Pendulo Studios has come a long, long way in adventure game development. The Runaway series had rather humble beginnings back in 2003 with a relatively unheard of title which flew under the radar of most mainstream gamers. Runaway: A Road Adventure introduced us to the tumultuous lives of Brian Basco and Gina Timmins, an unlikely couple caught up in the fallout of a murderous conspiracy. The pair continued their adventures in the 2007 sequel Runaway 2: The Dream of the Turtle, which was met with equally muted fanfare but received significantly poorer reviews than the original, with reviewers citing weaker storytelling as their primary gripe. The game did exhibit improvements over its predecessor, however. Namely better graphics and an overall higher quality production. Two years later the [apparently] final instalment in the series was released, and despite the fact that it is one of the best adventure games of the past decade it has remained without reviews on most popular game websites.
~ [ Storyline/Voice Acting ] ~
If you haven't played the first two games in the series, fret ye not; A Twist of Fate begins with a recap of what has happened to date, which is handy for both newcomers to the series and those of us who haven't played the original games for a while.
The story picks up from where the previous game in the series left off, with Gina attending Brian's funeral. She's the only mourner at the graveside, and soon after the initial cut-scene we realise that Brain is very much alive and that the funeral is a scam.
The player takes control of both Gina and Brian in this game, as opposed to just Brian which was the case with the previous two titles. When we take control of Brian we find him in a mental institution, accused of murder, and plotting his escape. Gina, meanwhile, evades mafia killers and attempts to find out what happened to Brian.
The antagonists from the first two games return to terrorise Brian and Gina, with a handful of old friends also returning to help the pair along. Joshua, the techno whiz kid who was abducted by aliens, doesn't have much of a role in the game proper and instead acts as the game's on-call hint giver, with cut-scenes showing Joshua in the call centre dishing out advice.
The storyline in the Runaway series is a little difficult to comprehend at the best of times, but A Twist of Fate helps tie up several loose ends and even leaves some questions unanswered, hopefully with the intention of having a fourth Runaway title added to the series later.
The voice actors who played Brian and Gina in the first two games were replaced in A Twist of Fate, and while I did miss the old familiar voices I have to say that the new actors are much better equipped in the talent department; their performances are much more refined and convincing than those of the previous actors. Brian actually sounds like a human instead of the product of a somewhat convincing speech simulation demonstration.
I'm assuming that A Twist of Fate was granted a much higher budget than the development team had enjoyed previously, because the rest of the cast - even unimportant peripheral characters - are just as adept as the two main protagonists. The quality of the writing, especially with regards to the dialogue, is also much tighter and less cliché-ridden.
There is a wide range of characters to be encountered in the game, all of them completely unique and, for the most part, interesting. There's a fairly strong emphasis on humour, which has been the case throughout the series, and many of these new characters provide the game with much of its comic relief. However, there is also a pretty dark undercurrent running steadily through the script. For instance, there's a constant threat of violence in many of the game's scenes, with dead bodies and mafia hitmen following in your wake. One scene in particular involves the manipulation of a corpse to obscure its identity and cause of death. You don't actually see much in the way of graphic violence, but it's present all the same.
The game's numerous characters inhabit a wide range of locations, including the aforementioned mental institution and graveyard. Other locations featured include New York City, a hotel, a remote cabin, Hawaiian islands, military bases and even a little bit of interdenominational time travel to locations from the previous games in the series!
A vast improvement over the previous two games on all fronts, the storyline, acting and dialogue is stronger and more robust than I ever expected from Pendulo Studios.
~ [ Gameplay ] ~
The game remains true to the classic point 'n' click graphical adventure game style, with every action in the game being performed via the mouse and its two buttons. The focus of games like these is on picking up and using objects, talking to people and interacting with the environment. The primary gameplay mechanic of adventure games is puzzle solving, which might involve simply extracting relevant information from NPCs, and more often involves combining inventory objects, giving objects to other characters or using them with stationary objects in the game's world.
Games like these are invariably littered with puzzles which have a barely logical solution to them. Much of the time you'll find yourself mashing together objects at random in the hopes of stumbling across a winning combination, and eventually you'll find yourself searching online for walkthroughs, which obviously takes the enjoyment out of solving the puzzle yourself. Aware of this problem, and having fallen victim to it in the previous two games in the series, Pendulo Studios aimed to eradicate it in A Twist of Fate with the introduction of an in-game hint system. The hint system consists two elements, the first of which is a "Hotspot" indicator. When pressed it will highlight all of the areas on the screen which can be interacted with, such as objects, doors, NPCs and so on. This gets us passed the old "pixel hunting" problem many adventure games suffer from (that is, the need for gamers to slowly move their mouse around the screen to find hotspots which are often indistinguishable from the static backdrops). The second element of the hint system has already been mentioned, and it involves "calling" Joshua for help. He gives cryptic messages which are obviously designed to give you a hint without completely ruining the experience. Unravelling Joshua's messages is itself a source of entertaining puzzle solving, and it's a fantastic idea which more adventure game developers should adopt.
