Fighting the Good Fight

On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness (Precipice henceforth) at its core is a strictly linear adventure game with a few RPG trimmings. Your characters will gain levels, improve attributes, upgrade equipment, develop new skills, and fight battles - all standard accoutrements for RPGs. However, of those areas, only the battles and new levels come in a reasonable quantity.

You start the game with one character that you get to create. You can be male or female, choose from a small selection of outfits and appearance tweaks, and pick a name; then the story begins. There are a few entertaining animations as you customize your character, but outside of appearance your choices have absolutely no impact on the game. A few minutes into the game (or the demo), you join up with Gabe and Tycho and begin trying to unravel the plot, which centers around tracking down a gigantic robotic… um… fruit fornicator. (Ed: Hey, we're a family website. Penny Arcade can throw around all the cuss words they want, but we do our best to avoid dropping the F-bomb in our articles.)

You get precisely zero choice when it comes to weapons and skills. Each character gets exactly one weapon (plus two upgrades to that weapon). Tycho wields a machinegun, Gabe packs a mean punch, and you… you get a rake. Unorthodox equipment to be sure, but it's part of the humor. Each character also comes with a basic attack, and as you level up you'll gain access to increasingly powerful special attacks.

The battles take place in phased combat akin to many console RPGs. Each character has three round timers that fill up in sequence that determine your range of actions. The first circle fills up quickly and gives you access to your items, the second fills up slower and allows the character to perform a standard attack, and the last fills up the slowest and gives you the ability to use your special attack. If more than one character fills up their special attack button, you can also elect to team up for increased damage. Finally, you can also attempt to block enemy attacks by pressing the spacebar at the appropriate time; do it properly and you can even execute a free counterattack while avoiding damage. Three support characters also become available over the course of the game, with timers of their own that build up (very slowly) during battles. Let's go over the different combat options.

Items fall into one of five categories. There are three items that can heal other party members and three more that cause damage your enemies. The next six either increase your abilities (i.e. better armor, more powerful attack, faster attack) or hinder your enemies (less armor, weaker attack, or slower attack). Only one effect can be in place on any character, so if a new effect is activated the old effect is disabled, creating some small amount of strategy. Finally, a few items will distract your opponents. These last two items are almost more for comedic effect than anything else - not that they're useless, but most of the items are unnecessary. By the end of the game, we found that we had maxed out our carrying capacity for every item type.

Standard attacks require little in the way of explanation; your character will either shoot, punch, or swat the selected opponent. Special attacks are a bit more involved. Each character will acquire three different special attacks over the course of the game as you level up, which become increasingly difficult to pull off to maximum effect. The special attacks can be thought of as mini games, but they can become rather tedious. Gabe's attack in particular gets old fast.

Your custom character has to press the spacebar four times as a "clock" moves around a circle. At levels two and three of the attack, the blocks that show where you need to press the spacebar start moving. Gabe requires you to press the spacebar rapidly, followed by a final timer bar where you press it one last time. Upgraded special attacks will require you to press the spacebar more/faster. (Whoopee?) Finally, Tycho's special attacks require you to press the appropriate direction arrow. You have seven seconds, and you need to press the correct key eight, ten, or twelve times - the last doesn't leave much margin for error.

If you perform the special attack properly and manage to kill your opponent, you also score an overkill. This increases the amount of damage you can do in future battles. A level one weapon can get +5 from overkills, a level two weapon allows up to +10, and the level three weapons allow +15.

The initial special attacks are simply a more powerful attack against a single foe, although your rake causes bleeding damage over time. At level two Gabe gains the ability to stun an opponent and Tycho can damage multiple foes; your character does more damage to a single foe but also inflicts additional bleeding damage after the attack. For level three, Gabe will attack all enemies with a chance at stunning them, Tycho will attack all enemies with a powerful machinegun blast, and you will do even more damage and bleeding damage.

Combat consumes the majority of your time in Precipice, with battles against a small selection of opponents. There are the aforementioned fruit fornicators (four models of increasing sophistication), feral trash, hobos (two more variants), mimes (three variants), clowns (naturally), an evil barbershop quartet, and three unique boss characters. While combat is somewhat enjoyable at first, and some of the more difficult battles towards the end of the game add spice, as with many games there is definitely a lot of repetition involved. It's good that Precipice is only about 6-8 hours in length, because any more and the combat would begin to be truly tedious. There is some good news in that there are no random battles in the game; once an area is cleared, it will stay that way unless something happens in the story that repopulates an area with more enemies.

Index Once Upon a Time…
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  • joetron2030 - Wednesday, July 9, 2008 - link

    Just now getting around to reading your review. I'd have to agree with you on the gameplay and "fun factor" aspects of the game (and I too come as a fan of PA).

    Also, one minor correction, the actual XBLA point cost is 1600 points. US retail prices for a 1600 pt. card is usually about $19.99. So, it ends up essentially costing $20 that way as well.
  • Wolfpup - Wednesday, June 18, 2008 - link

    How can you seriously say it's not a big deal that for $20 we're only getting a rental? And how can you hesitate to call "activation" DRM? It's the worst form of DRM I'm aware of, which is saying something given how nasty this stuff has gotten.

    I would have purchased this, but like so many other recent PC games, they've taken that option from me. I will not pay $20 for a rental (and yes, if you don't own an actual copy of it you can use whenever and however you like, it is a rental).
  • tonjohn - Wednesday, June 18, 2008 - link

    "(and yes, if you don't own an actual copy of it you can use whenever and however you like, it is a rental)."

    As a consumer, you never own any piece of software. You are merely purchasing a license to the software and must adhere to the terms set aside in the licensing agreement.

    While DRM can be frustrating, it is a necessary evil. And things like Steam make DRM seem non-existent (unless you are on 56k) and we should embrace those methods.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, June 18, 2008 - link

    As I said, it's a ONE TIME activation, and from the quote it appears if you end up needing to install it on more PCs and encounter problems, they are more than willing to help you out. DRM in my mind is locking content like a movie to one device. Locking an OS to install on one PC (at a time) or an application to only install on a few PCs is reasonable, I think. We're not talking about EA levels of "call home every 10 days to validate" DRM (even though EA decided not to do that), and with the game being available exclusively through online distribution the requirement to activate over the Internet is hardly a problem.

    I've voice my concerns for the long-term, but then I just don't see this as such an important game that we're going to want to return to it in five years. I thought it was fun, I got my $20's worth of entertainment, and I doubt I will return to Precipice for another round again. Just like I haven't really touched Assassin's Creed, Bioshock, Crysis, and any number of other games since I finished them (outside of benchmarking purposes).
  • yacoub - Tuesday, June 17, 2008 - link

    On the last page - pretty sure the comics go back to 1998 not 1988.
  • Jynx980 - Monday, June 16, 2008 - link

    Shouldn't the system requirements be on the performance page instead at the end of the review?
  • JarredWalton - Monday, June 16, 2008 - link

    Some people just skip to the end. :)
  • tonjohn - Monday, June 16, 2008 - link


    This game was also released on Steam and includes all of the achievements from the Xbox 360 version.

    I'm not a fan of these sorts of games but I have really enjoyed playing this one so far.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, June 16, 2008 - link

    Page five, bottom of the first paragraph.
  • tonjohn - Tuesday, June 17, 2008 - link

    My bad! Thanks :)

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