Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Straandlooper Animation
System requirements: Windows XP/Vista/Win 7, 1.8 GHz Pentium IV or equivalent CPU, 256 MB graphics card, 2 GB RAM, DirectX 9.0c
ESRB rating: Not rated
Release date: Available now
The reason why no one should ever negotiate with terrorists is because once you’re in such a situation, you can’t possibly win. The only reasonable course of action is to immediately cut your losses. Yes, there will be losses, and you must come to terms with the fact that they are unavoidable. The moment you falter and try do to damage control, they will grow. Moreover, you’ll be lucky if there’s only linear or logarithmic growth, since chances are you’ll find yourself facing exponential escalation. Coincidentally, the same advice applies in situations that involve girlfriends, but that’s of no concern to Det. Insp. Hector, since he doesn’t have one. What he does have is a cop job in the worst city ever, along with a hostage crisis on his hands. If it was up to him, he’d go back to bed, but the higher-ups insist on negotiating.
Hector: Badge of Carnage is a new adventure-game series available on multiple platforms. At the moment, only Episode 1: We Negotiate With Terrorists is available, but you can look forward to Episode 2: Senseless Acts of Justice and Episode 3: Beyond Reasonable Doom sometime this fall. As one would expect, the first installment sets the mood and introduces the protagonist. Enter the titular inspector—a man of many words (mostly profane), poor moral character (by today’s standards), and also quite fat (although not as portly as some of the personages he encounters). After a terrorist boards himself inside a building with hostages and snipes every police negotiator, the chief of police has no choice but to send for Hector, his last resort. The game begins with Hector waking up in a holding cell. He’s not under arrest, he just lives there. Of note is the fact that his pants are missing, which is the first puzzle you try to figure out.
Hector plays just like any adventure game. You can interact with certain objects on the screen, while some can be picked up and then used on other inventory items or on the surroundings. Hector is pretty good about describing each and every item on the screen, with most of these descriptions being included just for laughs. To have him comment on something, click on it once. If you want to interact with it, click twice. That’s about it so far as the controls go. The game does an excellent job of introducing new players to the mechanics, and while I didn’t require any hand-holding, those who do will find it very user friendly. There’s no separate tutorial, but the initial moments welcome newcomers to the genre in a way both unobtrusive and non-demeaning. Unlike some tutorials, this one doesn’t assume you’re an imbecile; it just quickly tells you what’s what and leaves you alone.
Back in the day, when Avault used to rate games on “Intelligence & Difficulty” (among other things), I’d have given this game two and a half stars in that category (yes, we did half-stars back then). The reason I feel that way is because the game is both very easy and logical. Perhaps it’s so easy because it’s logical. At no point did I feel confused about what my immediate or long-term goals were. Each item made sense, each character’s conversation offered clear instructions, and if I didn’t tarry just to explore every single line of dialogue, as well as to hear every item’s description, I’d have finished the game in half the amount of time it took me. I’m even reluctant to refer to the game’s challenges as “puzzles,” because there was nothing at all puzzling about them. To me they felt more like a series of tasks. Some might say that me being a veteran adventure gamer would have something to do with this, but very few people should have any trouble finishing this game. But if you are stumped, there are multiple levels of hints available, which range from suggestions offered by another character, to actual directions, to a step-by-step walkthrough of the game. I can’t imagine anyone needing this feature, though.
On a technical level Hector is not very likely to win any awards. The art is nicely stylized, but each screen feels very static, with only a few key elements being animated (and sometimes none at all.) A few of the animations are broken. For example, I once saw Hector approach a door while walking backwards, and at one point his pants briefly appeared on him before he actually found them. A couple of times I was faced with game-stopping bugs that caused me to lose control of the application, so I had to shut it down from Windows Task Manager to restart it. I was able to replicate the bugs, which occur in different places in the game, but the good news is that they go away a bit after you progress through the story. Since the game is very short, these issues really stood out at me, so perhaps a bit more QA is in order.
Earlier I mentioned reading through all lines of dialogue and listening to all descriptions. This is because the game goes out of its way to make you laugh. I mean it really, really tries. Everything you see, hear or read contains some kind of pun. A lot of them can be funny, especially if you’re into the cruder aspects of humor. Some fall flat, but that’s not necessarily a problem. With so many jokes, it’s unreasonable to expect all of them to hit the mark. I found Hector: Badge of Carnage Episode 1 to be a nice little game. The humor and art are quite enjoyable, but the lack of difficulty (and consequently the length) didn’t work out for me. If you don’t mind the absence of challenge, Hector will probably give you $10’s worth of entertainment.