Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness - Episode Two Review
Hothead Games and the creative forces at Penny Arcade seem to have established their rhythm with the second episode of their serialized steampunk action-adventure RPG. It's mechanically unchanged from the first episode, and it's roughly the same basic size and shape. It's all just as structurally sound, but it's apparent now that the gameplay, as lively as it can be, is a delivery mechanism for Penny Arcade's deeply referential brand of humor. It's rare that a game aims primarily to make you laugh, and Penny Arcade: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode Two is pretty good at it.
With the peculiar setting of New Arcadia already in place, the bulk of the story in this episode revolves around discovering the origins of the massive Fruit Fucker Prime that demolished your house at the beginning of the first episode, before you got roped into all that lunacy with robot-building hobos and magical mimes. There are plentiful callbacks to the events of the first episode, and a couple of the major characters from that arc pop up in supporting roles here, making room for new characters like the unironically named roboticist Dr. Jonathan Crazoir, and Dr. Wolfington, huntsman extraordinaire and corrupt proprietor of the Cloying Odor Sanitarium. There's also a brief, drug-induced appearance by Penny Arcade faves Twisp and Catsby. You'll fight giant spiders, cause trouble in the impossibly monied part of town, attend a suffocatingly cliquish scientific symposium, and take part in the auspicious and storied tradition of robot monkey fights.
Absurdist juxtapositions are Penny Arcade's bread and butter, so it's unsurprising that Episode Two relies pretty heavily on alternating between deliberately straightforward blue language and clever word-smithery for its humor. While it's arguably a little filthier than Episode One, it doesn't feel lazy about how it gets its laughs. What's interesting about the structure of the storytelling here is how successful it is as both a standalone game experience and a smaller segment of a larger story. Once you finish up the six-or-so hours that Episode Two demands, you'll have accomplished some grand, fairly satisfying feats that bring a good amount of closure while keeping you excited about what Episode Three has to offer.
For all the farm-fresh chuckles that Episode Two provides, the gameplay beneath it all hasn't really changed. It's probably unreasonable to expect significant mechanical advancements between episodes, but the simplicity that made the quasi-real-time combat so immediately engaging in Episode One is starting to wear a little thin. There's still a certain hypnotic quality to the combat, but at a point it turns into something to do while you wait for the next bit of hilarity. There are other technical aspects that, without the newness of Episode One, are becoming a little more glaring. Long load times when hopping from one location to the next do the game no favors, particularly since it's something that you'll be doing a lot of. The polygonal interpretations of the Penny Arcade art style are generally awkward, and the sound design remains oddly spartan, save for a few pieces of orchestrated music and a preponderance of stock Wilhelm-style hawk screeches.
On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness is shaping up to be a four-episode arc, and while I have no doubt that the Penny Arcade team has enough silly, vulgar material to power through the back half, I'll be curious to see how well the gameplay stands up. Between the quality of the content and the release schedule so far, this is probably one of the finest examples of episodic video gaming out there, though it's still susceptible to one of the format's implicit pitfalls--if it doesn't stay interesting, players won't keep coming back. For now, at least, the keen sense of silliness is enough to keep things interesting.