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AdventureDex: Primordia vs Tormentum - Dark Sorrow: Which is Better and Why?
Review - posted by DarkUnderlord on Mon 2 March 2015, 00:44:27Tags: OhNoo! Studio; Primordia; Tormentum - Dark Sorrow; Which is Better and Why?; Wormwood Studios
Every once in a while we like to ignore the "RPG" part of the rpgcodex and just go review Adventure Games because we can. Also because they're fun.
Unfortunately, when it comes to adventure games, there's just not a lot to "discuss!!". Basic game mechanics can be covered in a few paragraphs, leaving only the story. Which, assuming you don't want to actually reveal it all and ruin the game for those who haven't played it, doesn't leave you with much to cover.
So watch me pad this fucker out by reviewing not one, but two Adventure games I played within the last couple of weeks: Primordia from Wormwood Studios, and Tormentum - Dark Sorrow from "we got a review copy in our inbox because the game isn't actually out yet and it looked beautiful so I totally took that Steam code and plugged it in before Crooked Bee could get her dirty hands on it", otherwise known as OhNoo! Studio.
Let's start by looking at the teams. Primordia, the older of the two (having been released over 2 years ago in Dec 2012), was made by a "small, international team committed to developing games with distinctive visuals, complex themes, and rich settings. Wormwood was founded in 2010 by Mark Yohalem, an American writer, and Victor Pflug, an Australian painter. Along with Greek programmer James Spanos, Victor and Mark spent two years making Primordia, an award-winnning point-and-click adventure game."
Tormentum meanwhile, isn't even released yet, scheduled to come out within the week on March 4. Unlike the international team of Wormwood, this one was made by a bunch of Poles: "OhNoo Studio is a small, three-men developing team with great ambitions to change the history of electronic entertainment. The developers rely on 2D graphics that, despite their inherent constraints, allow to create a unique atmosphere in which the players can lose themselves, if only for a brief moment. The Studio was founded in 2013 and is located in Poland."
You can already see some similarities between the two games. Beyond the obvious one of genre, they both had 2 year development time-frames and were made by tiny 3 men teams; intent on creating rich and unique settings.
Visually Appealing, point-and-click Gameplay
If you can't tell by the screenshots, both games are quite simply beautiful. While Primordia's style obviously has a little less resolution, the graphics still convey a look that draws you in, that's interesting and which suits the genre appropriately. It's reminiscent of the old Lucas Arts style adventure games and if you ever played those as a kid, it'll bring back some nice feelings of nostalgia.
Tormentum's art meanwhile, is just quite simply stunning. High resolution images of incredible quality show an exceptional level of detail. And this level is maintained through-out the entire game, with each screen accosting your eyeballs with its beauty and intricate design. It's clear a lot of work went into creating each image.
Unfortunately, that's about where it ends. While I'd like to say that Tormentum's visuals meant that every screen had you gazing in wonder, looking at the detail and just taking a moment to admire the beauty... the reality is I got quite bored. While the graphics are nice, Tormentum failed to draw me in beyond a superficial level of "yep, that's a pretty screen. Now what do I click on in this one?". And that, unfortunately, has to do with the story...
Primordia starts off with your character (a robot), and your robotic companion, being attacked by another rather seemingly simple-minded robot which takes your power core. It all snowballs from there. Part of Primordia's charm is that it doesn't give much away either in the way of its story up-front. In order to understand what's going on, you must explore and solve puzzles. With each puzzle revealing a small piece of the larger puzzle that drives you through-out the game: Who am I, and what am I doing here? And even, what happened in this place?
Hints are dropped through-out with players able to eventually put the pieces together themselves, before the big end-game reveal.
Tormentum, sadly, just doesn't have the same drive. You start off captured in prison. You escape... and... keep escaping... or something... It "makes sense" in the end but while Primordia's world has you wanting to know what happened, Tormentum just never really bothers. There are no hints dropped or clues to be found. No signs you can look at and think "That's actually a number... not a name." or "I wonder what that means?". In fact, if anything, Tormentum down-right sins when it comes to Adventure gaming.
