by Murray Lewis
reviewed on PC
RING OF +1 FORESHADOWING
It’s not the first engagement party to consist of too many beers at the local bar, but it’s almost definitely the first one to end up in theft, suicide, and a messed up loop in the space-time continuum. Randal’s Monday is a point & click adventure by Nexus Game Studios, published by genre stalwarts Daedalic Entertainment. You play as Randal, who finds himself cursed to relive the same day over and over again after pilfering a cursed ring from his best friend.
With voice acting from Clerks’ Jeff Anderson and a distinctly ‘View Askewniverse’ tone to the game, it will have instant appeal for fans of Kevin Smith, but how well does it stand up as an adventure game?
GENRE DICTATES BEHAVIOUR
After the initial cutscene, you will find yourself in control of Randal – a sociopathic kleptomaniac with a drinking problem. There are no surprises to be found as far as movement and interaction go, which is hardly surprising given that adventure game interfaces haven’t seen much in the way of innovation since the late 1990s. That’s no bad thing, though – Randal’s Monday is easy to pick up and play regardless of familiarity with the genre. Actions are limited to ‘look’, ‘use/pick up’, and ‘talk to’, with no obscure verbs or weird design tricks to be found.
Drilling down a bit further and some cracks do begin to show. If there is a golden rule of adventure game design, it must surely be: Thou shalt not construct infuriating puzzles. It is such a problem with adventure games, that apparently it has gone beyond a stereotype, straight past ‘knowing parody,’ and come back through the front door again.
There are a great many puzzles in Randal’s Monday, and most of them are good. Not brilliant, but certainly entertaining. Some of them, though, require such logical gymnastics on the part of the player that I genuinely don’t know how Nexus came up with them in the first place. Worryingly, there are enough of them here that it made a noticeable dent in my enjoyment of the game as a whole. Every adventure game fan is familiar with the ritual of using every inventory item with everything else in the hope of discovering something new, but I found myself having to resort to this all too often – not helped by the sheer size of the game world.
Thankfully, there is a hint system on offer, but it suffers from flaws of its own. The ‘hints’ it gives are actually just outright solutions to the puzzles, which removes any last shred of satisfaction that might have been gleaned from solving something independently. When I request a puzzle hint, that means I want a subtle nudge in the right direction, not a condescending remark and the answer in full.
HAVEN’T I SEEN THIS BEFORE?
With the gameplay grievances out of the way, it’s worth stepping back and appreciating Randal’s Monday for its sense of humour. The game truly does feel like an unofficial entry in Kevin Smith’s pantheon. It is absolutely crammed to bursting with geek-culture humour from every franchise imaginable – including a number of sneaky references to Clerks, no doubt delivered by Anderson with a knowing smirk. It’s pointless trying to list them off, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest there are probably half a dozen or more in every background, let alone the dialogue.
Sadly, pop culture abused in this manner gets tired very quickly – you end up concentrating less on what the characters have to say, and more on guessing which arbitrary reference they will make next. That’s not to say there aren’t some laughs to be had, but after the first hour it feels like it’s used as a frequent crutch by the writers instead of true character development, which is a shame since the characters are otherwise one of the game’s strongest points.
Randal himself has a definite edge that I found made me a little uneasy; a blunt, abusive honesty that often had me feeling sorry for the poor characters on the receiving end. Fortunately, it never quite steps over the line into being genuinely unpleasant, but between Randal’s Monday and the Deponia series, it seems Daedalic really love protagonists that push the boundaries of likeability.
Pleasingly, the game does show a twisted self-awareness when, at one point, Randal asks if ‘you’ve ever felt like some kind of disturbed maniac was controlling you.’ I thought back on how many times I’ve ordered point-and-click characters to do morally reprehensible things, and suddenly Randal didn’t seem so bad. Maniac Mansion’s hamster, anyone?
Without a doubt, the voice-over work in this game is some of the best I have heard. It isn’t surprising that Jeff Anderson turns out a fantastic performance as Randal himself, and there’s even a cameo appearance from Jason Mewes. The rest of the characters are also impeccably cast, and they bring a manic, surreal life to every scene. It’s all facilitated by the dialogue itself, which is well-written from start to finish, although there are times when conversations drag on for a little too long. It is as if the writers wished they were scripting a film rather than a game.
Visually, the game has a clean yet lively style, looking like it would be quite at home on Adult Swim. The background art in particular is full of gorgeous details that bring each location to life, and every character has a unique style. Even minor characters, such as Randal’s put-upon landlord, or the hapless Officer Murray, are brimming with personality.
A FLAWED GEM
There’s a lot to like about Randal’s Monday, from the excellent writing to the pleasant visuals, and there are a good number of laughs throughout as you guide Randal through his own personal hell, tearing everyone else a new one as you go. Look past the surface, though, and the picture isn’t quite as pretty. The gameplay is too slow, the pop culture references too many, and the puzzles too obfuscated.
When it comes to the fundamental elements that make up a point-and-click adventure, Randal’s Monday gets a lot right, but also makes some disappointing mistakes. Fans of Kevin Smith or of comedy adventures will want to at least give this one a shot, but make sure to have a walkthrough on standby – I assure you, you will need it.
Very funny throughout. Excellent characters and voice acting. A lengthy story means you get a lot for your money.
Too many unfathomable puzzles. Lots of backtracking and lengthy dialogue. Relies too heavily on pop culture references.