That’s right, I’m now rating video games on a curry scale.
On reflection, using ‘unforeseen incidents’ and ‘vindaloo’ in the same heading might give the wrong impression.
Anyway, now that I’ve put you off your lunch…
Unforeseen Incidents (Backwoods Entertainment) is a modern point-and-click adventure following handyman Harper Pendrell as he uncovers a mysterious epidemic sweeping the nation.
I finished playing it last month and it left a huge smile on my face. Here’s why.
1. The lovingly hand-drawn artwork
From the first screenshots, the artwork really grabbed me. I’m a big fan of Quentin Blake and this style reminds me of his work. The sketchy line-drawn art is really captivating – despite the similarities with Blake I didn’t find it at all childish or gimmicky, but raw and edgy. The use of colour and shading dramatises it so well, as do the gorgeous wild, outstretching Canadian-style backdrops. With every scene change I took a moment to take in the detail. Clearly a lot of thought has been put into these elements.
2. The self-referencing, tongue-in-cheek humour
Much of the dialogue and characterisation is amusing and slightly satirical, letting you know that despite all the drama the game doesn’t take itself too seriously. But what really hit my funny bone is Harper’s commentary as he struggles with the absurdity of what’s going on. His frequent asides also did a lot to draw me into the story and make me feel like we were discovering things together.
The voice acting from Matthew Curtis (Harper) is spot on – his cynical remarks are delivered perfectly deep and deadpan, but with the right amount of agitation when it’s called for in moments of sheer panic towards the end. Harper is a totally relatable dude, not a caricatured superhero – and like most of the characters in the game he’s believable without being dull.
While some of the story is slightly predictable, it tries not to pander to the usual stereotypes and the humour really helps that. One of the best moments for me was right at the end.
**MILD SPOILER ALERT**
Harper and Helliwell’s relationship seems to be following that well-trodden path of dopey guy meets smart girl; girl teases guy; guy tries too hard; girl relents; they live happily ever after. Sure enough, in the final shot Harper leans in for a kiss – oh, here we go. But then Helliwell cuts him off, dryly informing him that ‘it’s not one of those moments’. The way that scene slices through the heavy drama and crashes us back down to Earth is just perfect.
3. The inspiration – The X-Files, Twin Peaks and Canada
Fans of cult TV shows are in for a treat. The Pacific Northwest landscape and eerie goings-on are heavily inspired by the likes of The X-Files, Twin Peaks and Fargo, and there are some nice little references (but not enough to get annoying).
There’s also a strong Canadian inspiration. Many of the characters are named after streets in British Columbia – such as Harper, Pendrell (where Scully’s apartment was!), Rupert, Denman, Jervis and Cardero. Helliwell Bluffs is a set of cliffs in Helliwell provincial park. Yaletown – like the game’s Yelltown – is a hip neighbourhood in downtown Vancouver.
Canada is my favourite country outside of my own, and its best elements – stunning scenery, rich culture and dry wit – are well represented here.
4. The harmonious soundtrack
I’ve talked about this in an earlier post, but the music in this game is so beautiful. It’s integrated in a way that’s complementary without being imposing, to the point where you barely notice it.
I particularly love the hotel track, which is so very Twin Peaks. That whole segment is put together perfectly – the gentle, creeping music; the glow of the TV and aquarium; and the humble reception manned by a downbeat bellhop. It’s one thing to nail the atmosphere, artwork, characterisation and music in a game – but harmonising those things together takes skill.
5. The eclectic mix of puzzles
The style of puzzle varies throughout the game, keeping it fresh and challenging. Some are your standard point-and-click fare – combine item A with object B to make item C. Others ask you to follow instructions such as a recipe book in your inventory or notes from a friend. There are also recurring visual puzzles in the form of hacking computers (Pipemania style), or triangulating radio signals to find a new location.
A lot of the bigger puzzles rely on memory (sometimes notetaking), and it’s important to listen carefully to the dialogue. Don’t let that put you off – the puzzles are pretty logical if you pay attention.
Having said that, there are a few that left me absolutely stumped and begrudgingly resorting to online help (there’s no in-game hint system). I won’t spoil them here, but if you know what I’m talking about – the reservoir puzzle, and the pads on the island.
Add to that anything that involves working out a password. I just didn’t see the logic or clear pathway that would lead to those solutions – they were a bit of a stretch. In the case of the pads puzzle, I think the main problem is that more than one answer seems to fit, so there’s a lot of trial and error.
6. Reactive gameplay
One thing I really noticed playing through the puzzles and interactions is that the game responded dynamically. That is, I got different responses or outcomes depending on where I’d got to in the puzzle chains or story. If Harper didn’t know why he needed a sandwich, he wasn’t interested. This is one of the few games I’ve played where that’s achieved almost perfectly. It’s logical, and the characters are behaving like real humans instead of churning out dialogue that doesn’t make sense or giving hints to something out of sequence. In my experience of adventure games, that’s not easy to accomplish.
Not without its niggles
While the game itself was great, I did experience some of the technical issues that others have talked about.
The transitions between scenes hang quite a bit, and I was often left in darkness wondering if it had crashed. Unfortunately the game actually did crash at quite a crucial moment towards the end (when Harper is in the ‘chair’), meaning I had to redo a lengthy sequence to get back to it. From what I’ve read this doesn’t seem to be hardware related. But not enough to put me off playing, or recommending.
So… buy it!
Unforeseen Incidents is available from Steam, GOG the Humble Store and directly from Application Systems Heidelberg (Unforeseen’s German distributor).
At the time of writing, Backwoods have just announced a Switch release – so even those people don’t have an excuse now. Settle down, engage your brain and let the mystery pull you in. Maybe even seal the deal with a curry.