Was I supposed to enjoy this? Yes, you liked classic LucasArts. Jolly good. Is there anything else?
You know, I’m a full seven years younger than the original ‘Secret of Monkey Island’, but I’ve jolly well heard of it by reputation over the years: many a YouTube top 10 list has drilled at my brain with the legendary status of Tim Schafer’s early work, which then built into a genre that came to define the 1990s for many a gamer – Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, Sam and Max – within my lifetime evolving into games like TellTale’s entire Portfolio (F) and even ‘Life is Strange’, which I list as one of my favourite games of all time; it’s a genre with a pedigree which has evolved with the times and worked to define what each generation of gamers enjoys. A look into the soul of the art form at any given time if you’ll let me be pretentious. Also, “Strong Bad’s cool game for Attractive People” was something of a favourite for young Will.
…And so it was with enthusiasm that I booted up my review copy of ‘Guard Duty’, a point-and-click adventure game looking to pay homage to that storied history. Set between two time periods, the game follows the adventures of Tondbert, a bumbling but well-meaning medieval guardsman, and Agent Starborn, who is Deckard from Blade Runner. Yeah. As that implies, the game is set across two different time periods – A generic Medieval city and a dystopian cyberpunk future. Hardly a masterfully Lynchian premise, but sometimes a generic premise can make for some worthy satire, or can work as a jumping off point for a twist in my expectations, so I wasn’t too put off.
Now, I’m on the record as being the kind of guy that’d let the guy who murdered his dog off the hook if they said they were sorry and bought me a cupcake – I’ve got a history of refusing to review games I feel are too amateurish or unpolished, even going as far as to take what would have been a scathing review of one indie title and turn it into a motivational piece on how to succeed in your creative endeavours.
So a part of me was aching when I decided to say – This game, simply put, is just no good. That’s something of I just had to come out and say, no beating around the bush. I do not recommend this game.
Guard Duty’s mission statement, according to their Kickstarter and their steam page, is to ‘create the adventure game of our dreams’, Which really pulled at my old heartstrings – Should I feel guilty for slamming this game? No, I have a duty as a critic to say exactly why this game isn’t a purchase I’d suggest making. It’s my place in the ecosystem. So let’s have a look, shall we? As previously mentioned, ‘Guard Duty’ is a retro-styled adventure game through and through. It’s made by a two-man team who simply wanted to update the genre for the modern day.
There’s just one issue, though: the gameplay of all ’90s adventure games was pants. Depending on how you define ‘play’, it’s either the most boring possible gameplay loop or simply plain doesn’t qualify as gameplay. The devs saw ahead to this challenge, though – And in their kickstarter they listed the following;
Streamlined inventory system and puzzle design – Whilst being true to the genre we have also tried to streamline the gameplay experience to match the standards of modern adventure games.
‘Try’ being the operative term, it seems the design of the puzzles hasn’t, upon close inspection, been altered from their ’90s ancestors. At all. When they say “Match modern standards”, what they mean is “The puzzles are just the most obvious thing we could think of”.
The door out of your room is locked? Why not use your creative brain and, erm… Just jump out the window?
Need medicine? Why not (And I know this sounds crazy) buy it?
Need to sober up a drunkard in order to understand what he’s talking about? Why not just skip the puzzle entirely and have the player character just figure it out himself in dialogue?
A 90’s adventure game focused on two things; puzzles and humour. The puzzles would keep you busy wandering around a charming designed world talking to wacky and interesting characters, who would then deliver jokes and make you laugh. Not deep gameplay design, but enough to let the game’s strong point (The comedy) shine through.
‘Guard Duty’ doesn’t do this. The puzzles have you walk from one place directly to the very obvious solution, along the way meeting characters with very little charm or humour. Don’t get me wrong – There’s certainly an attempt at humour, but obviously weren’t written by someone who has a particular talent for comedy writing. The jokes either don’t exist or flew completely over my head, leading to a game saturated with references. Not jokes, just references to other games. A bale of hay and an assassin sat next to it with a broken leg. Items in the shop reserved for G. Threepwood. You get the jist. While I’m sure whoever wrote each joke is a great laugh in the pub, it doesn’t translate to a game that made me chuckle. Mostly, I was simply bored.
To put it bluntly: the gameplay only exists to serve comedy, and the comedy isn’t funny… And that’s coming from me; ask anyone who knows me, and you’ll hear that half of the air that leaves my lungs takes the form of a great howling cackle at something I have no business finding funny. I could find the humour in my own funeral, but sadly even I could find nary a reason to exhale through my nose. The game’s attempts at anything ticklish to the funnybones are lackluster, leaving the game feeling like a hollow mess of broken humour.
And that’s to say nothing of the little niggles I overlooked along the way: the fact the UI is slightly too large and too transparent for the screen (To infuriating effect), the fact the ‘glorious’ cutscenes remind me of the CD-I Zelda game, or the fact that the voice acting and sound design are total and absolute pants. I’ve heard more professional voice acting in a children’s nativity play, and it was painfully obvious that most characters
Last night, I sat forlorn in a group chat with some of my mates. “I would totally play some Smash Bros with you, lads” I groaned “But I’ve gotta play this game for a review and the whole experience is just painful”.
“Well, surely that’s the review, then?” My mate replied. “Now go and get your Switch.”
And that was it. They were right – I’d given the game more time than I’d give any TV series to impress me and get me engaged, and I simply wasn’t. I hadn’t found any of the jokes funny (That which actually existed), the gameplay was non-existent, and the whole thing – while clearly made with passion for the genre – lacked the creative skill to back it up. It’s a worthy attempt that might be enjoyable for some who truly yearn for another ’90s-style adventure game, but unless you’re a member of that niche there are far better uses for your money – This game starts and ends at its inspirations and does nothing to grow beyond them. Maybe pick up ‘Life is Strange’ Season 2 if you truly want a modern evolution of the genre.