Developer: Daedalic Entertainment / Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment / Played on: PC / Price: $19.99 / ESRB: Not Yet Rated
Just like the LucasArts games of the mid-90s, Harvey’s New Eyes asks that you excuse some grating gameplay issues for the sake of charm. I, like legions of other adventure game fans, were more than willing to make that bargain back then because there wasn’t a better source for endearing storytelling. However, with games like Telltale’s superb The Walking Dead and Double Fine’s Stacking, I wonder if adventure gamers will be willing to tolerate a game that holds so strictly to genre hallmarks.
Like its forebears from fifteen years ago, the story and characters in Harvey’s New Eyes are the game’s best aspect. You play as Lili, an obedient orphan who lives in a Catholic orphanage under the cruel tyranny of Mother Superior. Lili is constantly chastised by adults and shunned by her peers, and by simply trying to do as she’s told, ends up killing just about everyone around her. The story is coated with a veneer of innocence that hides a mile-wide dark streak; it’s very reminiscent of work from authors like Roald Dahl and more recently Lemony Snicket. The game’s emotion can be summarized in one recurring event: the game’s frequent and grisly death scenes are masked by a mysterious gnome that rushes in to paint the scene a pleasant shade of light purple.
The moment-to-moment writing is surprisingly clever and humorous too. There are so many memorable characters in this game: a duo of girls that are obsessed with a fictional Japanese superheroine, a senile old man that can’t tell the same story for an entire sentence, and a possessed rabbit that constantly nags you for breaking rules. If anything, the game is too enamored with its own charms. Every piece of dialogue falls three lines on the wrong side of wordiness. There’s not a single line in the game that hasn’t been gussied up with some zinger, meaning that you’ll be wading through a lot of text.
The puzzles in Harvey’s New Eyes run contrary to the shift in modern adventure games. Rather than narrowing the environmental scope and usable inventory as in recent Telltale games, Harvey’s New Eyes will deposit you in a large area with several puzzles that can all be incremented independently. This means picking up every item that isn’t nailed down and getting amazingly stuck for long periods. In one of the game’s first larger areas, I had to resort to using every item on everything I saw until I finally got one that triggered. And yes, that funky mid-90s logic is back as well. Most characters will give you hints about what they want or what you should do, but sometimes those actions are obtuse enough to simply not pop into your head. Why no, I didn’t figure out that I had to show the bomb to the aforementioned pair of girls to get their hairclip.
This problem is magnified by the game’s writing and story for a few reasons. First off, it’s aggravating to want to know what happens to the characters but be gated by a sequence of puzzles you just can’t fathom. Second, the game’s wordiness doesn’t gel well with experimentation. It becomes very grating to try a few combinations of items only to click through five or six lines of some smartass narrator riffing on your action.
VISUALS AND SOUND
Harvey’s presentation is hot and cold, but I’ll start with the compliments first. The game’s visuals fit the style like a glove. The whole game has a sketchy, disproportionate vibe that looks like a kid’s drawing. Even still, lines and colors are crisp. It looks great while at the same time looking askew, disturbed, and innocent. The amount of animation in the game is just right for a lower-fidelity release as well.
The voice acting, however, clashes so hard with the rest of the game I ended up turning it off. It’s not that the acting is bad, it just doesn’t fit. The narrator is the worst offender – most of his lines are filled with pithy quips about Lili or her situation, but they’re delivered like an ultra-smarmy 80s game show host. When I read the text, I imagine delivery that’s sharp, terse, and John Cleese-y. Instead, it sounds like the narrator is telling me I’ve won a new car and it completely neuters the comic punch of any of the dialogue.
Despite serious gameplay and production issues, Edna & Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes is still a memorable and enjoyable game. Adventure fans may have enough experience ignoring aggravating gameplay to enjoy the rest, but I doubt newcomers to the genre will be so forgiving. Still, I found the characters and story of this game charming enough to want more from the developer. Given enough experience, I can see them making some really special games, just not this time around.
+ Charming story and cast
- Obtuse puzzles
+ Unique setting and themes
6.5 / 10