Almost since its debut, the Web site comic Penny Arcade has been a mainstay of Internet gaming culture. Now the webcomic is putting its money where its mouth is with a RPG adventure game called On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness. And I’m happy to report that the game is every bit as ribald, rude, and laugh out loud funny as the Penny Arcade comic.
Precipice of Darkness starts out by having you create your character in the game. You configure your name, gender and appearance. You can be tall or short, thin or stout, with or without eyeglasses, clean-shaven or with a beard. You can also choose from various hairstyles and clothes.
Tycho and Gabe—the alter egos of Penny Arcade creators Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik—figure centrally to the game, which is in a fictional early 20th century-era city, where the local populace is being terrorized by a giant robot, mimes, masses of smaller robots, and other nefarious foes.
In Precipice of Darkness, your house at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac has just been destroyed. By what, you’re not sure, but it appears to be a giant robot. You find that your once-tranquil neighborhood is besieged by smaller versions of the mechanical leviathan, tiny perversions of technology that appear to do lustful and obscene things to fruit in order to juice them (yes, Penny Arcade fans, that infamous Fruit…um…Juicer figures centrally). Armed with naught but a rake you were using to clean up your yard at the time of an attack, you go on a quest for vengeance. You soon join Tycho and Gabe as they seek to uncover the dark nemesis behind these nefarious goings-on.
The game combines the look and feel of the Penny Arcade comic strip with a 3-D environment. You explore different parts of the city, collecting clues, picking up various power ups like bandages, armor potions and defensive weapons, such as liquids that cause your enemy’s defenses to fall.
When you encounter the bad guys, the game utilizes a turn-based combat system that’s not unlike a classic Final Fantasy game; you have a limited amount of time to either stage an attack or defense. In a nod to Penny Arcade’s geek gamer Dungeons and Dragons roots, you “roll for initiative” with a 20-sided die at the start of each combat sequence to see whether your party or the enemy gets to attack first. Others, like Tycho and Gabe, for example, will join your party. Plus you can pccasionally call in additional help from other friends.
There is a fair amount of exposition and storytelling that goes on here, as well. It unfolds in cartoon-style panels complete with dialogue bubbles – yes, the idea of Gabe and Tycho as real characters (in your head) is maintained, as there are no voice actors to ruin the illusion.
Penny Arcade is known for being irreverent, with occasional ribaldry and obscenity thrown in for good measure, so don’t let the game’s cartoon look fool you. It’s worth pointing out that the game is rated M from the ESRB. The aforementioned mechanized…um…violators of fruit are a fine example of what to expect.
On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness is planned as the first in a series of games that will be released in episodic form, similar to what Telltale Games has done for the resurrected Sam & Max franchise. The game is being released simultaneously for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.
All told, the game is a thoroughly enjoyable romp through the twisted and hilarious recesses of Holkins and Krahulik’s demented and creative minds, and a good setup for further installments. It ran well on my test Mac, a 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro running Leopard, although the minimum Mac specifications are well below that and includes PowerPC-based Macs.
The game will be released via The Greenhouse, yet another new online distribution site for indie games. The Greenhouse created by Hothead Games and the Penny Arcade folks.