I’m not a particularly cynical gnome. No, not really. I’m just a realist who -admittedly- spends the odd day firmly believing that cynicism and the subsequent nihilism are nasty things, while trying to figure out ways to make this poor planet a better place. Then again, I just can’t help but enjoy the more cynical side of satire, and definitely can’t help but enjoy those rare cynical games. They seem so refreshing in the dire landscape of tired fantasy cliches, gun-ho militarism and vacuous cuteness that mainstream gaming seems to have created, and the first episode of Hector: Badge of Carnage is (probably) as cynically satirical as it gets.
It also is a rather traditional point-and-click adventure, which is always nice and despite coming from Telltale it’s both cynical and -shockingly- actually challenging. Now, don’t get me wrong,Telltale have done some wonderful things for adventure gaming. I can’t deny that, but it seems that after the excellent Tales of Monkey Island and the refreshingly odd Puzzle Agent they have become more, well, formulaic. And pop-centered. And, really, who cares for Jurassic Park games? I for one don’t. I definitely care about Hector though (to cunningly and subtly change the subject).
Hector, you see, the eponymous Badge of Carnage protagonist is a (shockingly and spontaneously anti-authoritarian) cop in what can only be described as Britain’s most run-down town. His moral compass is all over the place, his remarks biting, his humour dark and his pants struggling. He’s also more than willing to negotiate with terrorists, as this game’s full title is none other than Hector: Badge of Carnage – Episode 1: We Negotiate With Terrorist, in which Hector seems hell-bent on fulfilling the ultra-conservative, yet at times rather sensible, demands of a deeply frustrated and particularly murderous terrorist.
What’s more, Hector does this in the most unconventional way imaginable, while inhabiting a beautifully illustrated 2D world and remaining true to the best of point-and-click traditions. He’ll have to combine inventory items, engage in brilliantly penned discussions, use everything on everything, explore the seedier parts of the urban fabric and even use a heroin-addict as a sex doll (oops, spoiler, sorry about that), while sounding both brilliant and very British. The voice-overs are after all excellent, as are the games graphics, music and most of the puzzles.
The only thing that’s not quite so excellent is the control method (click to look, double-click to interact), that simply doesn’t feel that intuitive, especially if you are a seasoned adventurer. Then again, this episode’s hefty size, challenging puzzles and overall quality more than make up for this minor hick-up. Oh, and yes, the humour does actually work.
Verdict: A humorous and gritty breath of fresh, episodic, adventure gaming air. Adventurers should apply here and Hector will definitely amuse them.