Bear With Me: Episode 1 - PC
Exordium games is a Croatian video games studio founded in 2014, their website shows that they have released six video games in the space of three years and all seem to be of varying genres. I must admit that I haven’t had the fortune to play their other titles (although some definitely caught my eye) and so this is my first experience with the developer.
Within the first few moments of being given Bear With Me to review, I knew I’d be in safe hands when the launch trailer music reminded me of soundtrack to the mighty 7th Guest. Also, being a sucker for point and click adventure games with a self-aware Noir feel (Tex Murphy, Grim Fandango, Gemini Rue etc.) my hopes were instantly raised and after playing the game for some time I can safely say that those hopes were met and indeed, surpassed.
The main story of the game is that you play Amber Ashworth, a young girl who lives with her (strangely absent) family in a house just outside the borders of Paper City who discovers that her brother Flint is missing and a mysterious ‘Red Man’ is starting fires throughout the city. In order to find Flint she enlists the help of her erstwhile companion and burned-out private snoop Ted E Bear (literally her toy teddy bear). Paper City itself is based on 1940’s era New York and populated by anthropomorphic versions of Amber’s toys. It is place of constant night and rain although the tone of the game is lightened by both Amber’s chipper demeanour and the snappy dialogue between the characters, which are fully-voiced and very well presented.
The dialogue in the game is one of the first things that struck me, as all of the characters in the game are quite verbose and clearly have a history with each other which we learn of through well-constructed conversations which reveal personalities and foibles without seeming too intrusive and forced. It is a pleasure to interact with the various classic stereotypes in the game, Ted E. Bear being a classic Chandler-esque burned out Private Eye and Amber’s other toys representing thugs, maternal figures and dopey but lovable bodyguards, among others.
Not once did I find myself wanting to skip the dialogue because it felt too long-winded (One of the characters in the game ends EVERY sentence with word ‘see’, which tickled me), this is a real strong point of a game such as this where conversations play such an intrinsic part in the story, especially the constant banter / bickering between Amber and Ted.
The title screen instantly sets the tone of Bear With Me, the main menu being an American style cinema circa 1940 being beaten by heavy rain (at night-time, naturally). The ‘New Game’ button is in fact a retro ticket stub making the point that the adventure that you are about to embark on is a narrative-driven piece.
The vast majority of Bear With Me is monochrome with only the occasional splash of red. This reminded me initially of Frank Miller’s Sin City however that is where the similarity ends as the tone of the game is entirely different. Amidst the smoky jazz music and Noir cliche's are various pop culture references, an amusing clash against the faux-serious retro backdrop.
"This is the first screen of the game, waking up in bed you speak to Millie who starts the story. Naturally Ted’s Private Detective agency is in the closet."
The general tongue in cheek, self-aware tone of the game is sometimes punctuated by darker moments, such as flashes of strange red writing on the walls and Ted E. Bear’s dismissiveness whenever Amber’s parents are mentioned. There’s a real sense of something larger and possibly sinister happening in the real world, causing Amber to envelope herself so deeply in her toy-filled fantasy, something I assume will be addressed in future episodes.
The cut scenes in the game are shown from the point of view of Ted, through a series of comic book style panels he gives us his thoughts on the investigation so far, his gruff speech peppered with Private Eye slang were some of the highlights for me, it’s enjoyable to listen to his over the top rehashing of recent events and pessimistic outlook on his seemingly inevitable fate during this ‘one last case’.
The puzzles in the game should pose no issue for someone who has played this style of adventure before, the entire game is controlled with the left mouse button, which when clicked on an object in the game world will give you one or two options, to look at something and possibly the ability to pick it up or interact with it. This simplicity works in the games’ favour as it allows the player to focus on the narrative and atmosphere of Bear With Me and not get stuck on illogical puzzles which would hamper the unfolding of the story. There was one moment which resulted in a few minutes of pixel-hunting but other than this the game moved at a very steady pace, allowing me to complete the first episode in just under two hours.
Bear With Me is currently price at £3.99 on Steam which I think is a good price for the quality on offer here. Rarely have I played an Indie game with this much polish and attention to detail. The characters casually mentioning Paper City throughout this episode gave me a real yearning to visit it for myself to see what it had to offer and how the story would unfold, making me dedicated to trying solving the mystery of what happened to Amber’s brother and who this mysterious ‘Red Man’ is. If you are a fan of point and click adventures rich on atmosphere I would heartily suggest that you pick up Bear With Me.
Right, it’s onto Episode 2, I’ll see you all in Paper City, see.
Review by Britt (www.twitter.com/kingdomofcarts)