Between last year's Gemini Rue and now Resonance, adventure gamers have been treated to some truly meaty science-fiction titles of late. It's a trend I'm very much okay with, though Resonance followed a rocky road to release. Lead designer Vince Twelve was known for his quirky freeware adventures Anna and What Linus Bruckman Sees When His Eyes Are Closed before announcing plans to release his first game commercially—in 2007. Five years is a long time to wait, but at last the game is finally here, no worse for wear. In fact, "worse" is not a word you'll be seeing in the rest of this review. Resonance is flippin' great.
Here's the setup: in the not-too distant future, the mysterious death of a particle physicist, Dr. Javier Morales, brings four complete strangers together: Ed, Dr. Morales's mild-mannered assistant; Anna, the doctor's niece and a (medical) doctor herself; Ray, a self-styled investigative journalist who runs a news blog; and Detective Bennet, an aging cop with a bad combover and a chip on his shoulder. At the center of everything is 'Resonance', a set of laws tied to a newly discovered subatomic particle that is capable, as new discoveries in sci-fi thrillers are wont to do, of bringing the world into a new Golden Age or destroying it altogether. Before he dies, Morales leaves clues for Anna, the only person he can truly trust, leading to a hidden vault containing the remnants of his research, and naturally the protagonists aren't the only ones searching for it. Thus the game becomes a race to track down the vault before Resonance can be misused for destruction on a worldwide scale.
The writing is suitably ambitious but wisely avoids going too "big." Despite the global reach of the plot, the game sticks to the four protagonists and their immediate situations, keeping things tightly-paced and coherent. Except for moments when the script is intentionally ambiguous, the story remains exceptionally clear, and if things ever seem a bit muddled there are helpful reminders of key plot points in the form of "long-term memories." Like any self-respecting thriller, Resonance is full of twists, revelations, and shifting alliances. Importantly, these twists never feel cheap or forced and are telegraphed with just the right amount of foreshadowing. They are surprising and satisfying, plausible without being obvious.
The characters themselves are likeable if a bit shallow, though it goes without saying that having four main characters forces the game to spread their backstories a bit thin in order to avoid hours of exposition. Anna, as the emotional core of the story, gets a deeper psychological exploration than the others, who generally stick to their archetypes. Ed is the awkward scientist, Bennet the sleazy detective, Ray the shifty reporter. They all feel believable, though, through a combination of fantastic character art and writing that is interesting without falling into the trap of being too clever for its own good. There's an undercurrent of humor in the dialogue that provides some levity to the otherwise dry and dour science-fiction conspiracy stuff, but it never overreaches by going for lame yuks. All in all, the characters do a fine job of carrying the storyline and keeping you involved, but unlike the best adventure game protagonists, they don't really stick with you once the credits roll.
At first you'll meet the four characters separately, controlling them solo in their own discrete mini-episodes, but soon fate throws them together in a desperate attempt to find Morales's murderer and prevent Resonance from falling into the wrong hands. Once the protagonists converge, the control options multiply: you can move the characters independently, switch freely between them, converse with each other, swap inventory items, and more. This kind of mechanic has been around almost as long as adventure games themselves, but it has rarely been done as well as it is here. In order to gather the necessary information to locate the vault and make sense of the clues left by Dr. Morales, you'll need to use every character at your disposal in interesting ways to do everything from bribing government employees to obtain confidential financial records to tracing mysterious phone calls to sneaking through restricted hospital levels to access private patient information.
Each character has their own observations to make about the world; point them at the same hotspot and in most cases you're going to get four different responses, some of which might reveal clues that the other characters missed. They all have access to different areas as well. Bennet, being a detective, can enter the Police Admin HQ, while Anna has the full run of the hospital, just to name the most obvious examples. This leads to a lot of puzzles that require not only inventory manipulation, but also character switching and sharing of items. It adds an intriguing new layer to already well-designed puzzles, though it can, on occasion, get a little tedious to shepherd four characters into place completely independently, only to find that one of them is blocking a hotspot that another character needs to access. But this is only a minor annoyance, and the tradeoff is well worth the depth it brings to the game.
Even without multiple characters, the puzzles would be uniformly excellent. This is not an easy game, yet every time I was about to give in to frustration I would see that I was simply looking at the situation from the wrong angle or missing a critical piece of information. Some of the puzzles seem extremely unforgiving at first, only to reveal themselves as completely achievable after some out-of-the-box thinking. And the variety of tasks ensures that you don't come to a puzzle and think, "Great. Another damn slider puzzle." You'll have to hack computers, control magnets, pinpoint locations on maps using geometry (yes, for real), and talk your way out of sticky situations.
Adding another layer of intrigue and complexity is the innovative memory system. Memories are like abstract inventory items; concepts and scraps of information that can be examined or shown to another character as a dialogue topic. Think of it like this: each character has three separate inventories—a standard inventory for items and two memory banks, one for long-term memories and one for short-term. Long-term memories are key plot points—major pieces of dialogue, backstory, or events—that are automatically added as you progress through the game. Examining them brings up a small window that plays a flashback of the memory, while using them in conversation will trigger the characters to talk about that subject. The long-term memory bank also serves as a sort of quest log and notes section where you can review important information and goals, which goes a long way in keeping you from getting lost in the complexity of the story.Continued on the next page...