Hoodwink Episode 1 – Review



Title   Hoodwink Episode 1
Developer  E-One Studio
Publisher  E-One Studio
Platform  PC
Genre  Point and click adventure
Release Date  28th June, 2012
Official Site  http://hoodwinkgame.com/index.php/component/content/?view=featured

As I sat down for the evening and loaded up my emails, I should have known that path would lead to nothing but trouble. Sifting through the carnage that was my Facebook inbox, my eyes landed on a message that would whisk me away to another adventure, no doubt full of daring intrigue and countless revelations. At least, that’s what I thought I’d get when taking on Hoodwink; an episodic point and click title from E-One Studio, taking place in a dystopian post-apocalyptic future, but then, what game doesn’t these days?

As the opening narration reveals the post-apocalyptic setting and total unification granted by a no-doubt sinister corporation, we’re introduced to our protagonist, who seems to be pacing around his office, probably waiting for the next pretty dame to come in with a hair-raising assignment or two. These things are rarely as they seem, and sure enough, the unfolding events reveal that this office belongs to Detective Pyre, an anthropomorphic tiger who happens to be holding a gun in your face. It’s one of the more interesting introductions I’ve been witness to in a game of late, but also one that Hookwink unfortunately squanders, as the encounter is over all too-briefly and you’re left picking flowers for a girlfriend you’ve never met before but who your character apparently loves deeply.

Hold on, who are you even playing as? What, exactly, is going on? Well, you play a less than scrupulous character called Michael, or so the end credits told me, seeing as I can’t recall anyone referring to him by name, save for a man with a heavy accent. He’s a smooth-talking  ne’er-do-well who has picked today to propose to his loving wheelchair-bound girlfriend of the last two months, seeing as, unlike his previous girlfriends, she wasn’t a midget or trying to harvest him for his organs. Assisting in his proposal plans is Saffron, an irritating hippie who constantly refers to our protagonist as either ‘hon’ or ‘flower child’ and is so stereotypically written that I couldn’t tell if she was a deliberate parody or just plain grating. That tiger detective? He’s just one of many questions Hookwink seems to bring up but doesn’t answer – the opening exposition hints at the apocalypse causing some mutations, but other than a plant that thinks its a dog and the aforementioned crime-solver, there’s not much else to go on.

In fact, the words ‘not much else to go on’ pretty much encapsulated my views on the paltry amount of story you’re given in the opening episode; I can fully understand that there are always going to be more questions asked than there are answered in order to help encourage people to play later chapters, but in this case I felt it directly impacted the quality of the experience because it meant we weren’t being clued in to the most interesting character of the story -  the world itself. As you wander through the first episode of Hoodwink, you never truly feel like a resident, more like someone glancing at it through a window as your train zooms past. It’s a legitimate shame, because there are genuine sparks of genius running through its core, from the policemen who cheerfully asks you to remain still so he can shoot you through the head to robot who insults your wheelchair-bound girlfriend so you’ll crush him in a trash compactor. There’s a wonderful world waiting to welcome you, but it never does, and you’re left with glimmers of hope while being left to battle an incredibly typical opening of a story, filled with characters ranging from the irritating to the near-racially offensive.

The cast is another example of missed opportunity, as the vast majority of characters simply fall flat. After gnashing your teeth at Saffron’s limited vocabulary, you’ll almost be pining for her voice once you’re confronted with an aggravating robot called Brycke Shitehausen, whose name manages to be the funniest thing about him as you battle through his awfully cliché fat German persona. Yet, Brycke is a near-pleasure in comparison to the Asian stereotype, which was so offensive I’d learn more about the culture watching Mickey Rooney in Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Worst of all, Michael’s girlfriend and chief motivation for your actions isn’t even that likeable, leaving me wondering why the protagonist even bothers. The only characters you’re likely to enjoy are Michael and Rubbish – a man who became a second chancer when he invested his life savings to be reborn into a robot, only to end up an odd mix of a trash-can and alarm clock. Both are wonderfully voiced by Gavin Yip and Brian Zimmerman respectively, and pull off amazing performances that easily rank among my favourites in a game this year, with the former providing Michael with a voice so warm it could melt steel.

