Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Low Road Review


Game: The Low Road
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch by Jack Manzi
Developer: XGen Studios
Genre: Point-and-Click
Platform: Steam, iOS, Nintendo Switch
Run Time: About 4 hours
Original Release: August 16th, 2017

While it’s certainly harder to find them nowadays due to the saturation of the games market, the Point-and-Click adventure game genre is certainly still going strong. These games tend to focus more on puzzles and storytelling than most games, to varying degrees of entertainment and success. Today I’ll be looking into a game called The Low Road, one which I hadn’t seen too much news about before playing, to see how the point-and-clicks hold up.


Story

The Low Road is a game about two corporate spies working for an automotive manufacturer, set in the mid-1970s. Players hop between control of two characters, fresh-out-of-the-academy-and-excited-for-fieldwork Noomi Kovacs, and former-field-operative-turned-desk-jockey Barney “Turn” Turner; as they work to uncover the mystery of a missing inventor with varying degrees of disdain and sarcasm.
The writing in this game is actually pretty good most of the time, there’s a lot of dark comedy sprinkled throughout, and the characters tend to behave pretty realistically when you talk to them, remembering previous conversations and mistakes you may have made while talking. The game will call you out for asking stupid questions. 
I won’t say much more about the contents of the story, since it is a story-driven game, but I will say I did find it interesting to say the least. Unfortunately, the story sort of falls apart at points, and a lot of the content feels weirdly similar to content previously seen in the game, despite how short of a game it is. A strange amount of Turn’s character motivation is driven by his hair (or lack thereof), Noomi seems to be almost too good at getting people to let her get away with things, and sometimes characters seem to go from allies to mortal enemies and back like on a dime. Not to say it’s all bad. I did enjoy interacting with a lot of characters and the protagonists’ shortcomings were only occasionally enough to really make me take notice.


Gameplay

In The Low Road, players spend most of the time walking through different areas, interacting with characters, exploring dialogue trees, and solving puzzles. The game is split into 6 chapters, each focusing on a different location to act within. As is expected, you can collect items to use to solve puzzles given to you to solve your objectives, some of which are a lot more obvious than others. Items generally don’t last between chapters, the only exception being a strangely useful bottle of invisible ink. As such, most of the puzzles are more or less self-contained within their areas. 
The range of puzzles in this game is pretty good, considering The Low Road’s short length, and the only puzzles that are really ever re-used are two or three certain minigame-style tests, such as a pickpocketing minigame that appears twice. The game is normally a side-scroller, with the exception being these minigame puzzles, where the camera enters a zoomed-in first person view. The minigame puzzles are tests of everything ranging from timing to math, and range from remarkably easy “What order do I do these tasks in” to considerably more difficult “Get all of these levers in the right spots in only X moves.” The gameplay isn’t bad, it does compliment the story nicely, though there are certain minigames I would like to have seen more of.



Graphics and Design

The game’s graphics are drawn in a 2D style inspired in part by gouache paintings (A style defined by opaque vibrant watercolors) and in part by the aesthetic of the 1970s. The game definitely does have that sort of antiquated look to it, and small design details such as clothing and d├ęcor stylings make sure you know when this game takes place. The characters are mildly stylized, but not so much that they look out of place. Rather they feel right at home in their environments, and the characters themselves are plenty animated.


Sound and Music

The Low Road is completely voice-acted, and honestly it all sounds great. The characters speak with appropriate emotion, and feelings like sarcasm (which happens plenty in this game) are perfectly conveyed. Voices are distinct enough that I never had trouble identifying who was speaking, even if the character was disguised or off-screen.
The soundtrack is entirely original, composed by Eric Cheng, featuring a mix of slow instrumental ballads that really encompass that 1970s spy aesthetic and haunting vocal pieces featuring Win Well. The music in the game fits the tone and story well, though I only really noticed its presence during chapter title cards.


Additional Content

As most games do, the Steam version of The Low Road has a number of achievements, though not terribly many. The game has only one “true” ending, though it can be altered depending on dialogue choices. There are also five “false” endings, which can be accessed through different dialogue options at different points in the game. In these, the player is treated to a short bit of text explaining what happens to the world and characters in these scenarios, then rewinds to before the dialogue that prompted it. Other than that, the game is pretty self-contained, though the story ends open-ended enough that a sequel is a definite possibility.


Verdict

Point-and-Click adventure games are hard to make. I’ve played my share and I’ll say that there’s a lot to be desired from many. The Low Road takes a somewhat tired concept and breathes life into it with a new aesthetic, good detail, a great soundtrack, and a solid four hours of enjoyable gameplay. It’s not a perfect game by any standards, but it’s a game that you can definitely tell had a lot of heart put into it. 
And honestly, that’s pretty good.