Time traveling point and click adventure The Perils of Man has its moments but never truly delivers, says Bee Bonthuys
The Perils of Man is similar to buying a puppy from the back of a van. It’s cute, it’s fluffy and crying out for your attention, but you’re just not wholly convinced. That little bundle of joy feels a tad bit off; maybe it’s the creepy way it keeps eyeing your new leather sofa…
The Perils of Man (definite article included, despite what the Steam description says) is a point-and-click from 2014 founded Swiss developer IF Games, a re-release of their chaptered title for iOS. Its story is one of genius, consequence and family – more specifically the Eberling family, a brilliant Swedish dynasty ‘cursed’ by having a succession of patriarchs disappear under mysterious circumstances.
In this sometimes Burton-esque tale (Vincent Price voiceover and curlicues included), players take the role of young Ana Eberling, a teenager gnawing at the strangling short leash her overprotective mother has her on. The adventure begins when our heroine receives an odd gift from her missing father on her birthday: an opaque glass tube. This unassuming object will lead her and the player on a time-hopping escapade – though a rather sedate one.
Most adventure games rise and sink on the personality of their main cast. Monkey Island would be a whole lot less entertaining without Guybrush and Elaine, for instance. The Perils of Man treats us to a mother who communes with the dead sans Ouija board, an eccentric uncle trapped in an asylum somewhere in the future, and even a psychotic monkey cameo – each of whom easily overshadows the rather bland main protagonist. Ana’s tale of paternal childhood abandonment is as clichéd as they come: at one point I swore she was about to complain about not being allowed to go to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters.
Such difficulties in relatability are compounded by the cardboard delivery of the English-language script, especially in the cases of Ana’s Daria-inspired 90s drawl of teenage disinterest and her mother’s over-acted 1920s British aristocratic twang. While the rest of the English cast is decent, with Brian Jack and Matt Chapman delivering admirable performances as Ana’s animatronic bird sidekick Darwin and her great, great, great uncle Thomas, I’d recommend switching to the superior German voice acting with English subtitles; Ana’s lines gain much needed life and warmth when spoken by German actress Christiane Werk.
Yet while the mediocre English voice acting can be somewhat salvaged with a quick settings change, the same cannot be said for the game’s basic puzzle mechanics. The problems with these are best exemplified in the ‘Risk Atlas’: a pair of steampunk goggles which reveal potential risks in the environment. This flaunted gadget does what it says on the tin and nothing more; the developers never really apply its gameplay potential in a creative manner. It’s a bonafide Staedtler Highlighter of Doom, as mediocre as that sounds, and an apt metaphor for what lies in wait for players.
The absurdity and flawed logic creeps up on the player in stages. For the first half of the game, the puzzles are interesting, most leading only to a nominal amount of head-scratching; an intuitive diorama puzzle early in the game is the star here. But when the story story meanders to its rather long and arduous theatre section? That’s when you might feel the need to chew off a limb. An Important object that can only be found through near OCD levels of pixel hunting, vague nonsensical wording from Ana on how to proceed, and on-screen visuals that never sync up with what the puzzle requires – these are just some of the unintentional obstacles you can expect to encounter. These puzzles aren’t fiendish as much as they are ludicrous. And don’t expect much aid from the in-game help system: it’s not context sensitive and spouts nebulous hints that can be applicable to any number of past or future puzzles, ironically adding to the confusion.
After that theatre section, the adventure never pulls itself back on track, repeating puzzles and similar uncreative solutions involving the same object. And the inability to really effect the sometimes baffling plot in any substantial way makes the player feel like they are simply along for the ride as it creeps forward, rather than in the driving seat. When the ending finally dawns, I guarantee you’ll find yourself asking “That’s IT!?” What’s more surprising, and disappointing, is that this heap of gaming no-nos comes courtesy of a number of adventuring gaming vets, like LucasArts alumnus Ben Tiller (The Curse of Monkey Island) and Gene Mocsy (A Vampyre Story). Their years of combined experience are oddly missing here.
The Perils of Man certainly promises a lot in its opening moments, and you can feel there is love poured into this project by IF Games. One can’t fault their ambition for wanting to tell a tale of massive proportions with high-brow themes. But in this case, unfortunately, their reach exceeds their grasp, and the game never truly delivers the time-traveling morality tale we expect. While certain sections may have you glued to your mouse awaiting the next cutscene, its deficiencies – besides frustrating you – will make you pine for what might have been.