Publishers: Wadjet Eye Games
Developers: Wormwood Studios
Release Date: December 5, 2012
Debuts are never easy, especially in the gaming reality. The potential players may be leery of newly fledged developers, expecting from them nothing more than a well-intended but flawed product. That’s why it’s always desirable to have a giant in the given business line backing you up. Wormwood Studios, supported by Wadjet Eye Games (known mostly for highly praised Gemini Rue and Blackwell series), is ready to conquer the world with their first-born brainchild, Primordia, which hit the digital shelves on December 5th. The game at the first, second and third glance looks like a love child of Gemini Rue, Machinarium and Beneath a Steel Sky, but is that bad? Of course not! Primordia is a full-blooded, old-school adventure game that should please all the gamers that seek a demanding challenge and interesting story that goes with it.
The protagonist of Primordia, Horatio, is a humanoid robot-engineer with a bent for fixing things. He’s also quite an inventor and a handyman, since he was able to build himself a companion – a flying sidekick going by the name of Crispin, who can be the best described as a mixture between incessantly garrulous Wheatley and Morte from Planescape: Torment with his personality and sense of humour. The master and the servant both live relatively happily in the corpse of a ship called “UNNIIC” somewhere among the barren and rather desolate wasteland, once probably thriving and beautiful, but now nothing more than a rusty scrapyard. Their idyll, however, was ended quite abruptly by another robot who stole the power core from the vessel. Without it, Horatio and Crispin could last only a couple of days before their batteries would flatline. So now our heroes have only two options: to die (which is not really favoured) or to go after the thief to the city of Metropol, a place reportedly full of electricity and wonders. For some reason, though, Horatio is reluctant to approach that area. His memory files were corrupted, but his gut feeling (gear feeling?) tells him to stay away from there as far as possible. And we eventually find out why…
The plot is of paramount importance in Primordia. The story of our two robotic heroes that roam the doomed, post-apocalyptic world populated only by machines, is dark, thought-provoking, touching on such subjects as religion, responsibility or sacrifice, but is not stripped entirely of humorous undertones. Crispin works prominently as a much-needed comic relief, commenting as acutely as sarcastically on the things that are happening (“By my calculations, boss, you’ve got 99 problems, but the glitch isn’t one of them”). Generally, the dialogues are top-notch and it’s really entertaining to listen to Horatio’s gloomy observations, Crispin cracking lame jokes or the good-hearted banter between the two of them. The brilliant voice-acting (Logan Cunningham in the role of Horatio and Abe Goldfarb as Crispin) only strengthens the overall positive impression. The atmosphere of Primordia also deserves an honourable mention. I don’t remember the last time I’ve encountered adventure game that was so depressing. You feel that there’s no hope left in this rusty reality and whatever fate awaits the characters it can’t be anything good. Maybe that’s the reason you’re becoming so emotionally invested and you root for the heroes despite everything. I won’t lie, I nearly felt devastated at the end. None of the choices brings about a mushy happy ending. That’s the sign of the great story.
But as we all know, adventure games are not only about the story, the intellectual challenges are equally important. Primordia in this matter is oldschool to the very core. Forget about skipping the puzzles, helpful hints or an option to highlight the hotspots. You’re on your own here. You have to keep your eyes peeled and have your cursor flailing around the whole screen not to miss anything of importance. Basically: brace yourself, pixel-hunting is coming. Most of the conundrums are inventory-based, but the game is by no means limited to them. Fans of the more logical and creative problems should be satisfied as well. There’s quite a lot of code-cracking and deductions to do, so your brain cells will have to work at full tilt all the time. Fortunately, when you get stuck (which doesn’t happen too often, since the game is pretty non-linear) you can always ask ever-faithful Crispin for help. He can occasionally provide really valuable clues on how to progress.
What’s more, Crispin is also “an object” we can use in the game. His ability to hover over obstacles enables him to carry out reconnaissance or fetch small items that are out of Horatio’s reach. Team work for the win! Another very useful feature is our data pouch where all the important information that we gather are being written down. We don’t need to learn by heart lengthy strings of numbers or jot notes down on a sheet of paper ourselves – the game does that for us, which is brilliant. Data pouch includes also a map. We get access to different locations through it and later it saves our time while we travel in the Metropol. It’s a pity, though, that using items from our inventory feels rather unintuitive. We need to open it, select a given object, and then close it by clicking on the appropriate button and only then we may attempt to use the item in a given spot. A silver lining is that once we choose an item we get a quick access to it, so we can easily try it on everything if we please.
As for the graphics, it’s definitely characteristic and memorable, though hardly an eye-candy. Still, pixelated scenery straight from the early 90’s, but with cyberpunkish and post-apocalyptic flavour looks interesting enough. Rusty or sicklish brown is the dominant colour in the wastelands, underlining the sombre tone of the whole game. The animation tends to be not-so-impressive and kind of clunky at times, but not terrible, so let’s leave it like that. The soundtrack is very atmospheric and does a great job at creating the right, dejected mood.
Overall, Primordia was a really pleasant surprise. I didn’t expect to be as impressed by it as I am now. A little, rather short (6-8 hours of gameplay) and widely unknown game from a debuting studio has every chance to become a smashing hit among the adventure game fans. So what are you waiting for? Get your own copy right now and dive into the crumbling, robotic world with Horatio and Crispin.
+ Intriguing, profound plot.
+ Unique and depressing atmosphere.
+ Amazing duo of protagonists.
+ Great voice-acting and soundtrack.
+ Challenging but logical and satisfying puzzles.
– Rather short.
– The graphics won’t be to everybody’s liking.