit of overwriting after you solve a puzzle; logical but not necessarily helpful if you’ve just buggered up a brainteaser.
The level of care and attention to detail is clear, little touches like enabling the numpad for keycode puzzles add real polish. Stylish comic book pop-outs reveal greater detail when required, helping to convey story as well as make the more technical puzzles possible, like rewiring an electric motor or repairing a generator. Dialogue is charming and genuinely funny in places, and the locales are impressively realised. If you enjoy adventure games as much as I do, or even if you’re just into great science fiction, I can wholeheartedly recommend you give Primordia a try.