Review: Primordia for iOS – the Dystopian Robot Future Gets Mobile

Review: Primordia for iOS – the Dystopian Robot Future Gets Mobile
3.5

Platforms:

iPad

Game Name:

Primordia for iOS

Publisher(s):

Wadjet Eye Games

Developer(s):

Wormwood Studios

Genre(s):

Adventure

Release Date:

September 21st, 2016

Primordia for iOS – What We Think:

Primordia, originally reviewed by IGR’s resident puzzle expert Callabrantus, received top marks for its PC release, published by Adventure Game Studio evangelists Wadjet Eye Games. Now, almost a year later, the game has come to iOS, and there was much rejoicing. Wadjet Eye has steadily been porting its games over for tablets, and given that I haven’t owned a laptop in years, being able to download and play these story-rich, meticulously crafted titles offline with mere taps of my fingers upon the glass makes long road trips something to which I can look forward.

Primordia, in case you haven’t already looked, is a story about robots in a dystopian future who worship and revere man as a perfect creature and their masterful creator. Of course, this creates a paradox (as pointed out in the included and optional commentary by writer Mark Yohalem) which is that if man was indeed perfect then the flawed robots he wrought are a failure on his part. Whereas if he were to be seen as flawed – a struggling, fallible creature that manifested these incredible robots – he could truly be admired for his tremendous and improbable accomplishments.

primordia-screenshot-2

I Knew Him, Horatio

The game’s protagonist Horatio and his indefatigably snarky sidekick Crispin (a magneto-levitating head) are reminiscent of a brooding C-3PO and wise-cracking R2 as they probe the wasteland for a power core to replace the one stolen in the opening cut scene by a nefarious, oversized bot named Scraper.

This is where things grind to a halt for me. I hate pixel-hunting, point-and-search, mostly linear adventure games. Wadjet Eye, though, tends to publish such beautiful pixel-arted, wonderfully scored and voiced and deeply written titles that I can’t help but try to push my way through without deferring to a walk-through.

After kicking and screaming my way through the first ten or so puzzles, I finally switched on the commentary to see what else I could glean before going to cheat mode. It is quite a thing to hear from the composers, programmers, writers, actors and producers about all that goes into a game like Primordia. For example, the hint system, built into Crispin’s dialogue (and likely his raison d’être) took months of grueling work and decision-making so as to avoid having players rage-quit and make their way over to Gamezebo for answers.

Primordia in-game commentary
Primordia in-game commentary from writer Mark Yohalem

It is also generous of the writer to admit to certain design flaws in the game, whether they be in terms of tone incongruities or puzzles that aren’t quite logical or evenly balanced. Interestingly, he often says “though this puzzle is obvious,” when I found them to be anything but. Having said that, I realize that adventure game puzzles tend to have their own grammar, and people who play them a lot tend to understand the logic of adventure game puzzles more than those who don’t. Like people who do crosswords or play Sudoku, they know better what kinds of clues, logic and sequencing to look for and implement.

Dust In The Wind

Yohalem is aware of the inescapable mechanics and limitations of a framework like Adventure Game Studio and so designed for it; knowing that most adventure games have to do with finding an object in the landscape, connecting it to another and then inserting the resultant chain into a third object whereupon you twist dials and turns some levers based on an etching you spotted two rooms ago, he created the characters to be scavengers with a devotion to restoring broken things, thus inherently exploiting the cliches and restrictions of the system.

There is a lot going on in Primordia, and it is truly a joy to experience. The music often points right at Vangelis and his ubiquitous Yamaha CS-80 score for Blade Runner, and the incredible, melting ochre and bronze-hued graphics afford a truly artistic interpretation of a future in an alternate reality. The UI has seen some changes from the PC version; the option to have Crispin mag-lev things for you is no longer part of the upper menu, but rather a third option on the floating menu.

primordia-screenshot-3

Also, I am not sure how the Left and Right mouse button selection has been handled here. In the PC version, LMB vs RMB can lead to different options, outcomes or dialogue. On an iPad, I could only poke at stuff, and the digital manual made no mention of this. Having said that, let me re-assert how happy I am to now have the option to poke at Primordia on my iPad.

Just Deserts

All told, Primordia is an incredible if flawed title. It is not for the impatient. It can be maddeningly counter-intuitive. But once you know a solution to progress, it seems obvious in hindsight. The problem is, you must first understand how the creators think. Something that the game’s protagonist Horatio, is also desperately seeking to discover.

Primordia is available from the Apple iTunes Store.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Watch the trailer for Primordia below:

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