Point-and-click games frequently reveal a schism that’s difficult to ignore. Protagonists are habitually depicted as dashing, intelligent, social charmers- an amalgam of attributes that makes them uniquely qualified to solve a succession of puzzles and eventually expose some hidden truth. But in execution, their actions habitually belie these qualities.
All too often, their methods of inquiry are simplistic. While the genre hopes to imitate forensic investigation, most often participants brute-force their way through each conundrum. There’s an irrefutable pattern in place, with players scouring each environment until the requisite items are found which unlock access to the next area, thus advancing the cycle. Often, we are forced to peruse repugnant recesses, burrowing through trash bins or the dusty niches which hide a crucial clue. Interaction regularly focuses on exposition and examination, neglecting the social components that makes conversation seem natural human behavior. And too often, characters are just a deviation on cabinets and drawers, with dialog trees used to conceal an essential clue.
Undoubtedly, Fabrice Breton the sole developer behind Demetrios – The Big Cynical Adventure is acutely aware of point-and-click formula, with the recent PS Vita release poking fun at genre tenets. Bjorn Thonen is hardly the debonair lead we might expect. Instead, he’s an insensitive slob, who is barely able to eke out an existence as an antiques dealer. The game opens on what is most likely a common night for the character, where he stumbles home after a night of heavy drinking in Paris.
[pullquote]Impressions of each item are consistently humorous, offering an oaf’s-eye view of the world and its workings.[/pullquote]
But when he’s attacked after walking into his flat, he wakes to find his wallet stolen and an ancient tablet removed from an appropriately garish looking statue from this makeshift gallery. His effort to uncover the culprit who is behind the crime soon involves his neighbor Sandra and her daughter Caroline, forming a trio of reluctant and mostly repugnant characters.
In print, it might not sound like an entourage you’ll want to interact with for the next six to eight hours, but gradually, you’ll discover The Big Cynical Adventure is poking fun at point-and-clicks. All those times players were forced to rummage through dirty discards might not have seemed like a logical fit with elegant investigators. But miserable Bjorn has no qualms with emptying a bag of trash on a living room floor and leaving the mess. His unhygienic behaviors makes him the prototypical point-and-click protagonists, as he unapologetically leaves clutter and confusion through his interactions.
Typically, each scrutinized element offers insight from the character’s perspective. With Bjorn, impressions of each item are consistently humorous, offering an oaf’s-eye view of the world and its workings. Although the interchanges with Sandra and Caroline touch on the comedic possibility of having a lout, shrew, and brat exchange barbs, Demetrios doesn’t truly capitalize on its potential.
Where the game works is the sense of player agency. Early on, Bjorn visits the police station to try to report the crime and is tempting with photocopying his posterior out of frustration when the officers refuse to take a statement without an ID. Select the appropriate option and The Big Cynical Adventure describes Bjorn not only trying to Xerox his ass, but accidently crapping on the machine, this ending the game.
Fortunately, Breton knows the temptation was too great, never really castigating those who role-play at Bjorn. Following a ‘game over’ screen, players are sent right back into the investigation, with the protagonist occasionally having a faint recollection of the reprimand. Undoubtedly, punishing Bjorn is urged, with the game tracking each detainment and demise, even bestowing an achievement for discovering every way to fail the game. Another element bound to draw contentment are Demetrios’ mini-games which offer an enjoyable reprieve from the investigation.
One more positive element is the title’s interface, which offers two input methods. Traditionalists are likely to enjoy the use of the touchscreen to navigate their way through The Big Cynical Adventure’s journey. Although text bosses and objects can be small, my fingers had an easy time selecting on-screen items. For those who detest getting fingerprints all over their OLED or LCD screens, a dual stick control scheme is even more effective. Using the left analog nub, players can move a cursor around the screen, while moving the right stick offers a picture-in-picture display that allows for greater detail and precision. On the downside, magnification doesn’t little to improve Demetrios’ visuals, which given the one-man design team can look a bit amateurish at times. For some the lack of any voice-over might be a sticking point as well.[pullquote]The Big Cynical Adventure allows players to control just how much toilet humor is in the game.[/pullquote]
As someone that’s indifferent toward point-and-click games, Demetrios – The Big Cynical Adventure is a curious and muted success. While the typical trek is there, I found that what I liked best about the game is how it made me think about the genre and its timeworn tenets. When Demetrios is permitting players to role-play as Bjorn, behaving badly without the usual risks, the journey shines- extending a playfulness that’s often missing from these types of adventures. If Fabrice Breton can expand on that, I would see Bjorn leading a Big Cynical series.
Demetrios – The Big Cynical Adventure was played on the PS Vitya with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PS Vita, previously on PC
Release date: December 6th, 2016
Price: $9.99 via PSN and Steam, free demo available