Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Review: Goin' Downtown (PC)

Goin' Downtown was released in 2008 by Silver Style Entertainment. It is a classic 2D point&click adventure set in the New York of the year 2072. The story focuses around the depressed police officer Jake McCorly who investigates the suicide of a prostitute. The game only seems to be released in Germany with German language.

The game is presented in a comic book like style with cell shaded 3D characters and hand painted backgrounds, somewhat similar to Runaway, it even provides an option to display the subtitles as comic book speech bubbles. Aside from a few particle effects and minor animations backgrounds are mostly static. Wide screen support is provided and the resolution can be freely configured. The cell shaded characters faces can look a little awkward at times and animation and lip syncing are as usual for current day point&click adventures not all that great, but nothing to bad that one doesn't get used to quickly. That aside the graphics look pretty good, especially the frequent switches in camera angles during interaction are nice and break the traditionally very static nature of 2D adventures.

The interface follows regular adventure traditions, interaction works via a simple two button interface, left for interaction, right click for looking. There are however hardly any situations where the right click is needed, so it feels more like a single click interface for most part. Running works via double click, which however feels a little slow and floaty, quick travel is also provided by the double click and via an always accessible city map that guides you to the next location. The inventory comes in the form of an automatically hiding bar at the bottom of the screen. The game provides a detailed quest logs that keeps track of tasks that have to be done, integrated in that quest log is a three level hint system, similar to UHS. All interactive objects in a scene can be highlighted by pressing "H".

The dialog system goes back to the root of the adventure genre, using classical dialog trees instead of the nowadays more common topic based discussion systems. Aside from a few exceptions the dialog trees however stay shallow throughout most of the game. A little nod to Monkey Island is provided in the form of discussion tree based fist fighting later in the game.

An unusual feature in the game are the night and day cycles, these follow neither the story nor a fixed timer, instead they can be triggered via a simple press of a button, turning the whole word from night to day. The difference between night and day is mostly limited to the availability of NPCs, as some only work at day, while others work at night, but otherwise it is basically meaningless, as the game neither keep track of time nor really factors these changes into its puzzle design.

Music comes in the form of some nice synthesizer tracks, that however get a bit repetitive over the course of the game. The voice work is as usual for German games, overall solid, but nothing remarkable.

The puzzle design is overall solid and logical, but falls on the easy side as most things are not that hard to figure out even without using the hint system. Locations are generally very small and simple, so there is no way to get lost and it is nearly impossible to miss a needed item. One big issue however is that many puzzles feel a little arbitrary, being there just to have puzzles and don't integrate all that great into the overall games story.

In the most extreme case for example of weird logic your character wants to gain access to a locked facility, both your boss and your college do have access to that facility, your boss even gives you his half of the key. But instead of just asking your college to provide you access, the game forces you to copy her id-chip, which in turn requires a rare chip copy machine that you have to get from the Chinese Mafia. Stealing that machine, requires breaking into their facility and killing four guards in the process in an stealth action sequence, the only one of its kind in the whole game. Most other puzzles in the game are not that weird, but it shows that the game sometimes goes a rather unusual route to accomplish otherwise simple tasks. The whole killing in that scene also felt completely unnecessary and unmotivated, as you never actually have any problems with the Mafia, you just go their to steal the machine and otherwise never have anything to do with the Mafia in the whole game.

That above incident aside, the story also gets quite dark in general in the game, much more then the graphic style would make you guess. Dealing with police corruption, prostitution, rape and a whole lot of murder. The games style and tone however doesn't feel like it is quite up on par to deal with those issues and also all of your colleagues in the game don't really seem to take the situation as serious as they should.

Overall Goin' Downtown is a game that starts great, delves into a lot of interesting topics and feature quite a few interesting Sci-Fi ideas, but then never really has to time to really do anything with them, as the game is already over after just barely six hours of gameplay. In that time it answers most major plot points and doesn't end in a cliffhanger, but the plot still feels rushed and the ending just comes a little to easy. Most of the side characters, which seem like they might have a larger part later on, never get their turn and just stay decoration throughout the game, instead of becoming active part of the main plot. The main villain's motivation is also never really explored in depth, five minutes after you find out who it is and basically a minute after you see him for the first time in the whole game the credits already roll.

Goin' Downtown is simply one of those games that does a lot of stuff right, doesn't have any major faults and is quite a lot of fun while it lasts, but then simply fails to provide enough of what it does. I wouldn't mind seeing a sequel of this one, as that universe certainly has potential for more.

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