Puzzles are at the core of Adventure gameplay, they provide challenges for you to overcome with brains rather than brawn. For Action Adventures, they offer a break from the hacky-slashy-stabby-shooty element of title.
Every week I’ll bring you a new puzzle, drawn from some of the best and worst adventure or puzzle games I’ve ever played. Every once in a while I’ll even leave you one of my own for you to solve. If you do, I’ll find a way to reward you!
Dead Synchronicity (DS): Tomorrow Comes Today is the début game by Spanish Fictiorama Studios. Set in a post-apocalyptic world approaching the dissolution of time itself, you must piece together the mysteries of the ‘dissolved’, unlock your own past and try to stay alive!
When I mention unlock your past I mean it. Michael, our protagonist—and whose voice actor sounds so much like Kevin Sorbo I had Hercules flashbacks—has lost his memory. He only remembers his name and that’s because he hears a woman calling out to him in his dreams. This amnesia or ‘blanking’ as it’s referred in game makes Michael the perfect protagonist to take us through this post Great Wave world. There’s enough pathos to make him his own character, but also a naïveté that makes him perfect as an avatar, a canvas. His caretakers, Rod and his family, use this to their advantage to push Michael—and the player—out into the world. They ask he find a cure for their son, Colin, in exchange for information on the character’s past.
The world of DS is post-apocalyptic and rusty. Before the events of the game, there was the Great Wave, a worldwide event that left civilisation in ruins. People were put into Refugee Camps while the governments attempted to sort things out…but they never did, leaving the people to rot. When the dissolved started appearing, those infected with a disease that kills by liquefying the body, the army took over and turned the camps into concentration ones. To the army, everyone in the camp is a Rat—living in and off garbage—unless they’re a Mole, a Rat elevated to a higher station and kept there to let them know about any dissolved.
Dead Synchronicity: Tomorrow Comes Today isn’t a happy game. It’s dark, violent and disturbing and some of the decisions you’ll make will probably haunt you afterwards. I can say, with all certainty that I had never used Acid to disfigure someone in a point & click game, yet here I did it. You do what you gotta do is the motto for The Hunter, one of the rats in the camp, the one controlling its limited underworld. He’s amoral and depraved, but over the course of the game your actions will put you in equal standing with him, and I’m not sure if I’m comfortable with that, but DS kept me wondering if Michael was a good man as much as the character did in voice overs. But that’s what the game does best, put you in uncomfortable situations that make the dystopian future feel real.
What I like the most though is that it’s effective in its use of ‘misery’. It’s not all pervasive and there are genuine moments of hope, which in turn make the bad moments so much more effective.
Michael’s memories and his life before the Great Wave, the prophetic ramblings of the dissolved and their link to our protagonist are central to the plot. Then there’s the Dead Synchronicity Point, the Annihilation of Time itself, which you experience in moments when the world shifts around Michael, showing him visions of the past and the future. These moments are surreal and intriguing, and give you clues as to what is going on before they give you the full exposition. In fact, the Synchronicity shifts tie into one of the best puzzles in the game.
Sadly, the plot doesn’t really go anywhere as the game abruptly ends once you have your first set of real answers. The only thing missing was a To Be Continued message. As good as the setting is and as intrigued as I was by the plot, the end was a complete letdown. Fictiorama Studio builds up to a climax that leads nowhere. And it’s not an episodic game—I wouldn’t be reviewing it if that were the case. This is the first entry in a saga, meaning this is all we have until Fictiorama develop and release a sequel.
I have to admit I wasn’t a fan of the expressionist art style of Dead Synchronicity when I saw the demo for it last year, but it gradually grew on me. Combined with the rusty Mad Max look of the world, the visual style adds to the grittiness and Michael’s dirty, blood-spattered shirt are a constant reminder of everything you’ve done throughout the game.
The Synchronicity shifts have a nice visual cue, with distortions and TV grain on the screen, making it all look like a badly tuned channel—for those of us old enough to remember what that was like. In terms of environments and cutscenes, Dead Synchronicity doesn’t shy away from going dark and some of the scenes and locations are incredibly disturbing, with Suicide Park being one of the most shocking ones, especially during a Synchronicity shift, as well as Colin’s fate.
