After a nearly four year wait, Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 has been released and the adventures of our intrepid (hmm…more like reluctant) detectives Gabe and Tycho finally continue. The question is – can Zeboyd Games successfully pick up where Hothead Games left off – instead developing DeathSpank – and continue the series?
In short…sort of. After playing and thoroughly enjoying the first two games, I was quite excited to install and start up the third. Penny Arcade 3 is set in 1920s New Arcadia and opens in the Startling Developments Detective Agency merely one week after the events of the second episode. For new players to the series, there are two statues that give wholly insufficient descriptions of the two prior installments. There are many in-jokes (Pelican Bay!) to both the past games and the comic strip, so it is definitely beneficial to play the prior games; they are excellent.
The player controls Gabe and Tycho’s journeys around town (and various dimensions) and eventually some other characters (Jim the Skull!) join and/or leave the party. The new 16-bit pixelated style and old-school turn based RPG menu-driven combat was jarring at first, but I quickly became used to the new style and, despite my best efforts, enjoyed the graphics by the end of the game. My impressions were altered by a truly inspired (but utterly spoilerific) sequence mid-game.
Often while playing, I found myself lamenting aspects that I missed from the first two games – creating my own character to play alongside Gabe and Tycho, real time combat with special and combined power attacks, walking around smashing objects to find loot, modern (albeit stylized) graphics, the ability to play full-screen and still read text, non chip-tuned sound, the voice of the narrator, and lastly – an ending (but more on that later).
However, for every decision I disliked, there were many good design choices made. Saves can be made anywhere and anytime (other than during combat); when starting up again, the player begins exactly where the game left off. Monsters killed do not respawn, making exploring to find chests, or infrequent backtracking significantly less of a chore. The chip-tune music I mentioned above is extremely well done and there is plenty of variety so as not to stale as the game progresses. Most importantly, the complex story and smart, sometimes acerbic, dialog are back as Penny Arcade 3 was developed in conjunction with Jerry Holkins.
The new battle system is surprisingly deep and allows the player to customize their battle tactics on the fly using a pin system (yes, that’s pins as in lapel pins) when out of combat to attach two extra classes to each character. After each battle, the characters and the pin classes gain experience, level up, and frequently learn new spells. Classes range from the helpful Gardenar (casts repeating “gardens” that can add health, MP, harm enemies, or a few other effects) to the Slacker (need I say more?) and, when used synergistically, are quite powerful.
By the end of Penny Arcade 3, there are so many choices for combat tactics it can become overwhelming to keep track. However, even with all of the spells and classes, the battle system does become stale; about three-quarters of the way through the game I found myself reluctantly trudging to the next monster rather than skipping gleefully through each area. Once all of the pins are unlocked, the lack of urgency of turn-based combat really takes a toll on gameplay.
The show-stopper here is the complete and utter lack of an ending. The game goes so far as to pop up a To Be Continued…play Penny Arcade 4 screen at the “end.” I understand that this is the third game in a four game series, but this is just arrogance on the part of Zeboyd Games to almost force the extra revenue click by not giving any sort of ending at all. It is possible to have a proper ending, yet still leave the fans wanting more, and the first two games straddled that line admirably.
SPOILER WARNING (Episodes 1 & 2)
In episode one, the goal was to stop Yog Sethis from imbuing his energy to the physical world into a body. This was accomplished at the end of the game in the final battle. Yes, there was still the lurking problem of Fruit F***** Prime, but the world was relatively safe for the time being. In episode two, the goal is to prevent Yog Karthak from doing the same. Again, the world was saved by our fearless detectives Gabe and Tycho.
END SPOILER WARNING
In both these games there was a small, after-credit teaser that hinted at another game, but in no way detracted from the players efforts and experience of the completed game. Penny Arcade 3 eschews the mere consideration of an ending entirely. This is unacceptable, even for a game that is $4.99.
For fans of the series and the 16-bit era, this game has done enough to garner my reluctant recommendation. If you have not played the first two games and have no intentions of playing the last (to be developed) game, look elsewhere.