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The Next Big Thing

Score: 90%
ESRB: Not Rated
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Pendulo Studios
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure

Graphics & Sound:

The Next Big Thing is just another example of both a great storyline combined with gorgeous visuals that Madrid-based game development studio Pendulo Studios has become known for with their Runaway series.

This time, the studio's unique visual style tackles a world where the monsters we've seen on the silver screen weren't just actors in rubber suits, but actual people. In a world where monsters were once feared for being different, they are now praised for their part in horror movies, and this world looks great.

With a 1950's feel to everything, all of the locations look and feel like the golden age of Hollywood. Whether it's the cars or the houses or the clothes or even the mad scientist labs that seem to come straight out of those classic films, the backdrops not only look good, but they all feel right. Much like the Runaway series, The Next Big Thing does a marvelous job of blending in the 3D elements, mostly the characters, into the backgrounds. Not only do they have the same look and style of the images, but they don't feel out of place at all, which is something that a lot of other adventure games don't quite do right.

Sound is pretty good as well. The background music fits the time just as much as the visuals do and all of the voiceacting seems appropriate for their characters. The dialogue is also dead on as the characters' odd personalities come through loud and clear, although Liz, the female protagonist in this story, occasionally seems a bit more disconcerting than plausible and some of her dialogue options seem to come out of nowhere. Granted, she isn't supposed to be the brightest bulb to come out of GE, but at times, it seems a bit too played-up.


Gameplay:

As I said before, The Next Big Thing takes place in a world where monsters are real, and while they have been persecuted throughout most of history, thanks to the budding film industry, they have found their place in society.

The game opens up with our two heroes, Liz and Dan, attending a big ball at the home of William A. FitzRandolph, the head of MKO Pictures, which is largely responsible for the change in people's perceptions of monsters. Both Liz and Dan work at a newspaper, and while Liz is still wet behind the ears, Dan has been in the business for a long time. In fact, Dan is one of the best known sports writers, but after some recent events, he has been bumped down to doing fluff pieces for the society page and looking after Liz so she doesn't make too much of a fool of herself.

While the party goes off without a hitch, afterwards Liz spies a famous monster, Big Albert, breaking into FitzRandolph's home office. Now the story really begins and the player alternates between controlling Liz and controlling Dan in order to get through the crazy mystery that has fallen in their laps.

Along the way, they will meet and interview tons of crazy characters like Professor Fly, an allusion to The Fly (the 1958 version, not the Jeff Goldblum remake in '86), his pet man-eating plant and even a hulking monster who can't really speak well, but is a world famous poet. I liked this character, Poet, a lot. He has the ability to heal pretty much any wound, so he started off his career as a stunt man and felt a desire to tell everyone how each injury feels. What resulted was a series of poetry books that became instant hints among an odd slice of the population, psychotics, sadists, masochists and housewives. I just thought this character often stole the scene when he was around.

As for the game's puzzles, The Next Big Thing leans more towards the inventory-based puzzle over dialogue solutions, but it still has a healthy mix of both to where you don't really feel like it is too far slanted in either direction.

In general, the game and its puzzles don't stray too far out of the ordinary. Okay, given that this is a world where monsters are real, "ordinary" isn't the best word here, but none of the solutions really feel out of place. Even when the game gets really wacky, like one point where you end up inside Liz's subconscious, the solutions fit the scenario. There is nothing more annoying to an adventure gamer than puzzles or solutions that simply don't make sense. The only time this has really been acceptable is in a completely off-the-wall adventure like Sam & Max.


Difficulty:

The Next Big Thing is pretty straightforward. Like I said above, none of the solutions feel out of place. There were a couple of times when I wasn't exactly sure how to go about accomplishing my goals, but after some digging and a bit of random clicking, these issues were quickly resolved. The Next Big Thing does have a basic guide that lets you know what your current goal is, but there were times when it wasn't quite informative enough. One very early puzzle has you, as Liz, deciding that you need to convince Dan to talk to FitzRandolph so he can distract him and you can get into the monster mogul's office. Well, there are a few steps between realizing you have to do that and actually getting Dan convinced and it involves a lot of exploring and solving problems that don't appear to have anything to do with your ultimate goal.

Basically, while most of the game is straightforward, there are times when you won't know exactly how you are supposed to solve your problem and the best bet there is to explore everything you can and see if any other puzzles crop up that you might be able to solve.


Game Mechanics:

The Next Big Thing's most interesting dynamic is the fact that you will be controlling two different characters throughout the game. I know this isn't the first to use such a mechanic, but it allows for some interesting story elements and allows the game to be broken down into better defined segments, in this case "Chapters."

Both characters have their own personalities and their own approaches to the problems they will face, and it is a lot of fun playing both Dan and Liz. As a result, The Next Big Thing almost feels like two games in one. If, like in Runaway, you only played one of the characters, then you wouldn't get some of the more interesting segments to play through, like the aforementioned chapter in Liz's head, or if you did, you would feel really out of place suddenly playing the other character that is mostly an NPC. Basically, the ability to play both characters really adds a lot to the overall feel of the game, and while it isn't a new idea, it is still well executed.

The Next Big Thing is aptly named since, like the Runaway games, is simply a must-buy for any adventure genre fan.


-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows XP SP2/Vista SP1/7, INtel/AMD 2.0 GHz Processor, 1024 MB RAM (XP)/2048 MB RAM (Vista/7), 256 MB 100% DirectX 9 Compatible Graphis Card, ATI Radeon X800/Intel GMA 3000/NVidia GeForce 6800 or Higher*, 8 GB Hard Disck Space, DirectX 9 Compatible Sound Card, Internet Connection Required for Game Activation

*SIS and VIA/S3G Graphics Controllers Non Supported

 

Test System:



Windows 7 Ultimate, Intel i7 X980 3.33GHz, 12 GB RAM, Radeon HD 5870 Graphics Card, DirectX 9.0c

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