Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fright of the Bumblebees Review

Fright of the Bumblebees is the first episode of Telltale's new episodic series based on the misadventures of the inventor Wallace and his faithful dog Gromit. Telltale is quickly becoming the number one developer of licensed games. They now have games for five very different licensed properties (Bone, Sam & Max, CSI, Homestar Runner, and now Wallace & Gromit), and they have managed to bring out the strengths in each property, which brings a slightly unique gaming experience to each of their games.

The humour in Wallace & Gromit is much more subdued than in Sam & Max and Homestar Runner, and even more so than Bone. Much of the comedy in the Wallace & Gromit films comes through facial expressions. The expressions and movements of the characters in the Telltale Tool have seemed kind of wooden in previous installments, so I was worried if Telltale's engine could handle it. Thankfully, the movements and expressions are just as expressive in Fright of the Bumblebees as they are in the films. This game is the best looking game Telltale has released to date, and it comes with slightly higher system requirements. I am using an older Radeon on a computer with only 512MB of RAM. I encountered graphical glitches when I first played the game, but this was remedied by playing the game as soon as I started my computer with nothing else running, and playing on the lowest graphic setting in the options menu.

In order to set up a more cinematic framing of characters, Telltale has changed the traditional control scheme of pointing and clicking with a mouse, to a control scheme that gives players direct control of the characters. There are three options available for control on the PC. The default option is using a keyboard and mouse. The arrow keys (or WASD) on the keyboard controls the character, and the mouse selects a hotspot. The next option is to use just the keyboard, and play similar to how LucasArts' last two adventure games, Grim Fandango and Escape from Monkey Island, played. The third option is using a gamepad, but only Logitech and corded Microsoft Xbox 360 controllers are supported. My gamepad wasn't supported, so I could only play the game with a keyboard and mouse, but I found this option very comfortable and easy to use.

The plot of this first episode follows the Wallace & Gromit formula to a tee. Wallace has just invented a machine that will harvest honey from bees in a mechanical hive. He starts a new business, "From Bee to You", to sell honey to the residents of his town. Of course, Wallace being Wallace, things don't go exactly as planned.

Both Wallace and Gromit are playable at different points in the game. Wallace talks a lot more than he ever did in the films, as he comments on everything that is clickable. Gromit doesn't talk at all, but he will make facial expressions when you click on clickable items. I have always enjoyed Gromit's expressions in the film, so I found myself clicking on different objects as Gromit just to see how he would react.

The music is once again wonderfully composed by Jared Emerson-Johnson. The Wallace & Gromit theme is present, of course, but there is an all new arrangement used in the game. The other music is completely new, and fits the series perfectly. Andrew Langley and Jared Emerson-Johnson worked to add a engine controlled music changing feature to the Telltale Tool. This can be experienced while in the town square. The music will change as the character walks around. It helps add to the cinematic feel of the game.

The voices are well done as well. Wallace isn't voiced by his regular actor, Peter Sallis, but instead is voiced by Aardman Animation's official back up voice actor who has done the role before for merchandise and television commercials. The change in actors is slightly noticable, but if I hadn't known it wasn't Peter Sallis I would never had guessed. The voice is slightly deeper, so I would probably have thought the change in tone was due to Peter Sallis' age much like Mel Blanc in his later years. The voice really is that close. The other voices are well done as well, and are all performed by British actors. I particularly enjoyed the voice of the woman who ran the news stand.

If the game can be faulted for anything, it would have to be the lack of separate volume controls for voice and music. I started the game without subtitles, but had to turn them on since the music seemed to drown out the speech. I couldn't understand what the characters were saying at times. Telltale stated on their forum after the feedback of the demo that they are looking into this issue. I hope it is rectified by the second episode, as it slightly detracts from an otherwise excellent gaming experience.

Fans of the films will enjoy this episode. It is Telltale's most cinematic adventure to date, and captures the look and feel of the Wallace & Gromit films perfectly. The control scheme will take most gamers some time to get used to, but with three options for control it should please everyone except those most resistant to change. The lack of separate volume controls for voice and music is certainly a bummer, but with subtitles on it shouldn't prove too much of a nuisance. If Telltale can keep up this level of quality and fix the volume control problem, they'll have a real winner on their hands with this series.

Final Verdict:

4 out of 5

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