Runaway: A Road Adventure

Developer:  Pendulo Studios
Publisher:  TriSynergy/Focus
Year Released:  2003

Review by Gordon Aplin (October, 2003)
Like many fans of traditional third-person perspective graphic adventures I was beginning to despair of ever seeing this game released in English. There are a couple of potential problems when delays of several years prevent a wide distribution of a game, the graphics can look dated as happened with Simon 3D, or the game can simply fail to live up to expectations caused by excessive anticipation. Fortunately Runaway suffers from neither of these problems and it is for the most part an enjoyable and eventful journey.

Running into trouble
It all starts off innocently enough when Brian Basco, a twenty-three year old physics student, is on his way from New York to Berkley in California to begin studying for his Phd. As fate would have it he makes a small detour to pick up a book and drives smack bang into trouble in the curvaceous form of Gina, a nightclub entertainer, who runs out of an alleyway straight in front of his car. She's not badly hurt but he takes her to hospital where she tells him a tale of mafia thugs killing her father for a mysterious crucifix. Before the event her father managed to slip the crucifix to her for safekeeping so now the thugs want to kill Gina too! Brian, being the responsible young man that he is, decides to stick around and help Gina to stay alive ... and ultimately to uncover the mystery of the crucifix.

It is a game played in chapters and each section begins with a relaxed-looking Brian narrating the story and accompanied by amusing cut scenes illustrating certain events. The individual chapters contain the traditional adventuring fare where you must help Brian overcome the obstacles to progress by exploring all the locations, talking to characters and working out how to use the items that you come across. One puzzle I had some fun with was of the elimination variety like a Master Mind game. Although more of an abstract puzzle it fitted the situation perfectly

Other puzzles are wacky so some mild stretches of the imagination are called for in putting wildly inappropriate items to good use. It's also important to listen to what the characters tell you and figure out what might persuade them to help because they don't always make explicit requests.

Walk, don't run
Although most of the puzzles are fairly straightforward one or two held me up for a while. There are plenty of things to do and think about, especially in the middle chapters. Brian will frequently offer hints but experienced adventurers will be ahead of him most of the time.

So this is one game where it pays to be methodical, intuitive leaps are fine but sometimes you can't do what you want until Brian gets the idea. This means that he may refuse to use or pick up an item at first but later on, when he sees the need for it, it's well worth returning to try it again. This potentially frustrating aspect is only an annoyance at the beginning, you'll get used to it very quickly. And if you read the manual it shouldn't catch you out at all. Also a couple of hard to spot items may slow you down occasionally though the changing cursor is a great help, as is the 'popping' sound it makes as it passes over potentially useful items.

Running around
As with most mouse controlled games navigation in Runaway is simple, just point to where you want Brian to go and click to make him walk there. He only has one walking pace and that's a bit on the slow side but you can 'jump' him to new locations by double clicking when the arrow appears. This feature and the use of maps in some chapters certainly speeds up gameplay.

The rest of the interface is just as easy to use. A magnifying glass cursor signifies something of interest, a hand cursor means you can interact with an item and a speech bubble lets you talk to other characters when a series of questions appear beneath the main screen. By right clicking you can cycle between these options. Your inventory is a bag that sits at the top of the screen along with an icon to access the save, load and quit menus as well as the graphic, sound and subtitle options. The inventory opens over the playing area and provides as many slots as you need and you can easily combine items. Brian appears in a window in the inventory and will sometimes disappear briefly as he rummages around carrying out your instructions. This is a nice, comical touch in keeping with the 'feel' of the game. If you take too long pondering over inventory items he'll lean out of the 'window' and bang on the scenery.

Runaway is a light-hearted romp with some genuinely humorous moments. I particularly appreciated Brian's comments to Sushi late in the game where he says he feels like he has been jerked around like a character in a computer game. Throughout the game there is also plenty of scope to pick up on some familiar references to other forms of entertainment. Priscilla: Queen of the Desert is obvious, as is Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but others such as 'Trantor' from Asimov's Foundation Trilogy are there as well. You might find more. And there are some dark moments, too, when innocent characters are killed by the thugs that are chasing after Gina, as well as some scenes of drug use. The latter are mild, and comical of course, but I mention them just in case. I do know that lots of adventurers play these games along with young children.

My biggest disappointment was that Gina had no real role other than to look appealing and need rescuing. The opportunity to provide her with a real role like Nico in the Broken Sword games or even Grace in Gabriel Knight is sadly overlooked. So don't be fooled. Gina features on the box cover just to look pretty, not to signal that she's an important actor in this story.

A run for your money
The graphics are excellent and run in 1024x768 resolution They are very clear, colourful and detailed with some suitably crazy characters, though the cut scenes are just a bit on the blurry side. Some of the cut scenes are also a little long-winded and I found myself getting impatient at times, especially in the last chapter, but overall they work well to move the story along. The music is very well done and the voice acting in the English version is uniformly good.

Runaway comes on three CDs and you must always start the game with disk one in the CD drive, which can be annoying if you only have one drive. Fortunately I have two drives so it was no problem for me to keep disk one always in one drive.

See the Runaway walkthrough. rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2003. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Win 95/98/2000/ME/XP, Pentium 200 MMX (PII 233 recommended) 64MB RAM (128 recommended) DirectX compatible Graphics card with support for 1024x768, 16Bit colour. 8xCD ROM (24x recommended)