Runaway: A Road Adventure

2001 Pendulo Studios
Designed by Ramón Hernáez, Rafael Latiegui, Felipe Gómez Pinilla
Reviewed 2004 March 30

Rating +2 Linearity narrow, segmented
Reasonability sporadic Connectivity high
Difficulty pedestrian Relevance strong
Interface 3rd paned simple Real-time none

You are Brian, heading from New York to Berkeley to start a doctorate program. As you head out, you literally run into Gina, and take her to the hospital. She was fleeing gangsters, and has a mysterious artifact, an old cross. You run across the USA, fleeing the thugs and seeking the secret of the cross.

At heart it's a simple story, but it plays out nicely. There are six chapters, and the plot develops smoothly throughout, not just as info-dumps between them. The tone is more fun than funny. There are few, if any, laugh-out-loud lines, but there's a lot of gentle amusement in the characterisations and scenarios.

There's a lot of characters, and they're well developed. They're not deep, but they have personality: they're more than just plot devices, and most are more than just clichés. For example, there's one unintelligent character; while he's simple minded, he's not portrayed as stupid.

The structure of the challenges was very good. There's a lot to do. For the most part (most chapters), the game was linear, but the scope was usually wide, so you didn't feel like you were on rails. There were also a lot of triggers involved in trivial activity, breaking up the linearity of the challenges.

That latter, however, leads to one of the problems of the design. Often times you couldn't pick up an object (either Brian refused, it wasn't active, or sometimes not even visible) because you had no story reason for doing so. The device can be sometimes tedious, forcing you to run back and forth to pick stuff up, but it makes sense. However, Runaway was inconsistent in this: often you could pick up stuff before you had any story reason. It was more glaring than annoying, since there wasn't that much running around. (Except for one bit where you had to fill up a tank of water: you had to repeat the procedure four more times, running across many screens. What were they thinking?)

The individual challenges were generally easy, and any difficulty was due mostly to the silliness of the challenge. Sometimes they were poorly motivated, where the required action had no reasonable expectation of useful reward. If you're stuck, do what you can, don't worry about why. Sometimes the actions and results depended upon a cartoon surrealism that ran against the tone of the game: i.e., a Loony Tunes / Toonstruck reality, versus the Jonny Quest / Broken Sword reality portrayed by the game. If you find yourself stuck, think like Bugs. Gravity only exists if you acknowledge it.

The interface was very well done, both presentation and control. The graphics were pretty, the character sprites were well done, the voice acting was okay. And I liked the theme song. Inventory worked well, with no elaborate flash or heavy control. The save game interface was right: apparently unlimited slots, showing both a picture and user text descriptions. Why do so few games get these right?

The one problem with the presentation was focus, or pixel hunting. A few objects appeared too small, but the main problems were poor highlighting and poor distinction. E.g., a black object on a grey background, or one visually distinct object in a screen full of dozens of distinct non-active objects. You have to pour over each screen, and move Brian around to see what's behind him.

Runaway has a lot to recommend it: a fun story, good characters, a good look and feel, good play structure, and a lot to do. It's also very flawed, with silly challenges and poor focus. If you can get yourself into a patient frame of mind, ready for pixel hunting and exhaustive play, or if you don't mind playing with a walkthrough in hand, then you will probably enjoy Runaway.

Beware! Here are some spoiler-ridden notes on the game. They're only recommended for people who have played the game and want to see some of my rationale for my evaluations.
David Tanguay's Game Reviews
Here's a description of all the gobbledygook in these reviews. It's also a bit of an essay on the nature of adventure games.