Calling your game The Next Big Thing, is one hell of a boast. This goes double when that game falls into the adventure genre. Now, I am someone who loves a good adventure game, but even I wouldn’t be able to make that claim with a straight face.
But does it deliver?
You can’t accuse The Next Big Thing of not trying. From the moment the game begins, you are treated to some downright beautiful visuals. The cutscenes are fluid and cartoon-like, and though the voice acting is somewhat hit or miss, they do their job acceptably. The quality of these scenes, however, is somewhat of a double edged sword. By the time the intro has finished, I was expecting a game with the fluid animations of some of the more old school games. Actually, if I’m honest, the cutscenes tricked me into thinking I’d be getting something with animations as smooth as Dragon’s Lair.
But I didn’t. One the game gives you control, the Next Big Thing is quite robotic. The actual art manages to maintain the same tone as the cutscenes, but the fluidity is gone. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if it didn’t make it readily apparent that a lot of The Next Big Thing’s charm is reliant on the characters being able to emote.
Oddly, it is the protagonists that suffer from this problem most – the people that should be most fleshed out by merit of their position as, well, protagonists. Liz Allaire, upcoming journalist, and Dan Murray, a demoted sports journalist, are very much Marmite characters. Liz comes off worse than Dan, her supposed “weirdness” depicted by an addiction to non-sequiters, which in turn leads to an overuse of the term “dis…concerting”. She’s annoying in general, in fact, with a voice so high pitched as to make me physically wince whenever she speaks.
That said, their slight blandness isn’t enough to turn me off the game. Adventure games have had their fair share of bland protagonists, and they can still make it work if the humour and story are right. The Next Big Thing knows this, and has tried to sell itself on the quality of its humour above almost all else. Now, humour is relative, but I will happily go on record in saying that The Next Big Thing isn’t as funny as it thinks it is. Part of this failure comes from the delivery – anything Liz says will fail to be funny purely because of her irritating character – but a great deal comes from the style of comedy they have opted for. It is, for the most part, simplistic and overdone, often falling flat by merit of its egregious nature. This is most annoying because, at its core, it has the potential to be quite funny at times, but it is spoiled by the reliance on jokes that don’t quite seem to fit.
I don’t want to blame it all on Liz, but she is the easiest target. A great deal of the early humour is intended to be derived from her bizarre manner and the odd ways she interacts with people. She finishes their sentences, talks to herself, throws out random words, and fails to be funny every single time. It felt forced rather than a natural part of the plot, and this is the problem most of the humour has.
Thankfully, it’s not all bad. Yes, there are a few issues with the game, but it does a lot right too. The story is broken up into easy to understand goals – although this is accompanied by an annoying narrator to inform you of them each and every time – which helps to provide the focus some similar games are sorely lacking. The customisable difficulty is another nice touch, letting you turn off everything from hotspots to helpful tips for each puzzle at the start of the game. My own personal recommendation, however, is that you should leave on the hotspots – the rooms are so beautifully detailed that it can be so easy to miss the simplest of things.
The world of the Next Big Thing is nice and original as well, which off-sets a great many of the problems with the characters you use to interact with it. From the cadre of monsters that have found a place in society playing themselves in Hollywood movies, to the 50′s future-style robots that roll around, The Next Big Thing makes its world stand out from the crowd. Sure, the characters border on blatant stereotype from time to time, and there’s at least one instance where the homage/plagiarism line is drawn very fine indeed, but for the most part it’s a world unlike any you have seen before.
I wanted to like The Next Big Thing. I wanted it to be everything its name claimed it could be. I wanted a resurgence of high quality, beautiful adventure games. It’s not that, but that doesn’t mean it should be discarded. It is fun, if flawed, and ambitious. And maybe the humour just isn’t the sort of humour that I connect with. Ultimately, The Next Big Thing has something to offer for the adventure game connoisseur, but if you’re new to the point and click genre, there are better places to start.
MLG Rating: 6/10
Platform: PC/Mac Release Date: 21/04/2011
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of The Next Big Thing for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.