The last time I reviewed a game I’d freshly played I really enjoyed it. It was so much easier to get those initial thoughts and feelings on the page whilst the gameplay was still replaying itself behind my eyes. So when I saw a tweet last week about a game that came out that very day, I checked it out. The trailer impressed me so much that I bought the game on the spot, something I hardly ever do. Here’s Unforeseen Incidents.
The debut title from newcomer developers Backwoods Entertainment and published by Application Systems Heidelberg, Unforeseen Incidents is a 2D point-and-click adventure game that has been billed as a true successor to the great names of the genre such as Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango, and The Secret of Monkey Island, among others. It certainly appears to have some large shoes to fill. Watching the trailer provided a taste of what to expect from UI: a mysterious illness, talk of death cults, secretive figures in yellow hazmat suits, and a simple-but-lovable protagonist: Harper Pendrell. Harper gets by as a humble handyman, fixing old appliances like TVs and radios whilst dabbling in electronics. But after witnessing the effects of this deadly fever first-hand, he gets drawn into a secretive world of danger, betrayal…and pretty amazing one-liners.
On opening the game the first thing you notice is the score. As the menu appears it’s accompanied by a pair of bleak strings that somehow toe the line between harmony and discordance. Set against the background of a violent storm on a rural road seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and it appears that UI has definitely hit the ground running. After fiddling with the settings (choice of subtitle font? Noice) I hit New Game. We get some brief exposition in the form of a radio news bulletin. The mysterious ‘Yelltown Fever’ has claimed three lives but officials are saying there’s no reason to panic. As the announcement continues, the camera pans along the skyline of our setting: Yelltown.
The art-style has a relaxed, sketched feel to it, evoking a nostalgia for late 90’s cartoons. There’s something refreshing about seeing a departure from an overly refined design, it really suits the game well. Through the use of great lines and shading the developer has done a brilliant job of conveying run-down, dilapidated environments that set the tone for the game. Each scene is brilliantly drawn, and the density of detail packed into each frame is pretty mind-blowing.
A mini-tutorial consists of two important nuggets of info: tapping the spacebar reveals all interactables in your current setting, and bringing the cursor to the top of the screen opens your inventory. Apart from that you’re on your own. A slight negative: in a lot of point-and-clicks the walking speed is abysmally slow, and Harper here is no exception. Make sure to double-click when leaving a scene to travel to the next setting instantly, or use your maps frequently.
I begin the game by exploring and clicking everything around me, and carrying out the introductory task of fixing a friendly professor’s laptop cable with the help of my ‘trusty multi-tool’, the closest thing to a love interest that Harper has. The voice actors have been brilliantly cast; Harper is able to convey a wonderful degree of self-deprecating humour and sarcasm. Then there are the one-liners. They’re fantastically written, and later on in the game there are some real gems and pop-culture references that genuinely had me laughing out loud (see the slideshow above for some of my favourite lines). After a little exploring and good-natured chit-chat with some of the other locals of this quaint little backwater, things take a turn when Harper comes across a sick woman, blood issuing from her face, lying in the middle of the street.
[WARNING: Very mild spoilers ahead (Prologue chapter only)]
I knew the moment must have been coming due to the trailer, but somehow it still managed to catch me unawares. Of course, what do you do when you see someone lying helpless on the ground covered in blood? Call the authorities, right? Only our afflicted friend wants Harper to leave her be without calling anybody. Reluctantly but assured I was doing the right thing…I called them: the Rancho Health Corporation, or RHC for short, and shortly after the call is made (during which the operator really, really wanted me to hang around until the containment team showed up), they show up. Two anonymous figures in bright yellow hazmat suits arrive on the scene, briefly look around for whoever made the call (I’m hiding at this point), then haul off the poor woman to face an unknown fate.
The intrigue builds and the puzzles start. In true point-and-click adventure fashion, the game follows a classical approach to progress the story. Each chapter requires Harper to fulfill a set number of objectives to continue. Most objectives require items that Harper needs to locate, and of course, most of said items can only be acquired from other characters if you bring them other items; standard fare for the genre. There are some fantastic puzzle-solving elements however, which provide a necessary break from constant item gathering and also require no small amount of grey-matter stretching. There aren’t any outlandish solutions to solve the puzzles, such as defeating a yeti with a custard pie; all of the puzzles can be solved with logic, and in some instances a little lateral thinking. The part I found most perplexing; after each chapter, there’s a puzzle to solve on a computer which requires manipulating paths of light to unlock files on a desktop. Though the puzzle itself is fairly straight-forward, the reason it’s there in the first place isn’t. It’s only hinted at at the very end.
The mystery unfolds piecemeal, like a good story should. Each chapter ends on a pretty significant cliffhanger; had Backwoods made the decision to release the game episodically it definitely would have still worked. I was very satisfied with the ending, though I’ve heard from others who felt that the conclusion snuck up a little on them. But there’s resolution and closure at the end, which has always been more important to me. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey: the deepening mystery, the new revelations, the betrayal, and the wonderful chemistry between the characters really makes for a special game. That being said, a couple of notes. There were one or two minor bugs here and there, very small graphical issues that didn’t affect gameplay at all. Somehow in one room, I managed to duplicate an object. No idea how I did it, but I left the room and the issue resolved itself. There was also a moment at the very end when Harper’s body appeared to turn transparent, which was a little disconcerting. And just a quick word on the graphics: whilst I love the animation style, during the dialogue scenes the viewpoint zooms in on whichever character is speaking. When this occurs there is a significant loss of background resolution, which looks a little odd considering the characters themselves are unaffected. Just a very small thing.
I think Backwoods, for their debut title, have put together a very solid game. Unforeseen Incidents packed full of intrigue and a rich storyline, accompanied by some first-rate voice acting and killer writing. Harper’s comic relief, goofy impressions and sarcastic observations beautifully offer a little levity against the backdrop of the dark plot unfolding around him. The puzzles are a huge strength also; it’s plain to see the developer has sunk boatloads of time in gauging the difficulty, and the result is a finely-struck balance that doesn’t make you want to pull out your hair, but is satisfying when you figure out. Currently perched on Steam at £15.49 it’s certainly expensive for the point-and-click market, but keep in mind that it’s not a short game. Each chapter is pretty long, and all in all I estimate it took me around eighteen hours to complete. Whether that’s enough return-on-investment is something I’ll leave to you. All I know is although I’m not quite ready to crown it with ‘the greats’ I definitely had a blast with this game, and though it’s very early days, a 92% Steam positivity rating (at the time of writing) suggests many others feel the same.
Letter grade: A-
Thanks for reading! As always let me know your experiences if you choose to buy this game, and if you enjoyed this review make sure to drop a follow on WP or my twitter for new game review alerts. Until next time,