Adventure Gamers Awards
Who can save the world with little more than a Swiss Army knife and a radio? MacGyver? Nope. John McClane? Uh-uh. It’s Harper Pendrell, the playable protagonist of Backwoods Entertainment’s stylish 2D point-and-click adventure Unforeseen Incidents. Harper is a nobody / college dropout / slacker / handyman who is destined to thwart a sinister cult intent on a kind of Darwinian genocide. And he’s not too gung ho about it. Fortunately, there’s good reason for players to feel more excited about the prospect, as the game takes you on a rather clichéd but lengthy journey filled with strong production values and puzzles.
Harper just wants to live a quiet life tooling around with old electrical equipment in his apartment and occasionally troubleshooting the computer of his friend, mentor, and surrogate father figure, Professor MacBride. So when he encounters a woman in the street stricken by the highly infectious and extremely lethal Yelltown Fever, he’s more than a little put off by the whole affair. The woman insists that Harper take a mysterious envelope and deliver it to a person named Helliwell, who is staying in the hotel of Harper’s hometown, which is ground zero for the virus. Being a generally decent if somewhat hesitant guy, Harper accepts.
Harper and Helliwell, a struggling reporter looking to land a big scoop, soon find themselves first on the tail of and then in direct opposition to a mysterious cult that brainwashes its members into believing that the weak members of society should die. Throw in a scientist more interested in research than its moral and ethical implications and the cult’s civil-but-psychopathic hitman, among others, and you have some fairly common story tropes. Still, clichéd it may be but bland it is not. The journey is a good deal of fun even if it’s not the most original on the shelf, and it certainly does look nice along the way.
Unforeseen Incidents has a great visual aesthetic. Characters and backgrounds are drawn with an appealing pen-and-ink style that provides a high level of detail while also being more caricatured and interesting than a realistic look. During cinematics, the game takes advantage of its hi-res graphics through the use of various camera tricks such as panning, zooming, and cutting to close-ups. This helps provide some life to the otherwise mostly static scenes throughout the game. With such a nice style, it’s a shame that character animations are fairly limited, consisting of simple but fluid walk cycles and a few single-frame gestures such as Harper reaching for an item in his general vicinity.
Much more attention has clearly been paid to the diversity of locations you visit. Harper’s investigation takes him from his rundown home of Yelltown, where buildings seem to loom precariously over the street, to the mountainous forest of Greywoods National park, the sunny and clean seaside city of Port Nicola, and the snow-covered wasteland surrounding the abandoned town of Old Kahona. Harper’s travels eventually lead him to a hidden underground bunker, with its concrete walls and metal furnishings. Each area is quite unique, as befits their different terrains and climates, but drawn in the same style they all fit together to make a stronger, cohesive visual whole.
The different areas are great to explore and it feels very rewarding to encounter new regions as you proceed. The level of detail in the backgrounds does work against you in a handful of places, however, as it can sometimes be hard to differentiate between what’s an important item or interactive area and what’s just part of the background. Fortunately, mousing over an active point of interest will display a small caption of what that hotspot represents. If that’s not enough, you can also hit the spacebar to temporarily activate a hotspot highlighter, which shows small white dots over all the interactive areas of the current scene.
Most of the game operates in typical point-and-click fashion while walking Harper through the various locations you encounter. You amass a fair number of inventory items and use them in interesting ways to progress. The inventory is usually hidden but displays when you move the mouse to the top of the screen. From there you can drag one item onto another to combine them or onto an active part of the environment to have Harper try to use it there. Harper also has his multitool with assorted attachments such as a screwdriver, scissors, and bottle opener. This is kept at the front of the inventory and when the mouse is positioned over it, a sub-inventory displays with each of the functions the multitool contains, allowing them to be used separately. The item combinations throughout the game all make sense and there aren’t any solutions that will leave you baffled by their logic.
While your tasks follow from the context of the story, there are a few chains that stray off the point. In one instance you need to discover the source of a particular symbol that has some relation to the Yelltown Fever. While you can find the symbol itself at a location in Greywoods National park, you need to uncover what it means as well. An eccentric artist in the region knows but refuses to tell until you understand his “tryptic”, three paintings sporting the symbol in question. That’s only the first step, so in short order you’ll have to build a fire with flint and kindling and brew a pot of tea using local herbs scattered through the forest. These actions all flow naturally one from another, but you’d be forgiven for forgetting what your initial goal was in cases such as this.
Unforeseen Incidents also has a few specialty puzzles that switch into close-ups of particular areas and equipment. One such challenge displays a map of the countryside, which, together with a portable radio, you must use to triangulate signals to discover new locations. Another unique challenge has you using a computer with a map of Port Nicola to review the city’s history and see where various businesses set up shop in order to track down one specific location. Activities such as these are a nice change of pace from the inventory-based puzzles.Continued on the next page...