Adventure game protagonists have come in all manner of forms throughout the years. In Backwoods Entertainment’s upcoming Unforeseen Incidents, that form is the gangly shape of Harper Pendrell, a naïve, work-averse layabout (and occasional handyman). He’s an unlikely hero, but events conspire against him, as events are wont to do, to pull him into a plot of intrigue and deception that I was able to sample firsthand through a playable press demo.
Harper makes his home in the rundown Yelltown. Recently a new disease, dubbed Yelltown Fever, has started cropping up that kills its victims in a matter of hours, and the Rancho Health Corporation has been tasked with researching the virus and finding a cure. Shortly after the game begins, Harper encounters just such a suffering individual. She gives him a mysterious envelope and instructs him to pass it on to a reporter by the name of Helliwell, staying at the local inn. In short order, hazmat-suited men from the RHC arrive to take the young woman away.
As Harper first finds and then teams up with Helliwell, the pair are pulled deeper into a conspiracy underlying the Yelltown Fever. Harper would rather just wash his hands of the whole situation, but instead fate has decided that it’s up to him, Joe Blow Nobody, to save the world from a cult that believes only the strong should survive. It’s a clichéd setup, but with its solid production values Unforeseen Incidents delivers on it remarkably well.
Immediately apparent is the distinctiveness of the game’s look. Both backgrounds and characters are depicted in a striking pen and ink style, making for a quite detailed aesthetic. The hi-res visuals are further enhanced through frequently panning, zooming in, and cutting to close-ups during cutscenes. While the characters aren’t overly animated, these camera techniques bring a sense of life to the experience that most other 2D point-and-click adventure games lack.
From the decrepit Yelltown, Harper’s journey takes him through the forested region of the nearby Greystone Woods National Park, the clean urban metropolis of Port Nicola, the frozen tundra surrounding the ghost town of Old Kahona, and the nuclear fallout bunker-type corridors of the cult’s hidden base. Each area has its own unique feel while also fitting neatly into the greater whole. The level of detail in all these places does occasionally work against the player, so you may find yourself relying on the hotspot highlighter as I did to determine what aspects of the rich environments are actually important. A quick tap of the spacebar temporarily displays small white dots over all interactive parts of each screen.
Not to be outdone by the visuals, the audio is quite good as well. Instrumental pieces appropriate to the current locale accompany you on your way. Harper’s feet crunch on gravel or swish through grass as he walks. However, the biggest highlight here are the voices. Across the board, the wide variety of characters in Unforeseen Incidents are performed to a high degree. Whether it’s a Scottish scientist, a gruff junkyard master, a paranoid conspiracy theorist senior with too much time on his hands, or a welcoming diner cook, every character is well done. Harper in particular is the highlight of the cast. This is not a comedic game, but the protagonist does have a fun, somewhat understated sense of humour that is served well by his voice.
On the puzzle front, the game tries to stay within the bounds of reality, not requiring anything too outlandish in the obstacles I encountered. The majority of puzzles consist of using accumulated inventory items, with many requiring the use of Harper’s multitool (a.k.a. Swiss Army knife). The inventory is easily accessed by moving the mouse to the top of the screen. Mousing over the multitool then presents a second inventory showing all the individual functions it allows you to use, such as a screwdriver, wire strippers, or bottle opener. Using an item is as simple as dragging it from the inventory and dropping it on the hotspot you wish to try it on.
While each step in a puzzle sequence logically follows from the previous one, there are times when you may poke your head up and wonder how you got where you’re at. Early on, you have to locate Helliwell in the hotel, but during the course of this seemingly basic task you’ll find yourself at one point researching football games from thirty years ago. It fits intuitively in context, but there are a few occasions like this where the sub-puzzles you need to solve seem to take on a greater importance than your overall objectives. If you do find yourself drifting too far afield in one puzzle, however, the game usually provides one or two others that you can work on at the same time. It’s a nice touch for when you get stuck on a certain task and just need to let it sit for a while.
Unforeseen Incidents does mix its item-based puzzle formula up with a few other specialized cases. For example, a couple of times you need to triangulate radio signals. Striking out for the highest ground in the immediate area, you’ll consult a map on which a directional pointer is displayed. A wave pattern for the radio signal shows at the bottom of the screen and you must rotate the directional pointer by dragging it to find where the signal is strongest. Take a couple such readings and X marks the spot. Or you may find yourself working out the shipping codes for parcels at a dock site through a computer system and using partial codes from other packages.
The game even injects a bit of action/stealth at one point, where you must guide Harper past a number of RHC workers in hazmat suits. It was a really fiddly and hard-to-gauge sequence in the demo I was playing, so hopefully the developers will iron it out a bit more before the final release. Except during cinematics and dialog trees you’re able to save at any time, but even if you’re caught the game resets automatically so you can try again.
While its premise may not be the most original, Unforeseen Incidents’ distinctive visual style, top notch voice work, fun characters, and challenging puzzles definitely make this a game to watch for. Even in its current state, production values are high and the game looks to be fairly substantial in length. Clever camera use, the occasional non-inventory puzzle, and a few minor story alterations via dialog choices are the icing on the cake for this promising looking adventure due out later this month.