When i first heard about Wadjet Eye Games’ and Wormwood Studios’ point and click adventure game Primordia, I was hooked. A dystopian future? Yes. A robo-apocalypse? Yes. A diesel-punk setting? Yes, oh yes. But where Primordia excels with its narrative and characters, it’s ultimately weighed down by its clunky interface and cumbersome puzzles. Still, Primordia‘s story is unique and compelling, and worth a look, if not for the mechanics, then for the dialogue and themes.
There’s no doubt about it, Primordia‘s heart is in its story. Like most stories, it starts off simple: with Horatio Nullbuilt (v5) and his hovering sidekick Crispin, two junkyard scavenging robots not doing much of anything in their wasteland home. That is, until an attacker destroys their abode, paralyzes Horatio, and steals his life-sustaining power core. This kicks off a series of events that lead Horatio and Crispin through danger, conspiracy, and mystery: from the wastelands of the Dunes, to the city of Metropol, and ultimately to the origin of robots and the “truth” behind the “legend of Man.” It’s how Horatio and Crispin play off of each other, and who and what they encounter, that makes Primordia work so well.
Horatio isn’t your typical hero. In fact, he’s not really a hero at all. He’s not looking to save a princess or protect the innocent, or anything remotely altruistic. In fact, his entire quest is selfish – he just wants what’s his, his power core. While that is completely justifiable, it doesn’t set him on the same bar as other heroes, like say Halo‘s Master Chief or The Walking Dead‘s Lee Everett, at least not initially. It’s how he develops as a hero by being thrown into this plot that evolves him, through accident or design, into a stronger protagonist.
Then you have Crispin, his perfect foil, a witty and sarcastic aide who questions every action and query Horatio has with humorous asides. Crispin also serves as the game’s hint system, but expect a lot more jokes than guidance. This is okay, though, because his digressions and asides serve to balance the game’s gravity with some much needed levity. He plays much the same role as Borderlands‘ Claptrap, but without feeling like a carbon copy. He even makes a reference to a rap song that made me laugh every time I heard it. Crispin definitely adds some personality to Primordia, and his constant quest for a pair of arms gave me some much need laughs between frustrating puzzles.
This is where even Crispin’s knowledge of pop culture can’t save Primordia from: it’s puzzles.
Primordia‘ flaws all tie in together, sort of like the puzzles Horatio needs to solve. If you’ve ever played a point and click adventure game, then you know solving puzzles is the only way to progress. The challenge is trying to figure out which two (or three, or four) items can be used together to produce a solution. But between Primordia‘s low-res graphics and brown, muddy colors, it makes finding what you need even more difficult. And with a less-than-intuitive inventory system that feels about as rigorous as renaming all the files in your computer one by one, this makes puzzle-solving feel like more of chore than it needs to be.
Far too often this point and click adventure becomes a point and click everywhere adventure. Players may think that they have picked an area clean, but in reality, the item you need is still there, hidden and sandwiched in-between a whole bunch of “junk.” It could be argued that this is the nature of point and click adventure games, and to that, I could agree: this does happen a lot in this genre. But there’s a certain degree of difficulty that comes from the challenge of a clever puzzle, and another that comes from frustrating level design and odd choices.
Far too often you have scenarios where you click on two items to combine them, only to hear Horatio say they won’t work. But click on them in the other order, and they do. Or, the items don’t work when you first try to combine them, but if you right-click one–which normally has Horatio describe it–he makes an observation that leads you to combine the items in a way you were trying to do in the first place. Even worse, you may have already right-clicked it previously, so to do it again–instead of Horatio remembering the item–it feels repetitive. Or in one particular case, I sent Crispin to check something out, and it led him to find an item on the other side of the area. Later I was stumped looking for something, only to find that I had to send Crispin again to the same place I first clicked, where he found what I needed in that particular spot.
And sometimes the logic behind the solution of a puzzle–and what items you need to combine–are so baffling that you’re left scratching your head even after you accidentally figured it out. All of this is compounded by the inventory screen, which you practically have to go in and out of constantly to do much of anything in the game. With how often players need to enter the screen, it’s a surprise a drop-down menu wasn’t considered just for the inventory like it was for the regular menu.
Primordia‘s dated mechanics also apply to the dialogue, occasionally. If Horatio acquires an item he needs to extend dialogue with a character, he still has to go inside of the inventory screen to select it and apply it to the character, instead of it just coming up naturally through conversation. It may be a nitpick, but it’s something that has become standard in most games in and out of the genre, and makes Primordia feel like its moving at a slower pace than it should.
What makes an otherwise small nuisance more frustrating is how often you have to do puzzles to get through the game. Sometimes it feels like to move five feet in Primordia’s Metropol City, Horatio has to complete several fetch-quests, interact with several characters, and barter or trade several items. This can pull players out of the experience, removing the veil that makes them feel like they’re in a game, and more like a person trying to make it through a game. And often these fetch quests feel more like a matter of padding than necessity, but to Primordia‘s credit, later quests do serve to add personality and character to the narrative rather than superficially extend it.
Overall, Primordia does reward more than it punishes. The scenarios and characters Horatio and Crispin encounter are all truly amusing or engrossing: the voice-acting is quite superb, and you can tell that every aspect of this world has been meticulously thought out. Many of the characters and situations connect in interesting ways and by the time players reach Metropol, they’ll definitely be compelled to keep going, if not for the puzzles, then for the story and the multiple endings. It’s just the getting there part that may be difficult at times.
Primordia is not a bad game. It’s a good game with a good story that just happens to have some average puzzle elements. But if you want a good adventure with amazing characters, Primordia is worth it.
Just be a little patient.