Indie adventures: “Unforeseen Incidents” (PC)

Backwoods Entertainment and Application Systems Heidelberg‘s classic point-and-click adventure game Unforeseen Incidents proves that mystery stories and humor can still work together quite nicely.

Unforeseen Incidents (PC)
(Germany 2018, developer: Backwoods Entertainment, publisher: Application Systems Heidelberg, platform: PC)

Small-town handyman Harper Pendrell is drawn into a conspiracy about disease control and despite his lack of hero material he tries to bring the government secrets to light with the help of a reporter.

Average Joe with hero skills
The most interesting characters are usually the ones who are the less conspicuous, becoming a hero from zero, so Harper Pendrell fits this role perfectly. While some adventure heroes seem to know everything or come across as too stupid for comedy purposes, Harper is much more realistic and easier to relate to. He knows his craft, i.e. electricity and handyman work, but he doesn’t understand everything and isn’t condescending to people. He’s also not the brightest at some points, making for some funny but never too silly situations. What is even more important is that despite not being a jack of all trades, the player is often asked to perform various tasks, like developing a photo or interrogating a person. So the only way to learn this is to ask people who can explain to Harper how everything works.

Strangely familiar story and setting
The story is an interesting mix of thriller, drama, and a bit of sci-fi, reminiscent of Twin Peaks and X-Files conspiracy theories, while also dealing with environmental and political issues. It all gels together quite well, although it takes a while before it becomes suspenseful. Despite all the references, e.g. some strange stories about things in the woods, or talkative people in a diner, and a not-so-cooperative ranger, the game never reaches the same quality in writing or atmosphere, as it could have done with some more action and dramatic sequences.

The whole conspiracy and disease control theme isn’t the most original, either, with only a few surprises along the way. This doesn’t mean that it’s boring, as there are always a nice twist and turn of events to keep the player going. It’s just that the detective work Harper does and the mystery behind it all isn’t something one hasn’t watched or played before in other TV shows, movies or games. Still, the game even manages to deliver some touching scenes, especially near the end.

Humor and timing
While all the locations are varied and one would love to visit each in real life, the characters one meets aren’t the most memorable. Some are quite quirky, e.g. a recluse artist, but they won’t stay in one’s mind for long. The same goes for Harper whose funny comments are usually hit-or-miss. This might have something to do with the involvement of comedian Alasdair Beckett-King who did Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet, a mildly amusing pirate adventure game, and who helped with the writing in this game. Fortunately when Harper later teams up with journalist Haliwell who has a much more interesting background story, the sarcastic and witty remarks work much better. It’s just too bad that all the dialogue options remain even after one has already clicked through them. While it makes sense to offer the player a chance to use them for looking for clues, it’s not particularly user-friendly, as there are so many topics to select from that one easily finds oneself listening to the same dialogues again.

Realism in puzzles
Puzzles in adventure games can often feel forced, especially when it comes to object combinations and in what way the protagonist builds the craziest things. Harper is much more down-to-earth and only works on things he understands, which can mean to first find a manual, ask a person, and be careful not to do anything stupid, which is a good way of not getting killed with electrical devices. The most important part of puzzle solving is the multi-tool, as it can be used in various forms, e.g. as a cutter, screw-driver, etc.. Choosing the right one for the right job adds to realism and variety in puzzle design. What isn’t so great is that one has to scroll through many items that aren’t in the order one picked them up, so frequently using certain objects, like a map, can become a chore.

It’s not all about handiwork, though, as some puzzles can also be solved by good old-fashioned observation. So in one case one has to find the right coolant for a car, which is done by looking at the color of the liquid and the radiator as well as the model number, and therefore eliminating certain ones. One often has to do detective work, too, like contacting a journalist in a hotel by calling the room numbers and the newspaper, reducing the number of possible candidates. Unfortunately the whole take on realism in puzzle solving becomes quite tiresome in some cases. So even if it makes sense that one has to learn about plants and herbs to find the right ones, reading through pages of information is a bit too much, including long sections about how to make a fire and in which order one has to do it. There are just way too many manuals to peruse for simple tasks, and while it’s again realistic, one soon wishes that the try-everything-with-everything formula returns. Sometimes realism takes a backseat as well, e.g. when Harper is tied up and still has the multi-tool with cutting equipment, but has to find another way to free himself.

A wide world to explore and puzzle through
Despite telling a linear story and making the player solve all puzzles, one can often decide which problems to tackle first. Some are obviously interconnected, but one usually finds enough reasons to go to various locations and take care of individual problems in any order. Fortunately, locations become available throughout the story and are slowly unlocked, so one usually knows where to go and what to do without being bombarded with too much information. However, this doesn’t mean that one won’t wander around aimlessly for some time, mainly because objects aren’t always easy to make out in the environments. A lot of backtracking is involved, too, and sometimes just for fetching certain items.

Puzzles with issues
The puzzles aren’t all logical, as there are quite a few that require trial and error, guess work, and a bit of fiddling around. So in one case one has to guess the titles of paintings, and as the clues provided are pretty obscure, one tries to guess them, which is also true for a password to access a hydro plant, which is made even more difficult by typing it in, so anyone accustomed to entering commands that aren’t recognized because of missing blanks or other typographical errors will become frustrated. Trying to find the right frequency for a radio signal is also annoying, as one has to find the highest spot on a mountain and then fiddle around with the adjustment buttons. Another exercise in patience is a hacking-computer-systems minigame in which one has to make sure that there’s a constant flow of energy, which becomes increasingly more difficult the further one progresses in the game. It outstays its welcome pretty soon. There is also a frustrating stealth section that relies on pixel-perfect timing, which might add to the tension in the scene, but is out of place in a much more cerebral puzzle experience.

Comic looks and no comical sounds
The presentation is great with a scribble/scrawl-like art style reminiscent of Puzzle Agent and Puzzle Agent 2, but with much more detailed, often beautifully-drawn backgrounds which offer a surprising amount of depth due to their various layers. So despite being a 2D game, one has a great sense of looking into the distance, imagining that it’s a much wider world one can explore outside the current screen. Only the statue-like characters are disappointing, as their few animations and movements during dialogues make the slight swaying to the left or right of their bodies look rather odd. Zooming in on them during conversation might bring them to life a bit more, but as the dialogues can be quite long, it’s still boring to watch them interact. Seeing the characters walk is even more unnatural, while there are some instances in which they float above the ground or they seem to be pushed and pulled by invisible threads.

Atmospheric background noises and voice acting are of a very high quality. Considering that the original version is in German, the English one is even better, with every single character being voiced by convincing actors and actresses. The soundtrack is also amazing, especially with the use of atmospheric piano and guitar pieces, and it’s a joy to listen to independently from the game.

An adventure, classical in every sense of the word
Unforeseen Incidents is a fun old-school adventure game that presents the player with a great-looking world to explore and many varied puzzles to solve that are surprisingly realistic in many cases, although their quality varies. The presentation is top-notch, and while story and character development isn’t anything to write home about, one still wants to know how it all ends. Characters aren’t very memorable, but they’re likable enough to stay in a world that might look cartoon-y, but feels like home. A home one likes to return to, accompanied by a great soundtrack.

Score: 8/10

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Official website

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About nufafitc

Being an avid gamer, cinemaniac, and bookworm in addition to other things the internet and new media present, I'm also very much into DIY music, rock and pop in particular. Writing short or longer pieces about anything that interests me has always made me happy. As both an editor for German website "Adventure-Treff" and UK website "Future Sack", I like to write reviews and news about recent developments in the movies, games and book industry.
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