You’ve alway been a fan of point-and-click adventures, especially the 2D ones, but never tried your hands on those casual titles with hidden-object gameplay? Now’s your chance to find out if Hidden Runaway is a successful interpretation of Péndulo Studios’ genre-revival title Runaway: A Road Adventure.
Physics student Brian Basco and club singer Gina Timmins pair up to uncover the secret behind a cross the girl’s father was killed for.
A different perspective on the story
First off the bad news: Whoever thought the game would pick up some of the loose story ends of Runaway 2 or even tell a completely new story, will be disappointed. This is simply a retelling of past events, or, more accurately, the first half of the original Runaway. The narrative technique is a bit different, though. By having Gina and Brian being interrupted with questions by a movie script writer and also by commenting on certain parts in the story, it is a more lighthearted approach to the plot. On the one hand, this makes for some funny scenes, on the other hand it also takes away the impact of more serious aspects of the story. Looking at the discrepancies of the German USK 6+ and the UK PEGI 18+ age certification systems, it is obvious that the comedic elements are also complemented by some violent parts: Having someone’s neck broken in one instance without actually giving newcomers an explanation who it was stands in stark contrast to some bickering hit-or-miss conversations between the two heroes, in both cases failing to make the player feel sympathy for the characters if one doesn’t already know them from past games.
This of course poses the question of how to rate the story. For fans of the original game, it’s much more coherent, while for new players, the often random editing of the scenes turns the plot into a rushed and confusing mess, not to mention the lack of character development. Only the verbal fights Gian and Brian have on the couch give the uninitiated an impression of who these unlikely heroes actually are. Therefore, it feels more like a best-of rather than a stand-alone product, even though there are some additional scenes which weren’t in the first game. But as these are very few and don’t help to better understand the story, they seem rather unnecessary. There are also story segments which are completely different, but unlike a Director’s Cut, they feel incongruous to the rest of the plot or character development, making long-time fans rather roll their eyes because of their inconsistency and newcomers furrow their brows, because they make the convoluted storytelling even more difficult to follow.
Puzzles are of course the meat of every adventure game, so how does the hidden-object concept fit into an already existing franchise? To a certain extent, the player is given a certain amount of freedom to solve problems and perform individual tasks already present in the original. Some are simplified versions of the seldom logical ones in the classic point-and-clicker, while others are replaced by minigames. The former work quite well when it comes to specific goals one has to achieve, therefore giving a sense of progression in the story by asking the player to actively look for certain objects in order to combine them. Unfortunately this is where the hidden-object trope comes into play and makes things unnecessarily dull.
As is the case with other hidden object games, one has to search the screen for things which usually don’t have much to do with the puzzle or task at hand, and the way they are put on screen is random and simply ridiculous, as an alligator in a toilet or hamburgers littered around illustrate. It’s an annoyingly tedious gameplay element that without finding all these objects, the essential items for puzzle solving can’t be picked up. Taking into account that a lot of these things are indistinguishable from the background, and failing to click on the correct ones results in the screen being broken like a mirror and forcing the player to wait a while before he or she can progress, this doesn’t offer much in the way of fun. Even more aggravating is the fact that some additional objects have to be found which are not highlighted in text form on the top of the screen like the others but often placed without any sense or reason in the individual screens, making the hint system become indispensable.
Experimentation with combining objects is not possible, as an image of what item has to be used is always shown, making the gameplay of Runaway much more accessible to beginners but also watering down the experience. What’s much more cerebral, or in some cases a test of reflexes, is the inclusion of minigames. Sometimes these are quite fun, like finding the right order of notes to have a piece of music or arranging picture tiles to make Brian remember something in the past. Unfortunately, while the latter is implemented quite well, the former is terribly out of place, as it’s nothing more than a ridiculous parody of Pulp Fiction with someone looking remarkably like John Travolta’s character holding a gun against a piano player’s head (Why did this get a 6+ age certification in Germany again?). In other parts of the game, these minigames are similar to logic puzzles which would not be amiss in a Professor Layton title, while some arcade-like ones are often too difficult and also run against the canon of the series. It’s a good thing then that all these minigames can be skipped without any consequences, which also poses the question why they are there in the first place.
Cartoon movie-like presentation, but not without its faults
Graphically, the game plays it safe for the most time by just using the same backgrounds and cutscenes from the first Runaway. These are excellently drawn with an attention to detail only seen in high-quality cartoons, although by using the zoom function to find harder-to-spot objects, the resolution is reduced, and the picture quality suffers in the process. Some of the known cutscenes are also replaced by still pictures. Even if the original Runaway had some problems with lip synchronization and facial animation in general, this looks even worse.
The lack of voice acting is also disappointing, taking away some of the tension from the cutscenes. Another annoying aspect is that the rather atmospheric music sometimes stops when one stays too long in one screen, and then it starts again. More problematic are two bugs encountered in this version: one resulting in a dead end because of an object not showing up in the inventory, and another reproducible crash to the screen. This is especially aggravating, because there’s only an auto save function. Not being able to replay chapters or scenes, the only way to continue is to restart and hope that the former problem doesn’t surface again.
A mixed bag of a casual experience
Hidden Runaway is difficult to recommend. On the one hand, it keeps many of the lovingly drawn backgrounds, parts of an engaging story and an occasionally atmospheric soundtrack. Unfortunately many compromises were made, probably in order to reduce the file size for mobile platforms, although there are certainly better examples of classic games getting a more accurate conversion. Where the title really falls down is in its gameplay, not so much because of the hidden-objects hunt, but because the often quite inventive and sometimes even fun minigames are completely at odds with the original series and feel misplaced. The puzzles are obviously less challenging and therefore more accessible than the often obscure ones in the original, but as some items can easily be missed, the hint function becomes more and more important.
So the question is: Who’s the target audience? Adventure gamers who loved the original will feel cheated, because a lot of scenes, dialogues, voice acting and overall puzzle design is missing, the game being simply a retelling of the first one and therefore making it quite superfluous. Newcomers will most likely find the presentation appealing, but as the characters rarely interact outside of cutscenes and the story also has its fair share of problems with missing parts, it’s actually a much better idea to pick up the original games which offer more gameplay and consistency in storytelling.
It should also be taken into consideration that the plot of the first game is not brought to a satisfying end here. This is made clear by a trailer for Hidden Runaway 2 which teases players with a retelling of the second half. Of course this is quite a problematic price policy move, making customers buy both games together for 20 Euros (probably), which isn’t far from a full-price adventure title or even the original trilogy which goes for far less these days.
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