It gives the puzzle away.
Right at the start of the game Tormentum sets a theme which to be honest, completely tainted my entire experience with it. It simply has too much exposition. And exposition over every. single. thing.
You know, like, I clicked on this thing and it tells me how to solve the puzzle type of exposition.
- Maybe it's hungry?
- This just needs a lever.
- Here take this, it opens the room next door.
- Here's a shovel, go and dig in this room at this spot on the floor here.
- Hey, what I need to save me is if you go to the kitchen and get some poison, mix it with something and bring back food for this monster guarding me.
- You get a hand shaped key. Which clearly, OBVIOUSLY, is used in a hand shape lock you've already seen... But that still doesn't stop the monster handing it to you saying "This key opens the room right here".
- "If I want to start the furnace then I need to find the valve." With a plan for the furnace right on the wall.
- There's something missing here. Perhaps if I found the missing part the water would drain from the tunnel.
- "Hmmm... This looks like the solution to a puzzle. I have jotted it down..." Wait... Jotted what down? Huh? I didn't notice anything until you pointed it out.
Those are all actual examples from about the first five minutes in. In the end I felt like screaming STOP TELLING ME HOW TO FUCKING SOLVE EVERYTHING FFS. Many of Tormentum's puzzles would have had me thinking for at least a few extra minutes if only they hadn't already told me where to go, what to do and where to use the thing I got as a result.
It was that bad. As a result, rather than thinking about and looking at the things I'd seen and spending some time on the visuals, even thinking about what I might do with them, I would literally just click my way through to the room I was told to go to, click my way through what I was told to do and then, well, just keep on clicking until I got into the next room, and the next room, and the one after that.
And to be honest, it was a damn shame. The game literally drowns you in these wonderful images showing exquisite monsters and backgrounds only to then rush you through by giving you the answer.
Primordia meanwhile, gives you time to think about it. You can click on bits and pieces and be told "It's a pile of junk", "It's a mailbot" and then do the standard pixel hunt of moving your cursor around the screen, exploring and seeing what else you can click on, or what else will give you a bit of informative text that might explain a bit of the world or reveal a clue.
Unlike Tormentum, this isn't a puzzle solution. It's a joke. And a well done one too as it gives you a hint of the world's background.
Tormentum hands it all to you on a silver platter, which it then tells you is a silver platter, and what you should do with the silver platter now that you have it. Things even "shine" or "glow" so that you know to pick them up. And it even made that annoying. While in Primordia you simply click and it goes into your inventory (after a bit of a picking up animation), often Tormentum had you clicking on a glowing object, such as a key, only to be presented with a great big beautiful close up of said key - you know, just so you can admire its keyness - before you click on it again to stick it in your inventory.
And it does this with every item. Because, you know, looking super up-close at keys, and bones, and slabs of meat... is fun... or something.
Another slightly annoying thing with Tormenum is it juxtaposes this glowy object phenomena with exit arrows that like to play hide and seek. Unlike Primordia, where once you're in a screen, you pretty much see what there is and then spend time exploring with your mouse in order to find an exit; Tormentum has this weird kind of effect where you can move your mouse around a bit and it kind of... "looks" left / right at the edges, sometimes even revealing extra detail in the background. While it was something different, it did have a tendency to hide the exit arrows on the edge of the screen as a result, with me sometimes missing one or two of them and having to go back and play "jiggle the mouse" simply because I got stuck and knew there was nowhere else to go, so there must be another exit here somewhere... Oh there it is.
Despite what he says about crows and mountains, you'll be through this door in less than a minute later.
In fact, for some reason I feel it made Tormentum a bit pixel hunty at times. As in, look for the glinting thing that you need to pick up. Then once you've got the thing, it's fairly easy to work out what to do next. And then it tells you, just in case you couldn't figure it out.
