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RUNAWAY: A Road Adventure

Reviewed by  Mr. Bill & Lela

There are so many things that we like about this game, that we hardly know where to begin. It has one of the freshest approaches to storytelling, and one of the most innovative uses of technology, that we have seen in years. What Syberia did for 'photo-realistic' games, Runaway has now done for the classic 'cartoon-style' adventure... and you're simply gonna love the results.

The game was created by Pendulo Studios, and was first published in Spain in 2001. Practically overnight it developed an almost cult-like following overseas, and word soon spread to other countries. But because a bias has existed against this type of traditional adventure game for several years, finding publishers who were willing to take a chance on it elsewhere was no easy task. So international petitions were circulated. And they were bombarded with emails from gamers around the world (including us), begging for its publication. Fortunately some publishers did eventually listen, and it gradually became available in other languages, always to rave reviews. And then finally, in late 2003, Tri Synergy published it here in the USA.

Has it suffered from the wait?  No way!  Did it live up to our expectations?  You betchum... and then some!

The story is excellent, an exciting thriller with a mystery to be solved and a couple of unexpected twists near the end. But all of the 'action' elements take place in the cutscenes. So although the story is threatening, gameplay is not. Instead it is light-hearted, and fun!

It all takes place in contemporary America, and it's obvious that the people who wrote it are big fans of American movies. Because the game is absolutely filled with appreciative references to them, and includes many of their most memorable and outrageous stereotypes, as well as some of the common attitudes, obsessions and morals that we've often portrayed.  And what emerges from this inspired conglomeration is a wonderfully zany picture of our country that provides the perfect setting for the story, and makes for a totally engrossing game.

But what initially got our attention (and impressed us throughout the game) was the brilliant way that the story is told. The opening sequence is one of the best that we have seen anywhere, a 'fly-thru' of busy New York city streets at night, all to the rocking sound of Liquor's unforgettable theme song. And the story itself is introduced with a marvelous ploy that previously we have only seen used on Broadway.

The game begins with a dark screen, and the spotlight on an attractive young man sitting in a deck chair, stage right. He's a cool looking dude dressed in shorts, NYC T-shirt and shades, and he introduces himself as Brian, a 23 year old recent college grad who majored in Physics. He then leans forward engagingly, and asks us if we realize that a person's whole life can be changed in a tenth of a second. He says that his was, and starts to tell us what has transpired during the last few weeks. But wait he says, "let's go back to the beginning". The camera pans to stage left, and the flashback begins...

He was a nerdy looking guy who had led a pretty sheltered life, living with his parents while going to college in New York. And he was on his way to California, driving at night, to accept a "dream come true" position in the doctoral program at UC Berkeley. But at the last minute, he decides to make a quick detour into Manhattan to pick up a book. Suddenly a beautiful and desperate young woman, running for her life from some thugs, darts out from an alley... and he hits her with his car!  Horrified, he picks her up and races to the nearest hospital, where he finds out that her name is Gina, and that thankfully she is only in shock.  So he decides to go on.

But then she awakens, wild-eyed and obviously terrified, and begs him to stay. She tells him that the Mafia will kill her if he deserts her, that they have already killed her father, and all because of a mysterious crucifix that she now has.  He thinks that she's probably hallucinating. But being the gentleman that he is, he decides to try to figure out some way to protect her before he leaves... just to be on the safe side.

And so his adventure begins. But before it's all over, he too will be running for his life along with Gina, from New York to Chicago to the desert of Arizona. Meeting people and having experiences that will change him and his life forever, as he tries to unravel the mystery before it is too late.

This is a 3 CD, 3rd person, point & click game, with a smart cursor, adjustable sound, optional subtitles, in game illustrated maps, and unlimited saves. The interface is just plain perfect... simple, expertly designed, and very easy to use. And we love the inventory, where Brian talks to you through a window, dropping down behind it when he has to rummage through a bag for you, and reaching out to bang on the front and get your attention when you take too long. Even the manual for this game is fun, the way manuals used to be. And everything about the game works perfectly, without so much as a hiccup. You do have to insert the first CD every time you restart the game (it's a copy protection), but if you have more than one CD drive, even this minor hassle disappears.

The voice acting is great, particularly Brian's, Mariola's and Mama Dorita's. And the English translation is amazingly good, right down to our use of idioms and slang... we're seriously impressed.  Lip synch is not exact, but remember that this game was first published in another language.

The game isn't really meant to be a comedy, just entertaining. So the humor is deliberately understated, and it doesn't really try to tell jokes per se. Nevertheless there are some very funny remarks, and several laugh-out-loud scenes... don't fail to look closely at Saturn's final sculpture. And the oddball characters that they've picked to include are hysterical just being themselves. We especially liked the 3 Drag Queens, and we're bringing Oscar home with us!

It's a very linear game that's divided into 6 stand alone chapters, with Brian reappearing in his deck chair between chapters to sum up what's happened so far. Each chapter has a main objective and a lot of puzzles to be solved before you can advance. But the puzzles are like a breath of fresh air. All of them are the good old-fashioned inventory kind that require only logic, some common sense, and a little creative thinking to solve. They are varied, imaginative and fun. Many are complex and a few are a little obscure, but none is too difficult if you pay close attention to conversations and the clues that Brian gives. You can't die, and nothing is timed. But you do have to remember (as the manual says) that some items may be carefully hidden, and some things may not work or be available until another action triggers them.

You know that you've been successful when one of the many great cutscenes occurs. They serve to advance the story and are very professionally done, with unusual camera angles and close-ups used to increase the dramatic impact. But it's the in game graphics that really blew us away. You're not gonna believe what they've done with 2D... it's nothing short of spectacular!

First of all the background scenes were beautifully 'hand painted', with lush details and gorgeous colors. Then in a revolutionary use of the latest technology, they modeled the characters in 3D first, and then converted them back to 2D cartoons, with real-time lighting and shading. And presented the whole package in high 1024 x 768 resolution, with 16 bit color. The result is simply astounding. They've achieved a level of cartoon realism heretofore only dreamed of, with soft edge characters who look, move and act like they really do actually live in their environment... watch Brian's fingers opening the safe.

It's a remarkable game in every way, a giant leap forward that brings cartoon-style adventures into the 21st century.  And it's a hugely entertaining romp.  Whatever you do, don't miss the final cutscenes after the credits... we whooped with delight!

For anyone who loves real adventure games, this one is not to be missed.  And as the manual says, if we want to see more like it, then let's  "Support This Game!"  Very highly recommended! Our choice for Game Of The Year 2003 (USA Release).

Full View Screenshot

Visit the Official Runaway Website to learn more about the story, view additional screenshots and download the demo.

Developed (2001) by Pendulo Studios and published (2003) by TriSynergy in the United States and by GMX Media in the United Kingdom.

Rated:   T   for Teen 13+  (mild violence, use of drugs)

Minimum System Requirements:  Windows

Where To Buy This Game:

Walkthroughs or Hints:

Len Green's Walkthrough available here!

Walkthrough available here!

Mr. Bill's   Adventureland
Copyright  February 2004
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