Friday, December 9, 2016

Dave Critiques - Resonance: Is it thematically resonant?


Hey Hey folks, Dave here. Just a friendly reminder that this is a critique. I’m going to be discussing Resonance for those who have played it. If you haven’t, and are worried about spoilers, please pause the video and go play the game before returning. For everyone else, let’s continue.

What differs Resonance from other adventure games is two-fold. One is that you control 4 characters throughout the game. From this point alone, there will be comparisons made to Heavy Rain and perhaps some spoiling of that game as well. Huh, this is the second video in a short amount of time comparing the game in question to Heavy Rain. I wonder what gives. Anyways, Heavy Rain spoilers, you have been warned. The more interesting difference, however, is the use of memory. You essentially have 3 inventories. One for the usual items you pick up and can combine and use to solve puzzles, and 2 memory slots. One for short term memory, and one for long-term memory. Long term memory features small cut-scenes that play either reminding you of information if you have forgotten it, or letting the character in on information that will now allow them to act with the game world in a new way.

The short term memory slot is by far the most interesting. Any hotspot in the game world can be dragged into short term memory. Want to talk to someone about a computer terminal? Drag the computer terminal into short term memory and then go ask the person about it. The only issue aside from the limited number of slots your short term memory possesses is that when stuck, you’ve essentially doubled the amount of fiddling around a player has to do. In most adventure games while stuck, a player will walk around and start randomly using all the items in their inventory on everything in the game world hoping to get lucky. I’ve solved many a puzzle using that method in the past. At its least innocuous, it gives the player something to do while their brain is working over exactly what they have to do to progress. With the addition of long term and short-term memory however, it exponentially increases the number of possible options (especially once you’re allowed to travel around the city at will). Resonance somewhat alleviates this problem by allowing the characters to ask the other characters what to do next for a hint. Of course, sometimes the hint is vague. After about 2 hours of consistent progress, I got stuck at a point where the hint wasn’t helping. I turned to a walkthrough and never looked back. Some of the puzzles even with the aid of a walkthrough were maddening (although one can’t fault the game for its variety of head-scratchers and multiple solutions to some problems). Of course I cannot say whether they would have been solvable or not with my own ingenuity and the use of the hint system. They definitely weren’t the draw of the game for me, more an impediment.

As with most adventure games, the story and the characters were what kept me interested. The game starts off with a global disaster before rewinding to a couple days beforehand. You take control of 4 characters who play through short separate vignettes until the inciting incident throws you all together. At this point you can switch to whichever character you want as you solve defined problems hoping to put a stop to this dangerous new technology. Those who have thought about the comparison to Heavy Rain for a couple of seconds might know where such a tale is going, especially when you control 4 characters. Yes, one of the characters is actually the villain. It’s not the ageing cop this time, but the game makes you think it might be. Actually, that red herring is pretty ridiculous when it gets explained, but it sets up the reveal to be quite shocking. And this isn’t even at the end of the game. It turns out Ed wasn’t exactly acting on his own. He was trying to stop two other characters who have been using him as a pawn in their own game. His actions while awful, are rationalised away as serving a greater good, and in the finale of the game, you can choose to side with him in his attempt to do what’s right, or you can take revenge for the death of Dr Morales and Anna. It’s one of those morality decisions. Do you sacrifice the few for the sake of the many, or do you enact justice no matter the cost of said justice? It’s a tough decision, and from what I gather, neither option is all that satisfying. I chose to save the greater good, and pretty much nobody has a happy ending.

At its core Resonance is a science fiction story about a new technology, and a shadowy group trying to use that technology for its own ends. The 4 characters you play as get caught up in this madness, and by the end of my playthrough, all 4 were either dead or in jail for the murder of other people. So how do the memories play into this narrative? Not well. Only Anna Morales has gameplay sections detailing her backstory. To be honest, her tale is only tangentially connected to the greater plot through her familial relationship to the creator of the resonance technology. The only reason her past matters is to be able to find Dr Morales’ vault where he hid the resonance technology, which serves as the driving goal for all 4 players once they come together. Dr Morales put safeguards in place that only Anna could solve, so we as a player have to know about her past to move forward. Ed, Bennet, and Ray’s past doesn’t matter as it has no bearing on the main plot of the game. There are ties to the antevorta system and the Eleven Foundation when we first play the vignettes of these characters, but those are present actions. The first playable version of Anna is her as a child escaping a monster. There’s a discrepancy between the 4 characters, and that the one character who does have a fleshed out backstory (which gives a reason for the memory system to exist) is killed to reveal that Ed is not who he says he is, that’s especially galling.

My overall impression of Resonance is a little flat (and that might have to do with the ending I chose). Despite the importance of the memory system not being altogether thematically tied with the narrative, I enjoyed how it worked. I liked the characters, the overall story and the world. It was good science fiction. After meeting the Eleven Foundation, I wished there was a game about those two characters, as their strange power, influence, and talk of fate I found much more fascinating than the vaporisation caused by resonance. As an adventure game I think it excels. As a consistent work, not as much, even if I think my long term memory will have a fond remembrance of the time spent with it.

Thanks for watching.

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