Review: Runaway -- A Road Adventure

By Phil Scuderi 13 Jun 2013 0
T-Rexes are scary. This is truly the stuff of nightmares, and I don't mean the dinosaurs.

My only objection to Anita Sarkeesian’s recent Take that, Don Bluth. More than a decade on, Runaway's animation is still best in genre.[/caption]

Though it was originally released for the PC way back in 2001, the visual style and character animations remain exquisite even today. The game looks like an interactive Saturday-morning cartoon, teeming with vibrant, well-drawn characters and whimsical locales. The music is unmemorable but appealing, and the sound effects add texture to the world. The dialogue seems to have lost something in the translation from the original Spanish, and the voice actors, though mostly capable, sometimes sound like they’re talking to empty chairs. But the gameworld as a whole feels convincing.

The game controls rather well except for its inventory system. A single tap will send Brian walking or initiate an interaction. A helpful button on the bottom-left of the screen highlights all the scene’s interactable objects, thus saving you from tedious hunting and pecking. You can call up your inventory at any time. To use an item you first drag it to the border of the inventory screen (which will dismiss the inventory window), and then drag it to your destination. If you’re struggling to solve a puzzle and have lapsed into the “combinatorial explosion” strategy of attempting to use everything in your inventory on each object in the game world, the constant need to drag and release will grow tiring. And if you release in not quite the right spot, you’ll have to restart the whole procedure. This inelegant system is not as nice as the one in Pendulo Studios’ own Hollywood Monsters, which shrunk the fat inventory screen into a svelte inventory bar.

Puzzles in adventure games must walk a fine line between plausibility and out-and-out lunacy. Players often complain that they want believable, realistic puzzles—but these come at the expense of obviousness and solving them seldom instills a sense of achievement. Runaway veers slightly away from plausibility toward absurdity, though it never descends to classic Jane Jensen cat-hair-masking-tape-mustache madness. No, the game’s puzzles are flawed in a more basic sense, owing more to flawed mechanics than to silly premises. Here are a couple of early examples. First, in Gina’s hospital ward I came across an open file cabinet. Some papers were sticking out of the file cabinet suggestively, but I seemed unable to interact with them. Then, much later I realized I hadn’t tapped in exactly the right spot. If you don’t tap the papers just so, Brian thinks you’re trying to pick up the entire file cabinet. “I think it weighs too much,” he says. What a wimp! Just strap that thing to your back, bro.

If it wasn't already. The menacing villains and on-screen violence may just corrupt your youth.

Later in the same puzzle sequence, I needed to find a woman’s wig. The wig was inside Gina’s purse, but it took me nearly an hour to discover it. You see, I had already checked the purse earlier—too soon, apparently. Brian never mentioned that there was a wig inside it, and when it became obvious that I would need to acquire a wig from somewhere, the game offered no clue that I should check the purse again. Frustrating inconsistencies like these are a symptom of poor design. If I open and search a bag, I should find all its relevant contents at once, or else the game should drop strong hints that I ought to search the bag again. Runaway does neither, and some of its later puzzles run afoul of this same kind of trouble.

Runaway: A Road Adventure presents a barrage of problems at the outset, problems of interface, narrative and mechanics. The game largely improves from there—once I learned to work around its quirks, I enjoyed encountering the colorful characters and the new scenery as Brian headed from New York westward toward California and the story’s climax. But if you think games ought to reward your investment in them from the outset, and reward you consistently as long as you play, it's probably best that you seek your reward elsewhere.

Review: Runaway -- A Road Adventure

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