Tablets, bird statues and a despicable human being. Of course it’s an adventure game, the latest one: Demetrios – The BIG Cynical Adventure.
Genre(s): Point & Click Adventure
Release Date: May 2016
Played: Full Story
Purchase At: Steam
Demetrios – The BIG Cynical Adventure starts with our protagonist, Bjorn Thonen arriving home drunk after a night of partying with his friend Tom. He stumbles into his room and climbs into bed, but just before he falls asleep he receives a call from someone warning him of impending danger, but he pays it no heed and falls asleep anyway. Hours later a crash wakes him and as he goes to see what’s going on, someone attacks him from behind and leaves him unconscious on the floor. When he wakes, his apartment’s been ransacked and his latest antique acquisition, a rare tablet, is missing. Little did he know that was the start of the biggest adventure of his life.
Now, in any other game, that paragraph sounds like the intro to an amazing game. But I’m here to disappoint you today because Demetrios – The BIG Cynical Adventure doesn’t come within a hundred miles of the word “amazing.” The game kept me bored out of my gourd and uninterested in its events for its duration. It did this by having a complete mess of a plot, inconsistent art style and puzzle design, shallow characterisation and some of the worst attempts at humour I’ve seen in adventure gaming.
Bjorn Thonen is yet another selfish and borderline psychotic adventure protagonist, in it for himself and his own interests, without even a single redeeming quality. While that is in part expected with the game’s title—read Cynical—Demetrios still expects you to care about him, his neighbour and the events happening around him. And it is impossible to do so. I’ll say it again, the character doesn’t have a single redeeming quality and neither does anyone else in the cast for that matter. It’s the biggest collection of shallow human beings in gaming media, with barely any personality and increasingly appalling trains of thought—particularly the neighbour and her atrocious daughter.
Here’s the thing. Many developers and writers in the genre base this type of character on LucasArts’ Guybrush Threepwood, without realising the nuance in the characterisation. Guybrush is a pirate, yes, and he cheats and steals, I’ve covered that in another article. But he’s also earnest, and in a world with murderers and vengeful spirits, he’s quite honest in his dishonesty. The character has dimensions, something the cast of Demetrios – The BIG Cynical Adventure don’t have.
I’ve heard people refer to the game as “Broken Sword on Acid,” and I find it insulting to have Demetrios in the same sentence as Broken Sword. One of the things that make Broken Sword work is its characters, normal people caught in a terrible situation, making the best of it by sticking together while still remaining true to themselves, something that is impossible to happen when the characters are despicable and their characterisation is so bad it’s impossible for them to remain true to anything. Also, the Broken Sword plots, while sometimes a bit out there, remain interesting and understandable. I wish you good luck finding any coherence in this mess.
Yes, I despise the characters. The selfish and opportunistic—and sometimes cruel—adventure protagonist is a tired trope, a cliché to be honest. I’m tired of it, and while I recognise when someone pulls it off correctly, this isn’t one of those cases.
The plot makes absolutely no sense in any way, and the worst thing is that it has the raw elements of a good story, but the storytelling is lazy and the pacing is all over the place. Demetrios – The BIG Cynical Adventure tries to be absurd, takes a stab at surrealism, but there isn’t enough subtlety in its writing for it to work. I like absurd humour, I like surreal stories, but in any of them there has to be an element of rationality to draw you in before you jump down the rabbit hole. Demetrios fails at this task completely with its mediocre writing. And I have to say this: clones, really? That’s the best you could come up with, a clone? I have no polite words to describe how bad that is.
And I am absolutely and without a doubt exhausted of finding adventure game developers and writers trying to hide horrendous writing and appalling characterisation behind humour, particularly such terrible attempts at “dick & fart” jokes, as Kevin Smith would put it. I’m all for juvenile humour, if you do it right. Just by making a character disgusting and have people insult each other, or have the character have a poo in a fountain won’t bring out the giggles in me. The telling of the jokes is amateurish and the punchlines are even worse.
The art-style is completely inconsistent. Some character art looks nice while others look almost deformed, particularly comparing character sprites against portraits. The worst of the bunch are the police detective and Caroline, the neighbour’s daughter, whose portraits look as if drawn by a child. If you want an easy example, just compare Bjorn’s portrait against everyone else’s. It’s a jarring shift in art style and quality. The environment art is another mess, with some places, like the front of the hidden temple, looking quite nice but other places looking straight out of a cheap early 2000s 2D Flash game. Hell, I’ve seen better-drawn Flash games.
The only good part of the art is the comic-book-panel-style cutscenes. They look nicer than the rest of the game.
There is no voice acting and, as you know, that’s not a problem for me, as I don’t really care about that, and I really didn’t want these characters to have voice. Reading them was bad enough. But beyond the title music, I couldn’t tell you about the game’s musical arrangement. For the most part, I found it nonexistent and the very few pieces I heard were completely forgettable.
An adventure game lives and dies on the plot and characters and Demetrios is dead and buried with those. The point & click subgenre also needs good puzzling. I spent most of my time in Demetrios – The BIG Cynical Adventure doing fetch-quests, collecting random bits and bobs, the collection of each item often tied to mini-games of all things, instead of genuine puzzles to entertain you.
At times, it felt as though the designer just gave up. In one instance, you need something from a store but without money you can’t get anything, but then you spot a crowbar near the floor. At that point, you’d expect the crowbar to be something else to buy or you’d need to create a distraction to pocket it, both of which would’ve been interesting, another element to an existing puzzle, but no, the NPC actually tells you “I’m being nice so you can keep it.” The only reason that happens is that the crowbar is essential to the chapter’s puzzles.
There are also those moments that feel extra complicated just for the sake of padding. In one puzzle you need a juicer and your neighbour has one. Once in place you realise none of your glasses fit the juicer, but instead of asking your neighbour for a glass that fits, something rational considering she mentions she uses the thing daily for her daughter, you have to go into the desert and buy a Pottery maker, so you can create your own perfectly sized cup. Worst of it is that the pottery maker itself only shows up on the shelves at that instant, but not before. It’s lazy design in a game with some already uninspired inventory puzzles, too straightforward and without much creativity or cleverness behind them.
And that’s without even mentioning the death scenes. If you want to have multiple kill scenarios, go for it, but don’t interrupt my game that much. I don’t want to have to wait for you to show me the death screen and then wait for a button to pop up to continue. Do it fast so I don’t get frustrated. If you want to have choice-based death scenarios, great, just make those choices have some meaning, or make them part of a complex conversation sequence. Often in Demetrios two out of three choices will get you killed, and then you’ll return to the choice menu. What’s the point? I can see through the illusion of choice, and it frankly annoyed me, particularly because often the right choice is the one you disregard for being completely stupid. You don’t insult the guy pointing the gun at your forehead.
And then there’s the bastard at the bazaar. Do NOT make a character that interrupts my actions by suddenly talking. Do NOT make him do this every five seconds. I contemplated murder every time it happened. It wasn’t amusing the first time and it wasn’t amusing the tenth. It was a complete waste of time and just another proof of this game’s mediocre writing and design.
After playing Demetrios – The BIG Cynical Adventure I can only say I loathe it. I hate every aspect of it. Atrocious plot, characterisation and uneven and frankly uninspired puzzle design. Much like its characters, there are no redeeming qualities for this game. It bored me to hell and back and I will never get those hours back.
1/5 – OH HELL NO!