As was the case with the previous games in the series you have an inventory which can be accessed at any time and contains all of the objects you've picked up along the way. Within the inventory you can combined objects, if they are to be combined, or select them to be used in the game's world. Along with object hoarding you'll also be solving puzzles by chatting with the NPCs who populate the game. Dialogue is skippable, although a lot of it will contain pertinent information so it's probably a good idea to listen to it. Another time-saving aspect of the game which was absent from the previous two titles is the ability to "warp" your character to another part of the visible world by double-clicking the area at which you want to be. This cuts out the walking animation during which your character meanders towards the clicked location. Very handy.
The gameplay feels slick and polished, especially so when compared to Runaway 1 and 2. The game feels "accomplished", and pretty much every irritation suffered by adventure games in general and the Runaway series in particular have been neatly ironed out. Adventure gaming doesn't get much better than this.
~ [ Graphics/Performance ] ~
The Runaway series boasts an interesting graphics style, and it is carried over into Runaway 3: A Twist of Fate. The style looks almost cartoonish, and it affords a certain charm to the game which is complimented by the light humour contained within its script. The graphics are designed and animated in 3D, and are then rendered in 2D which offers the opportunity to have some really great graphics which surpass most other 2D games whilst still retaining the classic 2D feel adventure gamers are accustomed to.
The characters and locations in the game are lavishly detailed, as much as they can be when working within such a cartoonish medium, and the game in general has the feel of an blockbuster animated movie.
The minimum system requirements are as follows:
[Operating System]: Windows XP or later
[CPU]: Intel Pentium IV 1.7GHz or equivalent/better
[Graphics Card]: At least 128MB of on-board RAM, compatible with DirectX 9.0
[Hard Drive Space]: At least 8GB
Because the game is in 2D you won't need a beast of a system to run it, but it is indeed the most intensive 2D game you're likely to play so it's a good idea to try and overshoot the requirements if only slightly.
It should be noted that the game seems to only display at a resolution of 1280x960 or greater. Your graphics card will obviously need to support these kinds of resolutions.
~ [ Installation ] ~
The game is currently download-only, at least in the UK. The download files amount to around 5.06GB, which is no small potatoes, especially if you have a limited monthly bandwidth plan. Downloading the game with an 8MB line will take you several hours, assuming you're hitting maximum speeds. I recommend starting the download just before you go to bed and just leave it running all night. The Pendulo Studios servers support the use of download managers, so you can resume your downloads if something happens to your connection.
The game is currently at patch 1.11, which is another 105MB to download. The patching isn't mandatory, however, and is generally only aimed at people with specific graphics cards which have problems displaying the game.
Installing the game is pretty straight-forward once downloaded. The game extracts first, using a temporary directory to store the extracted files for installation. This takes several minutes, depending on the speed of your CPU, RAM and hard drive(s). Once extracted the installation begins automatically, and it installs in the same manner as any other game/application.
When you run the game for the first time you'll be asked to activate it by entering a serial number and then allowing the anti-piracy software to contact an online server to active your license. This only happens once per install. After this the game is ready to play.
~ [ Conclusion ] ~
Runaway: A Twist of Fate is one of the best adventure games I've played in a long time and, in my opinion, can easily stand shoulder-to-shoulder with many of the greats, including the those of the Monkey Island and Broken Sword franchises. It improves upon the first two games in the series in every respect, and redefines what has been a genre in extremis. It combines classic adventure gaming with innovative graphics, hint systems and puzzles which are generally solvable using logic and deduction rather than blind chance or "brute force".
The game's price has been fixed at £29.99 on the official website since its release right up until the date of this review. The price is quite beefy for a now five-month-old game, but it's still the cheapest I've found online; other game outlets are charging as much as £34.99! I paid full price for the game because I wanted to support the developers - adventure game development is a bottom-of-the-barrel affair, with little funding and little interest in the genre quickening its decline. That said, the price felt a little high back then and it feels very high five months later.
The game is definitely worth buying if you are a fan of the adventure format. I can't see how anyone would be disappointed with Runaway: A Twist of Fate, and with that in mind 30 quid seems a fair price for a fantastic game.