Publisher: Telltale Games
If you've ever watched Life On Mars or Ashes To Ashes, you'll likely remember the charismatic and utterly shameless DCI Gene Hunt. This politically incorrect, hilarious pig - in any sense of the phrase - has clearly influenced Straandlooper's latest adventure game, and it's an absolute stroke of genius. As the overweight, straight-talking and unfortunately flatulent Inspector Hector, players will explore the motivations behind a hostage situation in the small town of Clappers Wreake and attempt to fulfil the terrorists' bizarre demands. Right after he finds his trousers and starts his battered cop car with an electrified chav.
First things first. This is probably the most humourous and well-observed videogame I have ever had the opportunity to review (and even to play). It's British through and through, with impeccable slang, dialogue and descriptions making the most of our culture as well as parodying it relentlessly. Chavs, insane old Daily Mail-reading grannies, village life and cop show cliches are all ripe for parody, and the writing is some of the best I've seen in an adventure game. Hector is funnier than Sam & Max, wittier than Guybrush Threepwood and twice as gritty - and he's easy for us Brits to relate to.
Underneath this fantastic writing and quirky presentation, however, lies a classic adventure game that sticks firmly to the established genre conventions. An intuitive interface makes interacting with the environments second nature (using a selection of clicks and double clicks to talk to characters, examine objects and pick up items) - and though it's sometimes difficult to make Hector walk through a door rather than admire it from afar, I can't fault the basic mechanics.
While some of the puzzles are recklessly inventive (and occasionally stem from canny conversation options or character interactions), the main focus is, as always, on assembling an inventory of unlikely objects and combining them together. There aren't any red herrings, but several of the puzzle solutions are extremely oblique and unintuitive even by usual Point And Click standards. You might have expected the premise to allow players to enjoy doing some actual detective work and solving crimes, but the experience soon falls into the standard click everywhere, click everything, click on everything with everything else formula. It's arguably a missed opportunity to do something new and exciting with the genre, but at least the considerate hint system makes some of the more implacable puzzles more accessible by doling out little snippets of advice rather than spoileriffic solutions.
Having said all that, unlike some games, your objective is always clear - and each area has just the right amount of scenes to explore. Objectives are usually contained to a maximum of three screens, letting you focus on the job in hand rather than trudging about with no real sense of direction. Hector: Badge Of Carnage is as rewarding and cerebral as you'd expect from a Telltale adventure, and easily surpasses its peers (such as the recent Monkey Island spinoff series) in terms of puzzles, progression and good old fashioned laughs.
Performance-wise, Hector will run on most laptops and rigs, with the options to choose from a few resolutions depending on the amount of grunt you're packing. Naturally the art style is top-notch, using comic book visuals and crisp, clear sprites to devastating advantage. As mentioned before, the voice acting is also outstanding and it's clear that the cast contains plenty of British talent.
The only real issue with Hector: Episode 1 is a common problem with most episodic games: length. You'll knock out the story in a few scant hours (depending on your familiarity and aptitude with adventure games), but for a nine dollar download with more episodes to come, I can't judge it too harshly. It leaves me wanting more, and frankly, I can't wait for the next installment.
- Hilarious, witty and well-observed writing
- Solid puzzles and mechanics
- Did I mention that it's hilarious?
- Short and sweet
- No detective work (or willingness to innovate)
- Finicky screen transitions
The Short Version: Hector: Badge Of Carnage Episode 1 is easily Telltale's best adventure game to date - and will especially strike a chord with British gamers who are sick and tired of American voiceovers and gritty, boring themes. The puzzles are clever, the mechanics are tight and the writing is outstanding. We can't wait for the next one.