Point-and-click adventure games are, for better or for worse, intentionally opaque. This is not the case for every entry in the genre – Detective Pikachu has been a breeze thus far – but I’ve certainly gotten my fair share of stumpings in the otherwise-beloved Ace Attorney games. This is how it should be: there’s no denying that thrill of vindication upon solving that puzzle or catching that crook, and what better satisfaction than triumphing over brainteasers? (Well, okay, unless you’re Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure and decide to turn us off with maddening motion-control swordplay; yes, I’m still mad, Capcom)
And yet, along comes Unforeseen Incidents — an eye-catching indie game by the German-based Application Systems Heidelberg/Backwoods Entertainment. A quick glance around Metacritic and other such aggregates show that, alas, I am the first to give something of a dissenting review. While I am not about to be particularly harsh with it, I walked away digesting a discouraging exercise in appreciating the world and art, yet struggling to ultimately enjoy.
As a sign of respect, let us begin with said art: as seen above, Unforeseen Incidents consists of hand-painted animation, with much of the game bathed in twilit/nocturnal colors and lighting. With it often complemented by melancholic violins, it’s difficult not to get wrapped up in the bleak world it presents. Being indie, there are obvious limitations – much of the character animation is jerky and stiff, but such impediments are strangely hypnotic in a game as gloomy as this; why, you could even call it charmingly offbeat.
Maybe you should help her?
This emphasis on gloom and doom hails from Unforeseen Incidents’ focus on a plague story — don’t worry, there’s none of those beyond-tired zombies running around; just a sickness that kills people in a matter of hours. Featuring mechanic Harper Pendrell as the classic “Joe Schmoe stumbles into a worldwide conspiracy,” what should be a cliched tale is somehow rendered ngaging through strong voicework and an endearing cast – Harper’s enough of a lovable loser, and the residents of Yelltown and beyond all successfully carve out their idiosyncratic niches.
So, what’s the problem, then? Well, a general rule of thumb for adventure games is that you are expected to check out everything clickable. Admittedly, I did not do this, having been preoccupied with the tasks assigned to me as opposed to checking every nook and cranny. However, therein lies the problem: Unforeseen Incidents relies far too much on this philosophy as opposed to a solid sense of natural progression – in other words, because it keeps introducing new puzzles, it can become difficult to keep track of everything you’re doing. With the lack of any objective markers or checklists, these frustrating dead-ends are inevitable.
It’s grim, if nothing else.
For instance, there is a puzzle involving fixing the professor’s car, but this is only known by inspecting the actual vehicle, so if you were too busy decorating the hazmat suit or solving the various mysteries of the hotel, you’re left on a wild goose chase on what to do next. True, the space bar can be used to highlight all interactive elements, but not once are we enlightened to this feature – you’d only know through experimenting with the buttons or reviewing the pre-load input option menu; combined with Harper’s slow walking, and it can be a real drag. Could a simple request from the professor to check his car be too much to ask?
True, it’s not uncommon for games such as this to randomly insert new quests when you’ve hit a brick wall into your investigation, and it’s not as if Unforeseen Incidents doesn’t impress in its puzzle solutions, but its obtuseness often smothers its cleverness to the breaking point of irritation. How you earn a batch of cupcakes, for instance, is a mischievous bit of fun, but how you arrive at that deduction is not. Controlling the electrical power of a processing plant is a logical step, but how it’s performed is frustratingly impenetrable. The computer maze puzzles after each chapter’s conclusion are entertaining, but lack context to the extent of being pointlessly intrusive– I can’t speak for everyone else, but for the first one, the sudden jump had me sitting around for twenty seconds thinking it was a cutscene intro.
Can you read in the dark?
Let’s make one thing clear: Unforeseen Incidents certainly isn’t as generic as the name may imply, and it’s for that reason I wish the game was a tad more accessible. Not that I ask for it to hold my hand, but I cannot recall another point-and-click adventure game that had me scrambling to a walkthrough as much as this. The passion laced within Unforeseen Incidents is enough for me to keep track of the developers’ future output, but whatever the genre may be, a proper balance in telegraphing would best be advised.
Available on: PC; Publisher: Application Systems Heidelberg; Developer: Application Systems Heidelberg/ Systems Heidelberg Software; Players: 1; Released: May 24, 2018; ESRB: N/A; MSRP: $19.99
This review is based on a review copy provided by Systems Heidelberg Software.