Indiegamer: Primordia - A Sublime, Philosophical, Retro, Cyberpunk Point-and-Click Adventure
$19.99/9.99 (Physical or Digital Copy, respectively)
Every so often, a game flying well below the radar picks up your attention in a strange sort of way. Like a “Hey that looks cool, but I'm not sure I'd be into it,” sort of way, that you later find out is completely and utterly wrong – for all the right reasons.
The fact is, that Primordia was that kind of game for me, BUT, I was totally into it. And I think any gamer who fondly recalls point and click adventures, such as 'The Curse of Monkey Island' starring the infamous Guybrush Threepwood, will take right to this charming adventure without missing a beat. What they will miss is ALL of their free time – because believe me; it goes away quicker than the flicker of a robotic eye.
The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, where humanity has long died out, and all that remains is their legacy; their creations. After thousands of years, machine are the sole entities that remain to even indicate that man ever existed; and even machines know very little of what humanity was, revering them with religious-like fervor, and believing “Man” to be the first, and ultimately the 'perfect' machine from which all other, progressively less perfect machines descend. Anyone who has ever even taken some basic courses in Greek philosophy will recognize immediately that this overarching plot contains some seriously metaphysical and existential stuff – showing the developer's commitment to a well fleshed out, and persistent world.
You play as Horatio Nullbuilt Version Five, and his best (and only) friend Crispin Horatiobuilt. Horatio has lived as a hermit in the dunes for as long as he can remember, which may be a very long, or a very shot amount of time – the player isn't initially clued in to Horatio's time spent in his current form . As his name might suggest, he has been “rebuilt” four other times, and the memories and experiences of those incarnations of Horatio are lost to him. As one might expect, his foggy past unravels as the story progresses; but the plot is too good to spoil even a little bit here.
Crispin is a smart-talking, floating robot without arms, a trait which he makes known A LOT. He can be downright comedic from time to time. I found their dialogues very akin to how my best friend and I talk to each other; one a stoic, serious intellectual, while the other is a walking repository of wise-cracks and back-handed compliments (and I won't go into detail about which one is me.) But Crispin serves a functional purpose for Horatio as well – he can reach things Horatio can't, primarily. But also, when you're feeling a bit stuck, Crispin reminds you of critical objectives, and inserts clues and hints as to how to tackle the task at hand. It doesn't feel forced or 'easy' – rather, it feels much like a natural dialogue between two good friends.
The game starts off innocuously enough – with Horatio trying to jumpstart a grounded and broken space ship (called the UNNIC) in the middle of the apocalyptic wasteland known only as “The Dunes.” Unfortunately their plan is foiled when a big, mean robot bursts into the ship, shoots Horatio and takes the power core. Horatio survives the endeavor but is left almost powerless, and in order to recharge, he needs to find a way to get the back-up generator running. That involves finding power cables, a plasma torch, a couple conduits and a spark plug littered about the derelict ship and the Dunes.
One thing leads to another and Horatio and Crispin find themselves in all sorts of compromising places. For example, inside the belly of a defunct, (presumably insane or 'fragmented')giant talking robot named 'Goliath Manbuilt' who
calls Horatio his ancient adversary “Horus.” Or conversing with a zealous monk-robot who test's Horatio's dedication to “The Gospel of Man” while guarding a “holy relic” that looks suspiciously like a bomb.
Quickly thereafter, our two robotic heroes find themselves on a (somewhat) reluctant journey to, and through the dystopic robot mega-city of Metropol to uncover the mysteries of Horatio's past and to get the UNNIC up and running The story framework is highly regular; but it's the culture, the time, the effort and the dedication to a new, living, breathing universe that drives the story. The environments are beautifully detailed, and the characters feel incredibly, and ironically, human – each with goals and flaws. It's more than just an engaging point and click game, it's a storytelling masterpiece.
The game opens up once you get to Metropol. The city is bristling with activity, unique robots and AIs to talk to, gadgetry to explore, things to touch and interact with an an entire mechanical ecosystem that boasts a whole lot of background lore, storytelling expertise and a well developed puzzles. As the two robots delve deeper and deeper into Metropol, the mystery of "What happened to Man" becomes more prevalent, and their trip to the city to find a power core for the UNNIC quickly becomes something much more sinister as Horatio learns more and more about his previous versions, and about the nature of what Man really was.
Anyone whose ever played a point and click game knows how it goes. There are a bunch of things to interact with in the environment, either to pick them up, or manipulate something else. Many things appear useless at first, but can be combined with other items in your inventory to make them useful in some way. For example, at one point I had to find a mechanism to clog a really big Robot's nose. So, I managed to cut off a giant metal finger to clog one nostril. But that wasn't enough – so I had to spend some time looking around for something that would do the trick. I found a rag, and under the UNNIC's leaky engine, a puddle of oil. Combining the two, I was able to make a sticky rag, and with the help of Crispin, plug the robot's other nostril.
The game's puzzles can be downright challenging, bordering sometimes on frustrating, but because of the nature of point and click games, you never feel like you lack time to figure it all out. If there was one thing that motivated me, it was the continuation of the story. I wanted to know everything about this fascinating world. Why did that big robot take the power core? What happened to humanity? Why does Horatio ostracize himself from the last bastion of civilized society? There are many, many questions that drive you to delve further and further into the cyberpunk depths of Metropol and the epic history of Horatio Nullbuilt v. 5.
I could go on for days about how the game looks fantastic, and it's simple throwback UI really accents it's cyberpunk theme. Or how the voice acting is top notch, or the musical score fits the game perfectly. I could pretty much literally talk for the rest of the day about how the story and atmosphere was more engaging than any science fiction movie, game or novel I have experienced in the past couple years, or how I felt attached to both Cripsin and Horatio on a deep and personal level. I could tell you all that, but it wouldn't matter until you actually PLAYED it. And I really urge you to – don't let this gem fly under your radar. Go out and buy this game. It will be the most enjoyable video game you play for a while, especially between the releases of big box games. It's well suited for casual gamers who enjoy a challenge, or even those bookish types (ahem, like me) who want nothing more than a good story. It was well worth my time, and I think it will be well worth yours as well.