Those Germans sure love their adventure games, but we don’t always get the chance to love them too. It’s a sad reality that many German adventures never even get an English release. Daedalic’s Edna & Harvey: The Breakout started out that way. Released in 2008 to near-unanimous acclaim, it’s one of those titles English-speaking adventure gamers were left eyeing longingly, wondering if we’d ever get to experience the madness ourselves. Now we can, thanks to English releases in North America and Europe almost three years later. And while it’s not quite the masterpiece the enthusiastic German reviews had me hoping for, Edna & Harvey is a solid, entertaining adventure, especially if you enjoy quirky humor, bizarre characters, and old-school nostalgia.
Edna & Harvey: The Breakout started as a student project for Daedalic cofounder Jan Müller-Michaelis (also known as “Poki”). It’s the absurd and sometimes morbid tale of Edna, a “loony” locked up in an asylum, and her talking stuffed rabbit, Harvey. As the game opens, Edna is in a small padded cell with no apparent means of escape. Except this is an adventure game—of course there’s a way out! As the title suggests, first Edna must break out of the locked room, then out of the asylum to make her way back to her childhood home and piece together the events that led to this sad state of affairs. Edna’s memory has been wiped by electroshock treatments, so she and the player are starting at square one. Harvey, however, has some distant memories of the past, and he does his best to help the flustered patient figure out how they got into this mess. Though he admits he’s a projection of Edna’s subconscious, the terrycloth rabbit acts more as her foil, speculating with her on the situations they find themselves in, bantering with her as they cope with life in the asylum, and sometimes acting as the devil on her shoulder, goading her into bad behavior.
Though Harvey’s main role is that of faithful sidekick (he spends most of the game dangling from Edna’s hand by his ears), he does have a handy ability to “tempomorph” the two of them to the past. During these scenes, Edna can relive key childhood events and pick up some useful skills. Some of the most interesting story revelations emerge during these few flashbacks, and my biggest regret is that Edna & Harvey didn’t include more opportunities to peek into Edna’s past. These scenes, which take place ten years earlier, show a very different Edna: an innocent, hyperactive child with a propensity for getting herself into hot water with authority figures (no thanks to the tattling Alfred, the obnoxious boy next door). Nostalgic music and Edna’s own eager curiosity help set the tone for these scenes, providing a sharp contrast to her bleak existence in the asylum. I enjoyed these sequences the most and wish the game had many more of them; with only three spread far apart across ten or so hours of play, tempomorphing felt more like a tease than a fully realized element of Edna & Harvey’s gameplay.
Control is purely point-and-click, using a very retro-styled verb-based interface reminiscent of LucasArts’ early games. Clicking anywhere without first selecting a verb from the bottom of the screen simply causes Edna to walk to that spot. The other options are “look at,” “pick up,” “talk to,” and “use,” and you’ll make ample use of all four during play. That’s because Edna & Harvey has a ridiculous amount of interaction crammed in, with a unique response for almost every possible action you can think of (most of which are purely optional). It’s a long-lost concept in a day and age when most adventure games have been streamlined with smart cursors and a bare minimum of hotspots, but its execution is entirely old-school as well. To make use of the verbs, you must move the cursor down to the one you want and click to “equip” it, then click on the hotspot you want to interact with. It’s a cumbersome process that makes the game far more clunky than necessary, and while I’m all for added interactivity, I wish Edna & Harvey had some shortcuts (such as the ability to scroll through verbs by right-clicking) to make the verb system more friendly. To make matters worse, the verb buttons don’t always respond; maybe a quarter of the time you have repeat the whole sequence.
There is also a large inventory with 35 blank slots. While I never filled up all of them, at times I was pretty close, as the asylum yields a surprising selection of useful and potentially dangerous items that Edna can pocket. In a nice touch, some of these can be used as destructive instruments around the asylum. Use the ballpoint pen on furniture and Edna will scribble all over it; snip the potted plants in the hallways with pinking shears and you’ll give the leaves serrated edges. These minute acts of vandalism are perfectly in line with Edna’s mischievous attitude and though they don’t advance the story one iota, they seem like the right thing to do in a place where the protagonist is locked up against her will.
The interface is slightly different during flashbacks, with a much smaller inventory and the added ability to switch between Edna and Harvey as playable characters. While Harvey is unable to manipulate the environment, he can walk around and gather topics to discuss with Edna, and he can go places she can’t, like out a small window in a basement they’ve been locked inside. The same verbs are available to Edna as in the present, but her inventory and the areas accessible to her are very limited. The main purpose of these scenes is to glean information about how a tragedy years ago relates to Edna’s current predicament, and to learn a few helpful tricks such as unscrewing screws without any tools. Such skills are retained when Edna returns to the present and further her goal of escaping from the asylum.
Most puzzles use inventory, dialogue, or a combination of the two. The very first one involves getting Edna out of her padded cell. The door is locked from the outside, of course, but you can converse with the guard who’s posted there. Selecting certain dialogue options leads to slight changes in Edna’s surroundings. Once these changes are made, an item inside the cell can be modified, then used, to find a means of escape. This is a fairly typical puzzle set-up, though the gameplay gets more complicated, sometimes requiring you to pay close attention to multiple environmental details as you go along.
The pace drags a bit at the beginning, when Edna has only a few rooms at her disposal, but as she collects more items, encounters more people, and gains access to more of the asylum, it all starts to come into focus—especially once she happens upon a particular inmate locked in solitary confinement. He lays out a plan for their escape: Edna must make a copy of the master key that’s carried by one of the guards, get them a functioning vehicle, and find a way through the main gate. Several steps are required to achieve each of these objectives, and with each step the puzzles get trickier. For the most part, puzzles are somewhat logical (at least, they adhere to the logic of a world populated by unstable people) but especially near the end, the game doesn’t always give adequate context for the player to figure out the puzzles without outside assistance. Apparently the game’s North American publisher, Viva Media, saw this coming, because a walkthrough is included on the disc. Those playing the UK version from Lace Mamba are on your own, because the only in-game assistance of any sort is a hotspot highlighter to reveal the numerous interactive items on any given screen.Continued on the next page...