A Buggy Drama
As one’s attention span grows shorter and available free time drops to a minimum, the whole concept of episodic PC gaming begins to look more appealing by the minute. For those with few spare moments in the day or gamers who are constantly on the go, it’s great to be able to experience a game in easily digestible, bite-sized portions.
There’s also a certain satisfaction to be gained from knowing you can complete a game in a single sitting when the mood strikes. The PC version of Crackpot Entertainments’ Insecticide may be an already short game cut right down the middle into even shorter segments, but Episode 1 – the first of two – is a compelling experiment with plenty of high points to even-out the few bad moments.
In theory, combining a classic point-and-click style adventure with third-person platforming gameplay was not a bad concept to go with for Insecticide. The old-school PC adventure format is more than a little dated, and any efforts to offer a new twist to keep things fresh are certainly welcome. The problem is slapping two or more very different genres together haphazardly can lead to a lack of cohesion. It’s a flaw Episode 1 doesn’t escape, despite a very strong setting and interesting characters that draw players into the plot – two crucial elements that save the day in the end.
Insecticide injects a touch of humor into the archetypal, gloomy, detective crime noir tale, by dropping players into a world filled with talking bugs. There are no humans to be found in this mystery adventure where puns flow freely like a freshly tapped keg of Nectarola. Set in the cruddy, industrial city of Troi, the story follows Chrys Liszt – the lone female on a small, quirky detective force made up of fellow insects – and her partner, Roachy Caruthers, as they’re tracking down the parties responsible for an apparent murder at the nearby Nectarola soda factory. Between interrogating witnesses, chasing down suspects, putting clues together, cracking jokes, and blasting anyone who gets in their way, the two make a solid sleuthing duo in this stylish, anthropomorphic action-adventure.
It’s difficult to determine whether the game is primarily an adventure title or an action-platformer; it’s neither, and it’s both. The gameplay meshes it all together, switching back-and-forth between classic exploration with point-and-click elements and fast-paced shooting action from a third-person perspective. The adventure stages let you move around to examine for clues and interrogate witnesses in a reasonably contained area. As you encounter hotspot areas, the camera can be changed to a more traditional static scene where the mouse is used to interact with objects and use items from your inventory. Solving most of the puzzles is a matter of finding the right item and using it on the proper spot. Interrogations bring up dialogue trees to select from to gain information and occasionally uncover evidence. Overall, these portions of the game are nicely done, and the only annoyance is an inability to skip through dialogue – you’ll end up talking to the same people over and over again, while trying to figure out where the next clue is.
In contrast, the platform levels are solely about jumping, climbing, and blasting through the gritty 3D cityscape of Troi. For a short time, these sections really provide a nice respite from the slower, meticulous adventure stages. Unfortunately, the majority of these levels focus on chasing one of several suspects high and low. All of the enemies you’ll encounter in these portions of the game are typically clones of whatever villain you’re pursuing. The lack of variety is very noticeable.
Like clockwork, almost every level alternates between the two play modes. The gameplay begins to feel too formulaic, only a few stages into the game. With a little more attention on how the very distinctly different components are integrated, the transitions from one to the other could have been more seamless. Instead, they come across as almost two completely different games duct-taped together. It would have been nice to see some of the adventure game elements worked into the platform levels and vice versa.
The basic point-and-click controls for the adventure portions are reasonably intuitive; they’re about what you’d expect. Interestingly, navigating Liszt through all areas of the game is done with a combination of keyboard and mouse controls. The WASD keys handle movement, while camera angles, aiming, and physical actions are done with the mouse. The left mouse button fires weapons during the platform levels, the right mouse button makes Liszt jump, and the mouse wheel switches between weapons – albeit a little too slowly. Weapons are disabled during adventure levels. Tapping the space bar at a hotspot will zoom into the area and switch to a mouse pointer interface for interacting with the scenery.
Insecticide’s saving grace is the obviously high volume of TLC Crackpot Entertainment poured into the characters, setting, and gameplay environments. The game’s dark, ominous vibe contrasts pleasantly with the frequent gags and humor scattered throughout. From the lead characters to the peripheral players, the bugs are quirky and likeable. Their funny dialogue is entertaining, and all the voice work is of a surprisingly high quality. The art direction is easily one of the game’s more appealing aspects. All the levels are sharp, packed with detail. There’s only one fly in the ointment: some animated cut-scenes in the game are highly compressed, making the reduced audio quality and spotty visuals of these brief moments stick out like a sore thumb – particularly in comparison to the polish found in every other facet of the game’s visuals and audio.
Offering only a few meager hours of gameplay, it’s hard to understand why Episode 1 was not released in conjunction with the second half. It’s an extremely short experience that drops players off at a somewhat baffling spot in the adventure. The quality of the characters and gritty charm of the seedy underbelly of Troi is enough to keep players engaged when the gameplay wears thin, but we’ll have to wait until the arrival of Episode 2 for the final verdict. Up to this point, it appears Insecticide is a reasonably good game unnecessarily sliced in twain.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
This game exudes style from every pore. 3.8 Control
The mouse and keyboard combo can be a little awkward at first, but it’s a tight setup once you get used to it. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Moody tunes and excellent voice acting hike up the quality. 2.9 Play Value
It’s simply too short, and the platforming and adventure elements don’t mesh as cohesively as they should. 3.9 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.