Curse you, Telltale Everything Pack, curse you.
Think back to Sam and Max, which I played about a month ago. That was practically Telltale’s first foray into the world of episodic adventure gaming and it felt to me as if that inexperience was the main issue. Episodes were far too similar, you rehashed the same basic plot each time, the dialogue was pretty consistently awful and bland. There were spits and sparks of clever ideas and problems but it was never followed through on. The Wallace and Gromit episodes came out three or so years later, after Telltale had began to find their feet and experimented with several different properties (including the Strongbad adventures which are genuinely the best puzzle games I’ve played in the last decade). The main question, I suppose, is does that improvement continue?
I mean, I really liked TV’s Wallace and Gromit. Aardman spend years to make half an hour of entertainment, shooting single frames of plasticine figurines, adjusting them slightly, and doing it again, and so you get an extraordinary level of attention to detail. Like the Muppets, like Thunderbirds, this application of thorough production values to what seems a straightforward craft make for a show which feels unique and special. Does the game match this? Well, it certainly makes an effort. The animation deserves a commendation for how closely it recreates that distinctive look. Gromit’s sarcastic eye-rolling, Wallace’s eager awkwardness, they’re mimicked to perfection. Look below and you can see that they’ve gone to the effort of adding in things you would see on plasticine, little notches from where they would’ve been sculpted, there’s even a thumbprint. Despite the fact that there’s probably not much improvement from the graphics of Sam and Max, the fact it actually matches what it should look like this time. I think it’s the only game scored entirely by a brass band, and it’s certainly the only game set in Lancashire. I dunno, I’ve seen every inch of WW2-era France but the county next door? Never. Anyway, what I’m saying is this isn’t just a lazily licenced game, Aardman were involved in its creation and to an extent, that does show. To an extent.
So let’s actually talk about the game. You alternate playing sections as Wallace and Gromit, and the first bad note was that Peter Sallis* wasn’t available to do the voice and you’ve got his stand in. I’m sure his stand in is a fine, fine person but he doesn’t actually sound anything like Wallace should. He also spends hours and hours saying like, two lines, so I much preferred the Gromit bits. As I said, they have replicated the mannerisms excellently and Gromit is just much better, silently shrugging his shoulders when you try to get him to do something he doesn’t want to.
My main complaint on Sam and Max was the sheer repetition of it all. The same people were in the same place doing the same thing with the same sort of puzzles, and that starts to wear you down after six bloody episodes (oh god, still ten to go). W&G attempts to sidestep this: while each episode features the same basic cast (I’m also grateful they didn’t just do “baddy of the week”), they appear in various places, doing things that it makes sense that they would do. The characters are also much better developed, upgrading to 2D cardboard cutouts from the absolutely boring 1D cutouts that Sam and Max filled their world with. They don’t just have their primary trait, but they also react with different characters differently, it’s a small improvement but it goes a long way to making the world feel more real. Additionally, they’re more consistent in their behaviour and actions, which is nice.
But while it does make improvements, I think that repetition is a shackle that is impossible to avoid if you’re making episodes, all you can do is try to hide it. W&G follow a very clear four-part pattern. There’s the task that reveals what this month’s mystery will be, there’s the task where you solve one problem only for a more threatening one to hove into view, there’s the task that solves that, and then there’s the ACTION SEQUENCE to end the game. Roll credits, rinse and repeat. What’s more, tasks are signposted and pointed to and lit in thirty foot high neon lettering, so you don’t actually have to ever think. The playing area is pretty miniscule, with large areas of your house blocked off in various episodes and no more than five or six actual rooms to mess around in. About half the game is mindless Lancashire chatter, which while nice to listen to, generally well-voice and well-written, again just highlights that there isn’t enough interactive material here.
What I’m getting at is that this is a TV episode, all exposition and no interaction, follow the signposts to get to the end. Like Machinarium, it misses the point somewhat about what a game actually is, though in a slightly different way. Some good puns in the bee episode though.
3 stars, 10 hours spent.
* I thought it was Peter Sellars at first, apparently not.