Runaway: A Road Adventure Review

Runaway: A Road Adventure follows the mold of classic LucasArts adventure games in many ways. You play as a dorky guy named Brian Basco, who was just awarded the opportunity of his dreams -- to work on his PhD at Berkley. Brian decides to drive to New York to pick up a book before heading off to California, but on his way, he hits a busty lounge singer, Gina. Brian takes Gina to the hospital, and when they get there she tells him that the mob is after her. She explains that her father gave her a strange crucifix, and shortly thereafter he was killed because of it. Since she witnessed the scene, the hit men now wants her dead as well. Brian decides to help her out, and sets out on a lengthy adventure filled with ghosts, UFO's, and drag queens.

Runaway features an incredibly simple interface -- click on an item of interest to perform one of several primary functions (look at, talk to, go to, etc.). Right-click, and you'll be offered a secondary option (pick up, turn, push, pull, etc.), which you can then carry out by left-clicking. Clicking the inventory button at the top will bring up a fairly standard inventory system, in which you can store as many objects as you like and combine them if possible. Dialogue is handled through a regular dialogue tree -- just click through the options to talk to people and hear their responses. It doesn't get any easier.

Graphically, the game reflects its strong ties to its adventure gaming roots. It uses fluidly-animated, cell-shaded characters against detailed, hand-drawn backgrounds. The two technologies combine effectively, for a convincing, if cartoony look. This approach works well in conveying some of the more outlandish aspects of the game, though it dulls the impact of others. For instance, it seems that the creators of the game wanted the mafia members to come across as an intimidating, serious threat -- a portrayal which is belied by the fact that the men are just plain funny-looking. Also, Pendulo Studios decided to take a rather lazy approach when conveying the game's copious amounts of dialogue -- all the fluid action on screen freezes, and the game shifts between two or three frames showing the character's mouth moving. This isn't too bad in-game, were the mouths aren't the main focus of the scene, but in close-ups of the character's face during cutscenes, the effect can be grating.

Fortunately, the dialogue itself is all very well delivered, in an over-the-top sort of way that fits the theme of the game. Brian himself delivers his lines using a broad range of emotions, which keeps his numerous voiceovers from getting tedious, and most of the other characters are convincing too. However, the script can be a little weak at times, and the dialogue often seems a bit trite or contrived. It does a good enough job of conveying the twists and turns of the plot, but any attempts at jokes are either clichéd or fall flat. The game's music is subtle, but effectively complements the various environments you run into. The sound effects, while sparse, are well-done as well.

Runaway's puzzles are numerous, but the solutions are often straightforward -- if you find a board that needs to be chopped, chances are you'll come across a hatchet (or something like it) to do the chopping. Apparently, wacky solutions to puzzles are one adventure game convention Pendulo decided they could do without. However, they also decided to make up for it with some pixel-hunting that borders on sadistic. The detail level of the backgrounds is somewhat at fault for this, but it's amazing how well-hidden certain items can be in the game. Oddly enough, on other occasions you have no difficulty at all -- you'll realize you need a tool, and know exactly where to find it. For instance, you'll find a need for a stethoscope, and sure enough, you'll find one in that doctor's briefcase you just came across. It seems the developers had trouble finding a middle ground when it comes to acquiring the items you need. On the whole, you will find that you can quickly figure out how to solve a puzzle, but often spend lengthy amounts of time scanning for the items you need to solve it. The only other significant complaint is that the puzzles seem to peter out a bit towards the end of the game, in terms of both difficulty and uniqueness, making the proceedings a bit anticlimactic.

On the whole, Pendulo Studios succeeded in delivering a decidedly traditional adventure game. The presentation is straightforward but effective, the graphics are attractive without requiring a high-end system, and the sound really gets the job done. Runaway is a lengthy game, recommended to anyone yearning for the "good old days" of adventure gaming -- especially those who don't mind putting up with the age old issue of pixel hunting.

-- Chris Garson