Interfacing with the Characters
Tormentum's interface is very bare bones. You have a journal icon in the bottom left and an inventory bag in the bottom right. Open inventory to get items, click item, and then click in world to use item. Items in Tormentum were never used with each other, so there were no combinations to hunt for.
Primordia on the other hand has a larger interface that pops down from the top. There you can access a map that lets you travel to different locations, your data log which records information automatically (both bits you need and bits you don't, just to keep it interesting) and your inventory, where yes, you will be spending some time trying to work out just what combination of using what item with what will create the bit you need to make the machine go.
Something else the games' do differently is in their character interaction. Tormentum's is very static. Characters you meet will simply tell you what you need to know about the puzzle. Often turning them into lifeless, information vending machines who simply dispense puzzle solutions through screenfuls of text you click through (so much text at times in fact, that I often found myself NOT trying to explore by clicking on things in the background just because it would often trigger another screenful of texts for a conversation I'd already read). Often their exposition had no background information at all either, no interesting story or tidbit. Just puzzle explanations.
And while you meet some characters along the way that you will help, none of them become your companion.
Primordia meanwhile has, hands down, one of the best companions I've ever had in a PC game. His name is Crispin. And he is awesome. He's full of useful advice if you get stuck and you even need to use him to solve a few of the game's puzzles. He's more than just a floating sidekick with a maglev unit, he becomes a treasured part of the game and someone you enjoy interacting with, just to see what he might do or say.
All of the other characters in Primordia were enjoyable in their own way. Each of them unique, with an interesting story to tell that fits the narrative. And it's through your interaction with these rich, well-written characters that you will learn about the world. The game even has dialogue options that let you make choices around what you ask. While most times you'll simply click through all of the options until they're exhausted, some puzzles will require you to make choices.
And choices is where Primordia and Tormentum have another similarity.
Choosing Choicey Choices
Primordia is quite deft with its choices. During my intial play-through, I wasn't even aware some of the choices existed. And by choices, I mean things you'll do that change the outcome of a puzzle or quest, and even the game's ending. It only became obvious once I hit one of the game's later areas, where one quest clearly indicated that you had a couple of choices to make. Not only in whether you solved the puzzle, but how you solved it, through one of about five different solutions.
And while most of the puzzles in Primordia had the one solution (standard adventure game fare, there is after all, only one way to repair a generator), many of them allowed you some choice, often dependent on previous decisions you had made or puzzles you may or may not have solved.
Tormentum however, throws its choices at you. Whenever the opportunity comes up (and it comes up fairly regularly), you're clearly presented with an A or a B. Save the rat or don't. Save the girl or don't. Save the... In fact pretty much every choice in Tormentum was either saving someone or not. And disappointingly, none of them seemed to build on each other in quite the same way. While, without spoiling it, some of the decisions you make will affect things later in the game, it just didn't have the same impact that I felt I got out of Primordia.
Part of that could be Tormentum's habit of exposition. Even the ending simply tells you everything in an "oh, right, ok, so that's what it was all about" kind of way. The reveal just didn't have any impact because it hadn't been built up during the game. Unless I'm as blind as middle aged cow and didn't see it, there were no "clues" to reveal what you were doing there, or an opportunity to even hazard a guess. It just kind of gets dumped on you. And by then, you're so used to everything for the next puzzle being dumped on you that you down-right expect it.
Which is a real pity, because Tormentum by far, had a great opportunity to really do something impressive. Instead, it chooses to fall flat.
Another part of that is exacerbated by the simplistic puzzles. The thing about an adventure game, or a puzzle game if you will, is the puzzles. And here, they're just non-existent. Childish even. Like, a 5 year old could click through the game randomly and still finish it in about the same time I took, which was 3.2 hours according to steam. That compares with the 10.5 hours I've spent in Primordia.
The final part of that lack of impact is in the character you play. While in Primordia, I learned about and started to care for Horatio Nullbuilt; Version 5, in Tormentum... I didn't even know my character's name. And given the final story reveal, you'd think your character would have been a pretty important thing to learn about.