Puzzle design in DS is a bit of a mixed bag. You will often use items for different purposes than intended, coming dangerously close to moon logic, but it feels natural for a scavenger setting, where you have to make do with what you have. Some of them can be extremely frustrating though, especially because as a norm, puzzles in Dead Synchronicity don’t follow the basic tenets of adventure game design. Solving one doesn’t always lead you to a new location or open the path to new items you can use to solve a previous puzzle, but instead they lead to roadblocks. One of the best examples is the sewer. Manage to open a manhole, climb down and see Michael come up again because he has no light. Find the flashlight for him and he goes down again before returning because he doesn’t have a map of the sewers. It’s not unusual for adventures to chain puzzles together, but give me a shopping a list, so I can know when I have everything I need to proceed. Every time I found myself solving a puzzle that led to another dead-end the frustration grew. It’s even worse when some of the item to solve a certain puzzle can only be acquired once you move on to another Chapter in the story with new locations and an altered “world state,” because it leads to dead ends and wasting time banging your head against the wall on a puzzle that is impossible to solve at that moment. And there are only rare instances where the character will say, “I can’t do anything with my current items.”
The sound shines through, both in terms of music and voice acting. The music is moody and gritty rock, with heavy electric guitar strums. The music blends into the background for the most part but during intense sequences and cutscenes it’ll ramp up and grip you completely. When I was trying to prevent an execution, the music kept me on edge through the entire sequence. Michael’s actor, Jeremiah Costello is outstanding. My second favourite would have to be the actress voicing Rose, the mentally disturbed prostitute in the camp—told you this game was dark—she sounds helpless and scared and you can’t help but want to protect her. The rest of the supporting cast is a bit mixed. Hunter’s actor, for example, fails at making the character truly intimidating, and every time he said ‘dude’ it felt forced, as if the actor had never used the word before in his life. Some of the dialogues don’t sound natural, a flaw in the game’s writing. I found myself saying, “People don’t talk like that…” quite often and you could feel it some of the performances, the actors struggling to remain convincing.
Things just get worse after you cross Suicide Park
Sharp protruding object? Wasn’t there a better way to call this?
Suicide park is just horrible, but in a good way
I have it on good authority that this nurse is inspired by a friend of mine!
Michael’s voiceovers help you know what he’s thinking, though he does repeat himself a bit.
The rusy mad-max visual style is great.
The camp, and you’re just another rat!
This character broke my heart!
You do find friends and enjoy brief moments of happiness with them.
Love the shift effect!
The phrasing’s a bit too eloquent for this mook.
Dead Synchronicity: Tomorrow Comes Today greatest flaw is that it leads nowhere. In the face of this problem, the uneven and frustrating puzzle design and strange and forced dialogues are forgivable. The game has a fantastic setting, and handles its grittiness better than I’ve seen many games do in the past years and the visual and sound design is great, but it all ultimately feels pointless.
Randal’s Monday is a point & click adventure game by Nexus Game Studios and published by Daedalic Entertainment. It follows Randal Hicks, who due to his own fault becomes trapped in a Groundhog Day scenario, repeating the same day over and over again.
Good visual style
Jeff Anderson and Jason Mewes’ voice acting
Frustrating moon logic puzzles
Right before I received my review, I read the news that Jeff Anderson, the actor who portrays Randal Graves in Clerks, would be voicing this game’s Randal (whose name is a clear reference to that film: Randal’s name and Dante’s surname) and that Jason Mewes would have a cameo role. The article was distinctly mum on what the role might be but it turned out to be Jay, with his heterosexual life partner Silent Bob by his side (who’s not voiced by Kevin Smith, which is a real tragedy).
The game has a simple premise. Randal’s a good for nothing kleptomaniac bum who steals his best friend’s wedding ring. The band turns is actually cursed and forces Randal to relive the next day, Monday forever. Groundhog Day scenarios are difficult to pull off, and are fantastic tools for stories revolving around morality and growth. If everything resets, are you accountable for the atrocities you might commit? Is there any crime if it turns out to never happen? Those are the types of stories reserved for these tales, but Randal’s Monday isn’t one of them. One thing those scenarios need to be effective is a workable in-universe logic, which here goes out the window by the second Monday. I like that your actions affect the next Monday, as if the consequences for whatever you did just get piled on the next reset. It’s an interesting concept but the rules get wonkier when actions physically affect other characters, such as the barmaid who becomes more attractive with every Monday or a drunken one-night stand that turns into a marriage proposal and a girlfriend on the next day. “Whaaaat?” will be a question you ask yourself many times over the course of the game, in plot and gameplay.