Hoodwink could easily have been salvaged with some intelligent puzzles, but even the gameplay itself falls squarely into the realm of the missed opportunity. Compounding the issue further is the realisation that most of the primary grievances I had are things the genre fixed long ago. First off, the hotspots are some of the worst I’ve handled in a long while, resulting in a litany of offenses that simply should not exist. For the most part, they’re much smaller than they should be, meaning that you’re often unintentionally pixel-hunting to click the exact part of the object that the game wants you to.  Sometimes there’s a ridiculously small margin between you interacting with an object and performing a different command entirely, causing inevitable frustration when you accidentally click a device that sets off an unskippable advertisement for a fictional in-game product.

Additionally, all dialogue is completely unskippable, meaning that if you accidentally click something you shouldn’t, you’re left listening to the same lines over and over, and regardless of how well-voiced your protagonist may be, you’re going to be gnashing your teeth once you accidentally trigger the same line for the umpteenth time while trying to click something else.

It wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that, unlike nearly every point and click of the last few years, there’s no “reveal all hotspots” button, so you’re often at a loss of what can be used in the environment around you, or how you’re supposed to interact with it. Several puzzles in the game require more than “use x with y” (with those puzzles completed practically automatically as the game will tell you exactly what item to use in those scenarios), and instead require you to hold down the mouse button and hover over moving objects. Couple these puzzles in with those tiny hotspots I mentioned, and prepare for inevitable, incredible frustration as each puzzle takes five times longer than it should because holding your cursor over a tiny part of a moving object for over a second becomes a task akin to performing keyhole surgery after downing your seventh scotch.

Oh, did I mention that sometimes your commands are outright ignored, too? After half an hour of attempting to activate the run command by double clicking the screen, only to see your protagonist stroll at a speed that would make snails seem like sprinters, you’ll find yourself cursing the game’s near insistence at placing interactive objects within close proximity and the fact that you can’t run to most locations that necessitate a new camera angle.

The puzzles wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the hint system; an incomprehensibly unhelpful addition that specialises in advice ranging from the uselessly vague to the outright condescending. You could be making your way to the puzzle that the game seemingly insists that you complete over whatever else you were attempting, only for it to tell you the solution simply because you didn’t make it there quick enough because you were battling Michael’s severe aversion to running. There was even an occasion where once I did need a hint, Hoodwink responded in kind by giving me the solution to a puzzle I had solved not five minutes before. I wouldn’t think about rage-quitting at any of these issues either thanks to the dire check-pointing, which can have you replaying up to twenty minutes of gameplay if you’re forced to stop playing for any reason.

Though I didn’t come into Hoodwink with high-expectations, I was expecting an interesting take on the genre that’d carve a niche thanks to either its writing or its premise, and I was left with a title that championed neither. The potential of the setting is almost boundless, but it’s barely given a chance to come to the forefront and prove itself, and much like the writing that flows through it, has sparks of brilliance that are muddied by everything else around it. Some great writing and voice acting are overshadowed by other characters who sound awful and serve only to irritate, and the premise of the world is buried beneath a story that does nothing to take advantage of it. The best way to describe Hoodwink is a missed opportunity; while there may be a brilliant title waiting to emerge, there’s hardly anything here that’ll convince you to see it through to the end.

Pros
  • Cel Shading helps the city and characters come alive
  • Occasionally quite amusing
  • There's a brilliant take on post-apocalyptic civilisation waiting to spring forth
  • Some great voice acting for the protagonist
Cons
  • Forgettable music
  • Irritating supporting characters who annoy more than amuse
  • Bland opening of a story that does little to persuade you to see it through
  • Finicky puzzles that aren't clever, but massively frustrating
  • Tiny hotspots that encourage frequent player errors
  • No option to skip dialogue you've heard before
  • Awful check-pointing
  • Like Prometheus, it asks more questions than it intends to answer
Summary

Once the two hours necessary to finish the first episode have passed, there's little doubt that your first feeling will be one of disappointment. There's a wonderful world waiting to burst forth from Hoodwink, one that's instead been locked away by a dull opening story, a mostly unlikeable cast and near-archaic point and click gameplay. Don't let cel-shaded appearances deceive you, as this first episode leaves more questions than answers in order to entice, but feels more like ordering an appetiser at a restaurant and only being given a few cold, gristly morsels to digest instead.


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One Comment

  1. Lorna says:

    A real shame that the story is lacking because it looks stunning. The cel-shaded look is a great one for an adventure, but it is sad that the rest of the game doesn’t keep pace with the standard of the visuals. Perhaps it will pick up in later chapters, but ideally they should have had a stronger start out of the gate.

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