Game Review: Resonance
A characteristic most often attributed to the indie game is the marked attention to an artistic element in the title. Limbo removed the barrier between art and game by using the fantastical tropes of popular gaming to encourage thought about the after-life. Braid had a terrifically post-modern aesthetic that formed a pastiche from the rich gaming culture of the past thirty years in order to explore how a gamer responds to a game. While Journey was almost Tolkien with its unique take on the journey motif and the fellowship involved with that.
However, the indie game can be also a homage to gaming genres past, but often with an individual twist. Fez is all platformer, with an interesting rotational mechanic, but its graphical capacity shows that it is unashamedly proud of its low budget and the simple heritage that its genre comes from. And this is what is so smashingly enduring about Resonance, in that it takes total solace in its embracing of the classic adventure genre, but uses this platform to raise the realms of thrilling narrative to what can only be described as a thought provoking conclusion.
Set in the fictional Aventine City of America, the player takes control of four different characters: Ed, Anna, Officer Bennet and Ray. After a series of explosions across the globe, the plot revolves around the death of Ed’s boss and friend, the theoretical physician Dr. Morales. Morales anticipates his own death, and explains at the beginning of the game that he fears someone is after his life’s research: the titular Resonance. As explained kindly by Ed in Layman’s terms, this science involves the separation of electrons which are then snapped back into place: creating a mass of energy depending on the distance of the separation. This research was intended as a renewable source of green energy, but Ed and Dr. Morales become concerned this could be weaponised and create world-wide destruction. And this is all in the first ten minutes, so if you are troubled that I am beginning to spoil the story, I’m actually only simplifying the brilliantly convoluted premise. Resonance is much like the Inception of gaming.
The game then, involves controlling simultaneously one of the four central characters in order to unveil the legacy left behind in Dr. Morales’ death, and each characters involvement in that legacy. This is done by clicking, reading, listening, talking and pushing things until you can make sense of a given situation. It is an adventure game whole-heartedly, with its entire play mechanic based around responding to inventory items, information you’ve received and figuring out how these things work together to progress the objectives required for the story. This challenges brain muscles you probably thought you never had, with certain moments in the game requiring incredible patience and ‘thinking outside the box’ momentum. This brilliant basis on thinking is at once Resonance’s greatest achievement, and it’s ultimate flaw. While at times the sense of success found in solving a certain section is encouraging, it is unfortunately undermined often by sloppy design.
On several occasions I found myself, minor stupidity aside, totally perplexed by a certain situation and how the various tools of solving interacted with it in order to progress. For example, when trying to find the blueprints to a secret vault found in Morales lab, a recalibration trick which results in the player accessing restricted files left me dumb struck. After sacrificing my self-respect and consulting a forum, I found a way to progress, but it left me flabbergasted at how the game left little to no hint at how to solve this particular puzzle. Perhaps this challenging feature has gone over my head, but with a game as difficult at times as Resonance, it becomes a major problem when a player is left belittled and confused by a lack of clarity in its design.
This is a shame really, because what Resonance does well, it does really well. There is an incredibly fulfilling story that uses the adventure form and linear plot to find an interesting thematic structure in each of the individual four characters. Through Bennet and Ray, we find the issue of morality in policing and journalism. In Ed, the question of technological power and its responsibility is raised. While in the absurd monster scenes with Anna, the relationship between a parent and child is addressed, and its many complexities.
As well as its grand narrative, it also features a very smooth presentation of visuals that in its simplicity and robustness offers a gritty portrait of urban realism. This contributes nicely to the smaller-than-life characters, who explore the rough streets, public hospitals and police stations as everymen figures. They try to make sense of the bigger picture, and bigger issues of the world around them, which is a key theme throughout the game. Similarly the music, while nothing remarkable, offers an immersion into this urban environment that nicely compliments the sense of mystery experienced in the adventure. It is also quite deliberately, mind-murderingly dull at times, as you will notice with the hospital and office based objectives. Which is brilliant, because the exaggerated monotony in the work place of day-to-day life both shows the sense of humour in Resonance, and again demonstrates Wadjet Eye’s ability to craft a convincing world.
Therefore, it’s a sad conclusion that the brilliantly realised world, and incredible narrative of Resonance is so undermined by its too often poor design: which from my experiences, proved to be a major problem for the game. It’s worth your money if you are willing to persevere, and the story alone is an impressively told and defining attribute to the game. However, the majority of gamers will simply not have enough patience to carry on and see how the plot fulfills itself.