The original Runaway is a game that seems to strike a division in the adventure community. There are those adoring it for its unique style, cinematic qualities and slightly illogical puzzles, and others disliking it in equal proportions. And for reasons unknown, the game never got released in the UK despite being heavily advertised in the media. Over three years later, the sequel is now upon us, and once again the UK waits, along with the US this time, as the game has received an early release in smaller English territories and other European countries. Fortunately, the current wait will only be until March, and in the meantime I've had the chance to play through a preview version of Runaway 2: The Dream of the Turtle.
For players who missed the original game or simply need a recap, a movie has been compiled in the new game that summarizes the storyline from Brian's perspective, which will quickly bring everyone up to speed. Since we last saw them, Brian and Gina have been enjoying a deserved vacation in Hawaii and decide to visit an isolated island called Mala. On their journey there, the pilot passes out, forcing Brian to give Gina the sole parachute before the crash landing. With Gina missing in action, Brian survives the plane crash and explores the island trying to find signs of his girlfriend or the pilot. His adventures lead him to discover a hidden Tiki temple, which is under scrutiny by the military and the evil Tarentula, a female mastermind criminal. Making his escape with a new acquaintance named Joshua, Brian's next task is to meet up with a Professor Simon in Alaska, who will hopefully have the answers and the means by which to locate Gina. It's at this point that the preview code becomes playable, offering the whole of Act 4: He Who Knows Does Not Speak. This section took me about 2-3 hours to complete.
The plot is genuinely intriguing, advanced with the use of lengthy cutscenes, and the dramatic conclusion left me wanting more. While initially starting off as a hunt for Gina, bizarre conspiracies are soon unveiled involving alien life forms, advanced technologies, and Earth's animals. The puzzles I encountered were mostly of the inventory type, collecting necessary items, talking to other characters and using objects with others on location. Although the puzzles themselves were mostly logical, combining items could be a little picky, with a combination working in one way but not the other, giving the false impression that you are on the wrong track. The inventory is pictorially based and is accessed at the top of the screen, accompanied by Brian's face off to the side making various observations (useful or otherwise).
Staying true to the style of its predecessor, Runaway 2 is a traditional third-person, point-and-click adventure, which will be a relief to old school genre fans that have seen other series radically change formats in recent years. The entire interface is controlled with the mouse, with a right click transforming the cursor into either magnifying glass to examine items, a hand for using/picking up objects, or a speech bubble if placed over another character.
One of the most acclaimed aspects of Runaway was its visuals, and it is safe to say that the graphics in the sequel are more extravagant than ever. Although only a handful of locations and cutscenes were on view in the version I played, their quality can not be underestimated. Backgrounds are stunning, complete with the attention to detail we've come to expect from Pendulo, and the animation is superb, not unlike watching a high quality animated movie. The snow and lighting effects are extremely effective in conveying the cold of Alaska, while the indoor scenes are warm and inviting by contrast. In-game animation and cutscenes are quite seamless, not ruining the immersion in the game world.
Voice acting (supported by subtitles) is well implemented, with the main role of Brian once again conveyed reasonably and reminiscent of George Stobbart in Broken Sword. Joshua, an eccentric genius who communicates with aliens, is suitably voiced, and other members of the cast perform equally well. The music didn't particularly impress, but only a few pieces were played in the preview version, so not a very large sampling of the overall package.
Perhaps the main complaint about the original game was about the main characters themselves, as many people found them to be uninteresting and unlikeable. As Gina does not appear in the preview at all, I can't comment on her directly, although obviously she maintains her previous penchant for disappearing. While his look has dramatically altered, Brian remains much the same, at times trying a little too hard to be funny, which may deter those hoping for a complete personality transformation. Some of the conversations can be long-winded, making them a little tedious at times. On the plus side, the supporting cast once again looks to be an entertaining mix. In the section I played, Joshua was particularly notable, as his dialogue is genuinely witty, portraying his eccentricities very effectively.
It is hard to say at this stage whether Runaway 2 will appeal to those who hated the first game, as that's something that can only be determined with the final release, but at the moment the game looks promising, and those who lapped up the original will find the sequel equally compelling. Technically superb, the game's storyline is engrossing and certainly has me interested in the full game once it finally hits the ground locally in a couple more months.