As a grassroots publisher, Wadjet Eye Games have proven themselves to have an eye for independent talent that’s second to none, particularly in the realm of science fiction. After helping get Joshua Nuernberger’s incredible Gemini Rue and Vince Twelve’s brilliant Resonance completed, Wadjet Eye turned its attention to Wormwood Studios, a three-man team with years of individual industry experience who have joined together to present a singular vision of a post-human world. The result is another golden egg (albeit a very brown golden egg) of sci-fi adventuring in the form of Primordia.
A 2D point-and-click adventure in the classical style, Primordia follows the quest of one Horatio Nullbuilt v5—an android—and his floating companion Crispin Horatiobuilt v1—also a machine. Indeed, there are no traces of people on the planet, only a self-propagating race of robots, some of whom worship the ancient, legendary creator of robotkind, Man. Horatio is one such Humanist, believing that Man left robots as shepherds to watch over the planet they left behind. But what a bang-up job they’ve done. The world Horatio and Crispin inhabit is the very definition of a wasteland: sand dunes stretch into infinity, dotted with the scattered wreckage of crashed ships, disabled robots, and the ruins of war-torn cities.
As we meet our heroes, they are living semi-hermetic lives out in the desert, attempting to repair their ship, the severely-damaged UNNIIC, with only the eerie radio broadcasts out of Metropol—a seemingly robo-communist utopia—to keep them company. Before long, they are attacked by an unknown monolithic, laser-equipped robot who blasts his way into the ship and forcibly steals their coveted and rare power core. Stranded without power, Horatio and Crispin must set out to recover their stolen property, or at the very least replace it.
These simple beginnings slowly mutate into a much more involved tale of utopian ideals, political upheaval, and religious oppression once you eventually and (unsurprisingly) head to Metropol, a troubled city that has undergone some serious regime changes in the recent past. Eventually, Horatio’s quest for his stolen power core will plunge him deep into Metropol’s messy political landscape and force him to take sides in a conflict he’d rather have nothing to do with. It takes a while to get there, however, and the game can seem a little slow up to that point as you spend the first couple of hours ambling around digging through junk piles, but once it gets going it keeps the new characters, places, and ideas coming at a good clip.
All of this is told in a visual style that seems to draw from Amanita Design’s Machinarium, French comic artist Moebius, and classic science fiction such as Dune. Despite the relatively humble nature of the retro pixel art graphics, which are low resolution and feature little to no animation, Primordia is a visual triumph. The backgrounds drip with atmosphere, with even minor locations full of sweeping lines, gritty details, and muted colors that suggest a strange culture decades, possibly centuries, past anything that could have been considered prosperity. Despite being primarily brown and gray, including the oppressive sky, the backgrounds and characters are detailed, memorable, and varied. Instead of feeling repetitive, the color palette is leveraged effectively to evoke desolation and decay. Combined with the moody electronic soundtrack that resembles Vangelis’s classic Blade Runner score—all swelling pads and ethereal ambience—Primordia easily transports you to a rich and strange world.
The atmosphere is so wonderfully dreary that it almost—almost—clashes with the relatively lighter tone of the rest of the game. While the story definitely goes to some dark places, and there is a layer of gloom hanging over nearly every conversation and set piece, much of the game actually seems kind of light-hearted. Horatio may be stoic and gravelly, voiced by Bastion narrator Logan Cunningham, but Crispin (Abe Goldfarb, Blackwell's Joey Mallone) fulfills every stereotype of the comic relief sidekick, joking and punning his way through almost every one of his lines. And many of the characters you’ll run into are colorfully goofy, from the posh Oswald, complete with top hat and monocle, to a bot obsessed with prime numbers and rhyming.
It’s not that these lighter moments aren’t funny; they’re well-written, well-acted, and often downright charming. But with the foreboding and moody aesthetic that dominates otherwise, it’s a little jarring that much of the character interaction hews closer to WALL-E than The Road. To be clear, I’m not complaining. In fact, after I realized the tone wasn’t going to be what I expected, I got used to it, and by the end I felt that it had enhanced what might have been an unrelentingly gloomy experience without it.Continued on the next page...