Ana’s father, a brilliant scientist, vanished years ago. She’s lived without him for years but on her 16th birthday, a mysterious gift left behind for her puts her on the trail of her family’s mysterious past and a strange book called The Perils of Man.
Genre(s): Point & Click Adventure
Developer: IF Games
Publisher: IF Games
Release Date: April 2014
Played: Full story
Purchase At: Steam
When the game opens, we see Ana watching a documentary on her family and the knack her ancestors, father included, had for disappearing. At some point in their lives they would just vanish without a trace. Ana’s father is just another in a long line, and while she wonders what happened to him and has wild theories about it—though not as wild as her mother, who believes he’s dead and haunting them—she doesn’t let it get to her. After all, she’s lived most of her life without him. But when her mum gives her a box from her father, with instructions for her to open it on her sixteenth birthday, her keen Eberling mind springs into action, taking the strange purple cylinder in the box and tracking down what it could all mean.
Eventually she discovers the Perils of Man, and her family’s time-twisting experiments, as well as the wonderful technology of the Risk Atlas, special goggles that let you see potential risks around you, such as a dodgy boiler that hasn’t received proper maintenance in years, or how carriages blocking an exit might stop people from escaping a burning building. The Atlas also lets her see things in the otherwise empty pages of the Perils of Man book.
I overall like the plot, quite a bit in fact. I love time travel stories and the addition of the Risk Atlas to see how some events happened, triggered by a series of potential risks, and then use that information to counter them was an inspired choice, marrying gameplay and storytelling in a beautiful way, as the Risk Atlas and its abuse is another central theme in the story. It’s also about family, about letting go and even valuing what you have now. Ana is a beautiful character, smart and witty but with a desperate need to find the connection she’s been missing, or at least find closure to move on. Her mother is remarkable in a perhaps pitiful way, so afraid of losing the one love she has left that she became paranoid and fears every minor thing, while still clinging to the idea that her husband hasn’t left, he just died and haunts them to be close.
In fact, the characterisation is one of the game’s strongest points, particularly because even the most minor of characters has a memorable personality. One of my favourite characters is the automaton Darwin, a mechanical bird that follows you around and calls Ana, “Not-Thomas.” Even if he’s a little robot, you grow to care for him.
But while I enjoy the characters and the plot, I found the pacing suffered in the second half, with the game almost completely skipping ahead to the final ‘stage’, where you don’t do anything but talk to a character and watch a minutes-long cutscene that leads to the end. The game forgoes building its major antagonist and moves along quite fast to the resolution of that storyline but leaving other threads unanswered and without even the tiniest of advances, as the game places a few red herrings in front of you that make you think something much more complex is going on. To be honest, I wished the herring had been real, as that story had lots of potential. By the time the game ended, I expected to see something pop up to tell me the story wasn’t over, that this was just the first part of a new saga. But no such luck.
In terms of gameplay, the interface and controls will be very reminiscent to players of Telltale’s Tales of Monkey Island, particularly the inventory. Left click controls everything, from movement to interaction and observation. The inventory holds your items and you drag them to a hotspot to use it there, or you can use the mechanism in the centre of the inventory wheel to combine two items at a time.
Puzzles are fantastic, involving clues from conversations, some logic and a keen eye to find the right object for the task. Sometimes they might seem hard to find but it’s just you haven’t thought of something or spoken to someone else for the crucial clue you need. Once the Risk Atlas comes into play, it’ll trigger several puzzles at once, as you’ll have to deal with all the risks to save the day. But while the atlas identifies risks and at one point even highlights some items, it doesn’t solve puzzles for you. The things you see through it—and I mean literally so, as the game shifts to first person perspective—and the descriptions only give you helpful clues to put your brain into gear. For the most part you only need logic and some applied science but you never have to resort to the traditional tactics of “click on everything” and “use everything with everything.” The puzzle aren’t easy though and I got stuck a few times, but with careful thinking I managed to push through, realising I had missed something crucial. The concept of averting catastrophe by seeing and countering risks is immensely creative.
I loved the visual style. Environments have tons of tiny details that match their time period, and characters seem straight out of a film like Coraline, with a puppet-like quality to them. It was jarring at first and I honestly thought they were just badly animated, and worried they might be stiff when they moved but then I saw them in action and realised my mistake. They look just like marionettes you might see in some stop-motion feature but their movements are fluid and life-like. In its visuals, The Perils of Man played on my expectations and charmed me with a style that reminded me of my childhood. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that one of the designers for the game was Bill Tiller, one of LucasArt’s best artists, working on titles such as Full Throttle and The Dig.
Sound design is superb, with perfectly placed ambient sounds and environmental pieces, to help sell the locations and the overall mood, from the busy and awed crowd in the Theatre, to the storm right outside the Eberling estate. But it’s the voice acting that steals the show for me. The performers sound so natural, even while giving out farfetched lines speaking of mysterious crystals, and timelines and risk atlases. Also, I love Ana’s voice—then again, I do have a thing for British accents.
The Perils of Man is a phenomenal adventure game and one I wish I had known about earlier. An intriguing story with a wonderful visual design and superb voice acting will keep you entertained for hours. I only wish the second half had been meatier—and I want them to announce a sequel.
4.5/5 – Amazing!