Hoodwink‘s trailer burst onto the internet the other week, the game having gone pretty much entirely under the radar until that point. The trailer showed off a colourful, nicely drawn world with witty, interesting and, most importantly, well-voiced characters. To me, it looked like a welcome return to the comic-noir style of a true genre classic, Grim Fandango. I got the review code. I was excited. I really, really wanted Hoodwink to be good.
Ye gods, I’m so angry.
I knew from the very start of the game that things were not going to go well. Hoodwink controls exactly like a point & click adventure should – you point, you click, and the character responds. This works fine, until you want to change your view, at which point the whole thing becomes utterly infuriating. Certain areas of the screen, when walked into, will change the player’s view so that the whole of the room can be seen. This would be fine, except for the fact that it doesn’t work. The first puzzle in the game – the very first one – involves the simple manipulation of a lever on the wall. You’re even shown this lever in a cut-scene, directly beside your character’s head. However, when I was given control after this cut-scene, it took me fully ten minutes to find the specific spot that I had to click in order to make the camera face the way I wanted it to face. Which was the same way it was facing in the bloody cutscene to start with.
What makes this even worse is the way the environment actually looks. Sure, the cel-shaded, vaguely hand drawn art style looked great in the trailer. But the rest of the world looks like a hastily thrown together jumble of stuff that’s just had a few random Photoshop filters thrown over it – the result, as you might expect, is an ugly, unreadable mess. And just in case your eyes weren’t already in pain, the screen is then doused in bloom. Hunting for the one interactable thing on a screen full of useless objects, some of which are glowing, and all of which are pretty much unidentifiable after having their textures mashed up by twenty different filters, is an excercise in futility.
What makes this particularly annoying is that the setting itself is rather unique. In a post-apocalyptic world, run by a corporate dictatorship, you play as self-styled ‘acquisition expert’ Michael Bezzle (and yes, we see what you did there), who wants nothing more than to steal a nice ring so that he can propose to his wheelchair-bound fiancée. There are some intriguing concepts, too, like the Second Chancers – human brains plugged into a robot body after death, essentially giving the person a second chance at life, or the Unicorps police, a privately funded police force that will try to advertise branded handcuffs to you as they’re arresting you.
While i’m being nice, I might as well redeem the visuals a little. Some of the characters look fantastic, such as the cat-man in the big blue coat that you might have seen from the trailer. They’re all lovingly animated, too, each having a distinct movement style that fits their personality. What’s more, the dialogue is witty, and sharply delivered by a – mostly – very talented cast. I actually burst into laughter on more than one occasion. However, as with everything this game does well, there’s disappointment waiting just around the corner, wielding a blunt instrument. Stereotype is all well and good as a comedy staple, but some of the characters in this game do take it a liiiiitle bit too far. Take, for example, the fat, constantly hungry German robot, Bryke Shitehausen. Or the (presumably) Chinese owner of a rat-burger stand, who says things like “Why you comprain? No-one else comprain” without even a trace of irony. Oh, Hoodwink. And you were doing so well.
What’s more, for an adventure game – a genre supposedly focused around the solving of puzzles – Hoodwink doesn’t actually seem to want you to have to think too hard. There’s no inventory management to be had – Michael will only have the option to use the object that specifically needs to be used at the time. There’s even a handy hint system, on by default, which displays a variety of increasingly patronising hints, depending on how long you’re taking. These could range from “Hmm, I’d better go and talk to someone about this” to, and I swear I’m not even joking, “Move your cursor over the man and left click”. To make things worse, the hint system itself often gets confused as to what you’re actually trying to do. More than once, it carried on giving me hints about a puzzle long after I’d solved it. Later, it told me how to do something I didn’t even know I needed to do, because I was yet to have the conversation that told me I needed to do it. As I recall, I encountered only one puzzle that required real thinking, and even then it was over in a flash.
Most of the ‘challenge’ comes from a series of minigames that need to be beaten to solve certain puzzles. Yet the only puzzle to be had is in figuring out just what the hell is going on. One of these involves catching several creatures running around on the ground by holding the mouse over them for a second. The problem with this, besides being tedious and fiddly, is that this isn’t explained in any way by the game itself. I eventually resorted to cracking open my Top-Secret-Special-Games-Journalist-Only-Walkthrough-Guide just to figure out what the hell was going on. Later, the game climaxes in the worst ‘puzzle’ minigame of all, which essentially boils down to finding a certain spot on the screen, with no indication as to whether or not it’s the right spot, and clicking really, really fast. For about two minutes. Of course, if you stop, you’ll have to start the whole thing all over again. Honestly, I haven’t encountered such a failure to utilise appropriate controls since trying to pull down a Star Destroyer with my mouse in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (I still have nightmares about the wrist cramp).
Still, I’m nothing if not forgiving towards adventure games. I’m well aware that they can be slow to start, but shine later on. And so it was, about two hours in, that things looked like they were starting to improve. The plot had just started getting interesting, the character interaction was getting genuinely funny and then, right as Michael walked off to start the adventure proper… The credits rolled. I sat back, stunned. Surely this was a joke? A feint? A poorly-executed homage to the mid-game credits in The Curse of Monkey Island? I waited, watching names roll past, until finally the main menu popped back up. Two hours. The whole game was two hours long. And EA are charging £9.99 for this on Origin.
So, to summarise: Hoodwink is ugly, broken, badly designed and, in all honesty, slightly offensive. Hell, it’s shorter than some game demos, although that does at least mean that it’s over quickly. But most of all, it’s disappointing. I actually feel guilty about ripping into it, because there are some real sparks of brilliance, as well as some genuinely funny and interesting characters, and a plot that looks like it might have been really quite engaging. If this had been released as a Kickstarter demo, with the promise of more to come, I’d be raving about how great it was going to be. But as it is, at £9.99 for around two hours worth of almost-game, there’s simply no way that anyone should be spending their money on this.