Note: Due to the nature of this game, some of the language that will be used is not appropriate for children.  The game is rated M for Mature, and this review uses some of the same language.

More expensive than the standard XBLive fare, Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness has something to prove.  Fans who eagerly awaited this game from the webcomic megasite Penny Arcade expect a lot.  While some of them may be disappointed, it has too many redeeming qualities to be written off as just another game.

It begins with a darkly-voiced narrative commanding you to rake your messy yard.  No sooner have you begun this task when a giant robot destroys your house (and only your house).  Without pausing, it stomps away into the far distance, leaving you, mouth agape.  You see two guys chasing the robot (who turn out to be Tycho and Gabriel) and immediately decide to follow them and the monster.  Soon enough, you’re the third wheel on the tricycle that is the Startling Developments Detective Agency, and off you go on the hunt for clues to solve the mystery.

From the very beginning, the game sets itself apart from other cheap downloadable games by allowing you to design your own character, which will be rendered in both 2D cartoon drawings (for dialogue) and 3D models (for movement and battle).  The choices are fun and are in definite keeping with the drawings from the comic.  Initially, the game has bright promise for a rousing quick-paced adventure.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t keep up with high hopes.  As soon as you enter battle with the first obscene enemies, the Fruit Fuckers (the trailer below shows a glimpse of their movements – imagine what they would do to fruit with those body motions, and you can put it all together), the game slows to a drag as you battle through planned encounter after planned encounter. The fast turn-based battle system is a bit slow (though for the game’s cost, it delivers about how one would expect).  The block feature is a quick to learn but slow to master, and is essential to the gameplay.  Even with it, expect to die a few times.

Between battles, the game breaks down in one of the cardinal sins of bad game design – fetch quests.  Expect to search every trashcan and box and fight every fruit fucker, mime, barber shop quartet, trashcan, and hobo for the items you’ll need.  Rarely is there an exception to this, as “everything must die” is less a philosophy than a requirement, which bogs down the gameplay even more.  For all of its flirtation with being a role-playing game, there is little if any control over the actual development of the characters.  The only bit of control is in the battle system, which gives a strength bonus if a character uses a special attack to finish off an enemy.  This overkill system could have been fun, except that the special attacks power up not from punches landed but from time elapsed.  Expect to spend a few minutes waiting for all of your characters to power up, and a few more minutes waiting for all of them to power up again after the enemy heals because your first power move didn’t kill him.

On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness is most certainly loyal to its source material.  Just as the webcomic is hit and miss, so is the game. It sometimes feels like the dialogue tries too hard to make us laugh, and in the process only succeeds to bore us.  That’s not to say the game isn’t a riot, which it is at times, but it presses us further and further until the joke is either not funny or too gross.  Some of the best lines are the optional ones, which you get when you inspect different things.  These range from the chuckle-worthy (Man Laying in Cart: “You don’t know if a hobo simply laid down here or if they came as a set.”) to the somewhat witty (Car: This carriage delivers Mediocre Pies to mildly enthusastic customers.) to the downright ridiculous (Bench: “Quills stand high on this bench, ready to shred unsuspecting buttocks.”).

For a first time out, Rain-Slick does well.  Though there is a lot of room for improvement, there are three more games worth of practice for Penny Arcade and Hothead Games.  I definitely recommend it for a download, especially in preparation for future episodes.  It’s certainly worth it.

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