Adventure games are an old favorite around here, which until recently was a bit of a problem, since they had fallen out of favor for a while. Fortunately, Telltale Games showed that there is still a market for them, and they’ve been making a strong comeback. Most of the more successful titles they have been producing are based upon older IPs that have been successful in the past, but this week we are looking at a character that is new… or at least, new to us. Let’s see if Hector: Episode 1, is any good, shall we?
Graphics are definitely one of the strong points of Hector. Displayed in traditional, cel/vector style animation, it conjures to mind games like Day of the Tentacle or Monkey Island. Cut scenes are well made, with camera shifts and and other cinematic effects, and a degree of lip synch. Obviously the in-game animation is a bit more limited, but animation cycles are sprinkled liberally throughout. The character design is creative and stylish, ranging from the corpulent title character to the fat prostitute outside the station to the morbidly obese proprietor of the porn store… wow, there are a lot of fat people in this game… It isn’t a one trick pony, though, with designs ranging from the traditional dignified police chief in suit and tie to the bizarre wheelchair-bound alcoholic clocksmith.
The setting is a crapsack town called Clapper’s Wreake, and in true cartoon style, the backdrops are rendered with a much higher level of detail and care than the characters. They all do a fine job depicting the advanced state of decay that serves as a running gag for the city. Interestingly, though there is a clear difference between animated sprites and stationary backdrops, the standard “Disney Effect” – that is to say, the tendency of interactive objects to stand out from the background by being cel shaded rather than background quality – is largely absent here, which does wonders for the esthetic, though as you’ll read below, there are some gameplay consequences.
I was actually surprised at how “mature” some of the visuals ended up being. With comparisons to Leisure Suit Larry in some of the press info, I’d expected sexual content, and there was plenty, but there was also some cartoonish gore, including the liberal application of a sniper rifle.
This is a traditional Point and Click adventure game, and its roots on iOS are clear. It is played entirely with the mouse, with your interactions coming in the form of clicks and double clicks. The lack of a cursor on iOS means that you don’t get the ever-so-useful “sweep until the pointer changes” technique that many of the early point and click adventures degenerated into, for better or worse. You can, however, watch the corner of the screen for names of items and people. Rather than selecting individual use, combine, and look at icons, you simply click something once to look at it and double click to interact with it. The double clicking is context sensitive, allowing you to flip switches, gather items, and talk to people. It took a little getting used to, but before long you start to appreciate the efficiency.
As mentioned earlier, usable items frequently don’t look at all out of place in the background. This means that, in order to avoid missing anything potentially useful, you need to have an eagle eye and a willingness to double-click a bunch. That said, my main difficulty didn’t come from item hunting, but human interaction. Aside from the “find and apply” aspect of gameplay, there are dialogue trees to navigate. Since the game is largely comedic, I found myself dismissing certain choices as obvious setups for punchlines, only to learn when I ran out of choices that they would lead to me getting an item. Likewise, some puzzles rely upon you following the same branch of the conversation tree multiple times. Some items are reusable for various purposes, while other items don’t seem to have any use at all. There is a hint system, which I managed to beat the game without using, and when you get stuck you can talk to your partner Lambert in order to get an idea of what avenues remain to be explored. I’m really impressed with how imaginative some of the puzzles are. A capacitive juvenile delinquent and a junkie in a cardboard box both show up in your inventory over the course of the game.
Overall the gameplay was good. The puzzles, once you had the appropriate items, were fairly obvious, and those aspects that aren’t initially clear often become so during a cutscene. I did run into one or two small issues, though. For instance, when you first encounter the “Exotico,” the porn shop that is one of the four visitable areas, you can inspect the sign, but doing so triggers a line that only really makes sense if one of the letters has been removed, which does indeed happen later. Small, sure, but an oopsie nonetheless. Aside from that, and a minor delay I experienced before long audio or video portions, the game experience was fairly smooth, and if you are anything like me, a solid afternoon will be enough to get to the end of the game. Stick around for the end of the credits, by the way. They give you link to download some goodies.
Since this is, as previously stated, a comedic game, the sound is important for delivering the gags with the appropriate character. The voice work is pretty good, which is remarkable considering it seems that virtually all of the voices are provided by the same actor. This leads to characters having ridiculously over-the-top vocal mannerisms and dialects. Some of them mutter though a haze of alcohol so thick that the captions seem like someone sat on the keyboard. Others have the telltale marks of digital manipulation. I have a feeling there is no traditional British accent left unlampooned, and one character in particular has an accent unidentifiable even to the other characters. There was an awful lot of effort put into the voice work, too. Clicking on the same item will frequently get you a string of gags riffing on the same theme. The music is decent, composed primarily of well midi-style songs appropriate to the setting.
The game follows the exploits of Detective Inspector Hector (I see what they did there.) A sniper has taken hostages and begun killing police officers indiscriminately, and Inspector Hector is deemed the best man for the job to handle the negotiation. This is unfortunate, since he begins the game locked in a cell and missing his pants. The good news is that, unlike most places, Clapper’s Wreake DOES negotiate with terrorists, and thus all you need to do is give this man everything he wants, which boils down to closing the local porn shop, fixing the town clock, and financing a city renewal project.
Solving these problems will lead you to deal with some very creative characters with some very bizarre traits. My favorite is the Scottish war veteran who fixes – or rather, resolutely refuses to fix – the clock tower. He drinks a nightmarish black liquor of his own concoction that dissolves wood, and somehow manages to climb stairs and ladders despite nonfunctional legs. Another fun one is a blind man who is nevertheless addicted to porn, and thus in search of “something tactile.” The jokes are usually pretty funny, though since the setting and creators are British, there are some gags and turns of phrase that don’t quite click for us yanks. Not to worry, though, because they reference their fair share of American pop culture, including a particularly entertaining CSI: Miami gag.
Overall, if I had any problem with the story and humor, it was that while it certainly has elements in common with Leisure Suit Larry (more than, say, the last two entries of Larry’s own series did) it lacks a bit of the charm. It tends toward being naughty for naughty’s sake, occasionally being gritty without being witty. I could just be viewing LSL through the nostalgia filter, though, and it is entirely possible that Hector will hit your sense of humor right on target.
Other than one or two extremely minor issues, and scattered moments of humor that miss the mark for me, Hector Episode 1 was a fun trip back to the golden era of adventure games. I would recommend it to anyone who likes their humor with an edge and their puzzles of the point and click variety. Hector Episode 1 is available now, and you can find out more about it here.
7.8 / 10: A fairly challenging, well voiced, and excellently animated game, but the humor may not be for everyone.