By Marty Mulrooney
Unforeseen Incidents is a traditional point-and-click adventure game developed by Backwoods Entertainment (based in Bochum, Germany) and published by Application Systems Heidelberg. Released today after two and a half years of intense development, players take control of small-town handyman Harper Pendrell as he tries to stop a deadly virus – Yelltown Fever – from spreading across this beautifully hand-painted world.
While the adventure genre is far from dead, modern, high quality adventure games in the traditional point-and-click mould have become slightly thin on the ground in recent years. Unforeseen Incidents has been in development since 2016 and its release promises a return to the glory days of the genre (with a penknife twist). Thankfully, for the most part it succeeds.
Harper Pendrell is very much a George Stobbart-esque character in the sense that he’s an everyman thrown into a larger than life situation, although he’s decidedly less worldly than good old George. A lifelong resident of Yelltown, he’s a bit of a layabout that wings it as he goes along. It’s worth mentioning that Backwoods Entertainment has done an incredible job capturing the essence of small town USA with this project. Sure, its influences – Twin Peaks, The X-Files – are worn on its sleeve, but it still manages to carve out an identity of its own.
A lot of the game’s personality is derived from it’s concept arty, hand-drawn vibe. The graphics are gorgeous, with its scratchy lines and bright colours revealing an incredible amount of detail in each location. The game begins with a radio broadcast warning the residents of Yelltown about a deadly virus; soon after, Harper comes face to face with an infected woman whose dying wish is for him to hook up with an undercover journalist named Jane Halliwell and expose the truth.
So begins an epic adventure, but don’t worry if it all sounds a bit too sombre and miserable. The subject matter can admittedly get pretty intense, but Harper – and his voice actor – does a brilliant job keeping the proceedings feeling light and fun at all times. The English version was written by Alasdair Beckett-King (of Nelly Cootalot fame) alongside the German version and it shows; little has been lost in translation and the script is razor-sharp throughout. Conversations never drag and meeting new characters is a constant delight; the entire voice cast is spot on. Even the smallest little quip when clicking on the most irrelevant, minor hotspot has been handled with love and care. It’s often gallows humour, but it works incredibly well and feels effortless.
The puzzles are likewise very impressive, offering a satisfying mixture of inventory-based conundrums, as well as head-scratchers that require a more thoughtful, nuanced approach. For example, early on in the game Harper must use a hotel phone system to find a guest using a fake name. Solving this puzzle is especially satisfying because it involves some true detective work combined with creative thinking and talking. Other times, Harper must use his penknife and its various components to take a more direct approach.
Sadly, there are one or two ‘puzzles’ that drag the game down slightly. The few action moments feel pretty clunky – you’ll die, a lot – and there are some artificial roadblocks that crank the difficulty up just a tad too much. A hint system would have alleviated some frustrating moments, but there isn’t too much to complain about in the grand scheme of things; overall, this is a fair game that manages to make the player feel smart without ever becoming a complete walk in the park… although you will do a lot of walking (and talking).
Unforeseen Incidents is one of the best point-and-click adventure games of recent years. Not only does it look and sound great, it has the puzzles to match. The frustrating moments – and slightly annoying pauses when transitioning between locations – are easily forgiven. The story is genuinely gripping throughout and although it isn’t a particularly short game – I’d estimate anywhere between 10-12 hours of pointing and clicking for experienced adventurers – it feels like it ends far too soon (the telltale sign of a thoroughly enjoyable experience).
The ending itself feels a bit rushed, but slightly naff endings didn’t stop Broken Sword II and The Curse of Monkey Island from becoming classics. With a few tantalising plot threads left dangling, here’s hoping that Harper Pendrell and Jane Halliwell will return for some more amateur sleuthing and charming banter in the near future.
9 OUT OF 10