Another interesting thing I found is that I finished my first play-through of Primordia in one day in about an 8 hour sitting, then spent the next two days re-playing and trying multiple different solutions in order to get access to one of the game's different endings, and to learn more about the world - which had completely drawn me in. On the other hand Tormentum took me two days. At about an hour and a half each day simply because of my complete overwhelming failure to give a shit. And so far, I've only played it once.
(UPDATE: I've run through it three times now to get both major endings. With each subsequent run through taking about 20 minutes each.)
It's an interesting game, with nice graphics but the world just didn't grab me. It looked purdy but unlike Primordia, nothing dragged me in. Nothing was driving me to keep playing. Nothing kept me hooked or interested. While the beautiful visuals were nice, nothing had any "feeling". There were lots of cool monsters... but none of them do anything other than block a door and then tell you how to get through it.
I remember Primordia's "Goliath", "Alpha", "Beta" and "Gamma" and my interaction with them more readily than I do that cool looking worm thing of Tormentum that I clicked right on by. And I guess that's the crux of the issue. When Primordia presented you with a character, it made you spend some time with each one, getting to learn about why it was there and then trying to solve its problem. Where-as Tormentum threw characters at you who simply told you to go next door and dig up a piece of gold and give it to them so that they'd let you through the door they were guarding.
Why even guard a door if you're just gonna let someone through like that?
Both games are built around similar concepts. Your character's unknown past. Multiple choices. Multiple endings. And while Primordia had me hooked and wanting to play more - and then once finished, play through to get the different endings - Tormentum left me with an overwhelming feeling of not giving a crap. Even now, I'm yet to conduct a second play-through - even though I know the choices I can now make and how they'll affect the end-game.
And I guess that's the problem. I already know how they'll effect the end-game. After my first play-through of Primordia, I really wanted to find out more. There were bits I hadn't yet discovered. Where-as with all its exposition, Tormentum hasn't left anything to my imagination despite there being clear choices still available.
Quite simply, I just don't care. While the world looks stunningly beautiful, it has no soul.
Primordia meanwhile had characters that drew you in and a story that hinted at your own past, urging you to uncover it. Clues that if you noticed, you could unravel or add to a mental collection of "ahhh... I wonder..." moments. And one of the best sidekicks you could ask for in a game. Helpful, and full of great personality. So much so that I would love a sequel (or maybe even a prequel... perhaps Horatio Nullbuilt, Version 3?).
Tormentum is just wandering around a pretty world randomly clicking on shit, finding it does stuff and moving on to the next bit. Characters have no cohesive story that really pulls you in. Each puzzle is almost presented as a stand-alone moment, in and of itself, independent of all others, where you click on the shiny sparkle effect on the ground, get a zoom in view that shows you the item there, click the item, have it added to your inventory, walk back to the room you just left, use said item on thing in that room and unlock next door.
Hey, tyro... did you know the "B'sod" insult Horatio uses throughout the game actually stands for Blue Screen Of Death?
And it's a damn shame. It really had a lot of potential. With its fantastic art, it really could have pulled you in. The puzzles too, could have been truly diabolical (there are some interesting unlock-type puzzle mechanisms that are fun, yet ruined by their mind numbing simplicity and the game's annoying habit of having the solution available right next door). And as soon as a character is presented, they just as quickly leave. The world feels like its full of these pointless characters who provide exposition and explain all the bloody puzzles and how to solve them.
Mostly because it is.
So, which is better? I think you've already figured that out for yourself by now. Despite Primordia having a much lower resolution and quality of images, it still looks and feels great.
More importantly, Primordia has a fantastic story that will draw you in. If you haven't played it already, buy it, right the fuck now.
But as for Tormentum? Maybe if I can overcome this overwhelming urge to not give a shit...
If you really like the art and want to wander around looking at it, go right ahead. It is beautiful and there are some moments that might make you gasp. But if you're looking for a challenging puzzle game...