We do not get a lot of preview codes these days, but for once, we got one. Red Johnson's Chronicles is a PSN exclusive and it is in fact an adventure game mixing point and click gameplay with Professor Layton-like puzzles. Impressions inside.
Like Magnum P.I. without Higgins and the Ferrari
Red Johnson's Chronicles puts you in the shoes of a P.I. going by the name of Red Johnson - I'm sure you did not see it coming, or did you? Anyway, because some lazy police officer preferred to ask him to take care of an ongoing investigation, Red will find himself in the midst of a plot that will lead him to meet with a bunch of very different characters. It all starts with the murder of a John Doe that you will first have to identify in order to figure out what happened. The game's presentation is a bit similar to the CSI games in that you can't move freely in the environment and you have to move the cursor around until you find something interesting, in first person view. Though each screen is a still image (minus the various animations you can see here and there to make things more lively), everything is modeled in 3D, as proven by the occasional camera moves that take you from one area to another.
Red Johnson's Chronicles is a very good-looking game, with great art design and 3D modeled characters that appear only in the cutscenes or the interactive dialogs. When you meet with a NPC, say for example a witness or the victim's wife, you are given several sentences to choose from. Now hold on a minute and don't get carried away, I am not saying you will be completely free to question them the way you want. These sequences must be successfully completed in order to be allowed to continue. Make one mistake and you will have to start all over. Depending on how fast you have been to succeed, you will be given a rank (A to C) and some money and it works just the same with the rest of the game (puzzles, QTE, etc). The money you make can be used to buy tips from Saul, your faithful informant, a Huggy Bear lookalike.
Like MacGyver without the gum and pen
When Red is not in deep conversation with other characters, he looks for clues just abut everywhere. At some point, you will for example have to find a way to get the tape of a video surveillance camera, open a safe the old fashioned way, improvise yourself an electrician, a plumber, or even a pianist to reproduce a famous classical tune. Every single one of these puzzles will require to pay close attention to your surroundings and then use the analog stick to look for clues and manipulate objects. Make circles to unscrew bolts, push it to the right or left to open a panel, shake it to get a coin from a vending machine, it almost feels like playing Heavy rain at times. QTE are also reminiscent of Quantic Dream's title and allow the game to offer more action oriented sequences. Similarly to the questioning scenes, the time it takes you to solve a puzzle will decide of your rank and the amount of money you deserve. If you ask Saul for help too much, don't expect to reach the highest possible rank.
What makes Red Johnson's Chronicles so enjoyable to play is that, contrary to many adventure games, the different puzzles are all logically embedded into the story. Sure, you will also get some that are not really realistic, like the sliding block puzzles (I don't think plumbing is that simple), but overall everything makes sense and nothing feels out of place. At some point, you need the victim's spouse to leave her apartment so you can rummage through it. In order to achieve that, you must go back to your office, find her phone number in your files and call her to ask her to go to the morgue to identify her husband's body. You should also pay close attention to the evidence you find or the information you learn as Red will always recapitulate what he has discovered, asking you to complete his sentences with the correct elements.
Like in the good old days without the homework
One thing I should point out is the fact that money is not scarce, even when you do not do that great in the puzzle department. Whether it was due to the preview code or it is a choice of the developers not to make the game frustrating to players, we will find out when the game is released. The beginning of the game is not too challenging anyway, so you will not get stuck for too long. The main reason is that the puzzles are not far-fetched, which prevents the game from being frustrating. the voice work is ok, though it is no Oscar winning material and the soundtrack gives the game a nice feel of the seventies. You can tell that the developers are a bit nostalgic of the 70s and 80s when you come across names like Angela Bowers, Tny Mitchello, Harry Coleman or Chock Norris in an address book.
Considering that, handheld excepted, console games are mostly first person shooters and racers, it is always nice to see something different for a change. Apparently, Red Johnson's Chronicles could very well bring that bit of fresh air players are looking for, with its mix between Layton and CSI (you even get to look for fingerprints and to analyze them!). Whether the storyline will manage to be interesting in the long run still remains to be seen, but given the overall realization of the game, we are hopeful Lexis Numérique will not let us down. The preview code barely unveiled the very beginning of the plot, so it is hard to say it will deliver, but we had a very good time playing so we'll keep our fingers crossed!