The plot itself isn’t bad, it’s actually interesting but it takes too long to pay off. A smaller number of days would’ve been better and the game could have done without the Shawshank Redemption sequence near the end, which is too long, entirely devoid of entertainment and in fact has a blatant copy of a famous puzzle, the spitting competition from Monkey Island 2, only combined with the spit-based puzzle from near the end of that game. It’s one thing to have references, but when you rip off a puzzle, two in fact, then you’ve crossed a line.
The Ring itself behaves a lot like the One Ring from the Lord of the Rings, with its own agenda and malicious intent. By the end they even bring in the apocalypse and the Four Horsemen, but while the true villain isn’t obvious, it’s another “Whaaaat?” moment, because it seemingly comes from nowhere.
Crossing lines is what Randal’s Monday does best with its overkill references. One or two or even many spread out thinly over the course of the game can give your players fun chuckle moments, but Nexus goes overboard with them. Everything is a reference to another thing and when everything is a reference, nothing is original or entertaining. It took this ‘humorous’ game five of its days to do something funny. Aside from that, I never laughed once. One example is the comic book store with the HAL 9000 security system. I know the intention is to have a fun play with Space Odyssey, but they go too far by keeping the computer’s name, using the same red-eye design, giving it the same voice and even use the name Dave in dialogue. It’s too much piled on and it stops being clever and becomes dull. And don’t get me started on the Adamantium Claws.
Randal’s Monday’s humour is clearly Clerk-ish, a distinct style dependent on “dick and fart jokes,” but the writers at Nexus lack the comedic and dialogue genius of Kevin Smith and because of that, the humour sometime mostly falls flat and the characters come off unappealing instead of satirized over-the-top personalities. Randal is hands down one of the most unlikeable characters in video games. He learns nothing and he doesn’t grow, remaining the same disgusting human being throughout. The rest of the cast are cardboard cut-outs, with simple and bland (or annoying) personalities. The greatest offender is the extremely cliché hard-ass Detective you meet almost every day, who at no point is even remotely funny. It’s the Dirty Harry stereotype but it isn’t played with well enough to give you some entertainment value.
When I said you’ll ask yourself “Whaaaat?” in gameplay, it’s because the game claims there are a small number of “strange” puzzles but that most are logic based. Yes, moon-logic based. At any given time you’ll have items in your inventory that you know are sensible solutions to the current problem, but none of them will work. Instead, as with most moon-logic games, you’ll have to find the most circuitous way to the solution, using items in ways no one has ever even conceived they should be used. Sure, there’s a feeling of elation, accomplishment even when you do solve one, but for the most part you’ll just be frustrated. The comic-book styled inventory doesn’t help, as there are sometimes items you have to combine but they’re on different pages and if the combination is incorrect, you have to get the item, return to the previous pages and try again.
In terms of sound, the music is actually pretty nice, but it could’ve used a bit more variety, especially as you’re constantly revisiting the same places over the course of several days. Voice acting is good, with the best being Anderson and Mewes. Then again, they aren’t playing new characters but ones they’ve been playing for the past 20 years. Randal Hicks IS Randal Graves in everything but the name and they have Jay & Silent Bob in the game.
My favourite part of the game has to be the visuals. The cartoon style is really good, even with the large wobble-like heads and even if they go overboard with the references, they are very well animated, and the comic book store has actual comic book covers. I recognized a few in there and Jay & Silent Bob are spot on from their Clerks counterparts. Despite that, there is some pixel hunting, as some items are very difficult to see.
Randal’s Monday is a game that desperately wants to entertain you and be ‘old-school’ at the same time, but between the absurd puzzles and inventory, the weak writing and the overuse of references it comes off short. Still, for adventure gamers it offers a significant challenge.