Since getting back in touch with Emily Morganti last August, she has put me onto some great adventure games. There was detective-drama Lamplight City which asks some interesting moral questions; Unavowed, a title of character and choice recently nominated for Excellence in Narrative at the Independent Games Festival; and most recently Mage’s Initiation: Reign of the Elements, an upcoming release which cleverly combines point-and-click and RPG elements.
So when I received her email regarding comedy-adventure Guard Duty, I knew it was going to be something I’d enjoy. If Emily’s superb taste in games hadn’t been enough to persuade me to request a preview key straight away then the screenshots she sent over would have given me the final push. There was no way I was going to turn down the opportunity to play something that featured so many little references to classic adventures such as Simon the Sorcerer and The Secret of Monkey Island (more about that later).
This project is Sick Chicken Studios’ unique take on the genre and tells a story about love, loss and the end of the world. That’s exactly what Agent Starborn, time-travelling Lieutenant General of the Guardians of New Haven, is facing in 2177: an alien-like creature is threatening to exterminate all human life and our hero has his gun pointed right at him. But it seems as though it’s too late to stop the monster and disaster is unleashed, as as laser splits the Earth into two and the scene fades to black.
Although players will have the opportunity to also play as Starborn in the full release, the setting then changes to 1,000 years earlier in Medieval Wrinklewood. Tondbert Roughskin, part-time drunk and three-quarter dwarf, is slacking on his duties as Night’s Watchman after partaking in a few too many birthday beverages (we’ve all been there). He unwittingly lets a mysterious stranger beyond the town walls and wakes up in the morning to a quest to save the kidnapped Princess Theremin – along with a raging hangover and missing set of armour.
Adventure genre elements that frustrate a lot of players are obtuse puzzles and pixel-hunting, and I’m very pleased to report that neither seem to be here. In the few hours I’ve spent with Guard Duty so far I didn’t once become stuck or get confused about the solution to a challenge. Everything is logical (in as much as it can be in a comedy game): use a rope to climb out of a window when the trapdoor is stuck, use a net to trap a slippery frog, attach a photo into a library card to make a somewhat-sticky fake ID.
I encountered one dialogue tree puzzle and due to the number of branches available, I thought I must have missed a vital piece of information in another location. I hadn’t however and after thinking it through properly, I realised what the answer was right in front of me and actually made sense. It seems as though the developers have really considered the design in this respect and it’s good to know that gameplay time isn’t superficially extended through needless backtracking.
Sometimes adventures can be overwhelming with what seems like an endless to-do list: go here to get this thing to give it to someone who’ll exchange it for the item I actually need to progress. This is where Guard Duty’s integrated list comes in handy and I found myself referring to it several times throughout the preview whenever I’d lost sight of my current goal. The fact that it appears to be written by Tondbert himself – complete with spelling mistakes and doodles – was a really nice touch that added to his character.
All of the art is impressively created by one person and it’s clear they’re a fan of the classics. I loved the Simon the Sorcerer poster stuck to the wall of Tondbert’s bedroom and punctured with darts; and although I can’t be sure, some of the characters throughout Wrinklewood look very similar to those in that series. There’s references to Monkey Island too: the silhouettes of Guybrush and LeChuck can be seen chatting over a pint in The Drunken Monk, and I laughed when the protagonist enquired about find leather jackets in Sam’s Previously Owned store.
More modern titles make an appearance also, and I couldn’t help but smirk when I saw the Assassin with a broken leg sitting in a pile of hay in one corner of the town square. This character asks you to spare some change and fulfilling his request results in a nice little achievement with a very apt name. Throw in some film references for good measure (‘No time for love, Dr Jones!’) and what you’ve got here is something that combines the best bits of our favourite media.
At three-and-a-half hours in, the preview build ended and left me with a cliff-hanger: is Tondbert dead after falling down a hole while trying to rescue a knight from a huge snapping Wrinkleworm? Is this it just a bad nightmare? Is he going to wake up and save both Princess Theremin and the world? What’s the connection between our unlikely hero and Agent Starborn, and will the events in Wrinklewood influence the future of Neo London in 2177? So many questions yet to be answered.
The game surprised me in many ways and, while I expected it to be a pleasant enough experience, I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. I’m kind of gutted I didn’t know about the Kickstarter campaign back in February 2017 because it really would have been worth making a pledge. There are a lot of adventure games out there which say they’ve redefined the genre or are inspired by the classics, but it’s been a long time since I’ve come across one which does both as well as Guard Duty seems it will.
The full title is due for release this spring and is on Steam right now for anyone who wants to add it to their wishlist. While you’re waiting, why not give Sick Chicken Studios a follow on Twitter or check out more screenshots on the official website.
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.