Whenever we think about “retro” adventures, titles like “Monkey Island” or “Blade Runner” come to mind. Dating back to those times, we learn that great graphics are not always required to tell a story.
“Primordia” by the small indie developer “Wormwood Studios” is no different in that: the low res 320*240 pixel graphics can be a huge strain on your eyes, dominating most sceneries of the game with brownish color tones and a dull color palette. In 2014 this can be a huge obstacle to overcome, especially when compared to modern, colorful adventures like “Book of Unwritten Tales”. Ignoring most modern-day standards this game literally wallows in depressive and dirty color tones, resulting in a surprisingly well-rounded and consistent look.
The word of man
So, you decided to read on and spend some time within “Primordia”? Good, because you will soon come to realize that this hard, cold and robotic world is well-crafted and very intriguing, urging you to explore it and unravel its mysteries. The gives away very little narrative or exposition, leaving it up to you to fill the holes and gaps with your imagination.
You incorporate “Horatio Nullbuilt”, a cowl-wearing robot which could be best described as a machine priest. Starting your journey with a bible-like book that grants you insight in the story of “man” you soon learn that Horatio follows the paths of “humanism” and is trying to find out more about the whereabouts of his makers. They seem to have given up this world a long time ago, leaving it just inhabited by a society of robots that is slowly starting to fall apart. This small story thread slowly unravels into a very interesting and full-blown storyline full of religious symbolism and the fallibility of mankind and its robotic creations following in their path. There are a lot of smart references to modern human culture and numerous distinct robotic characters with quite human characterisitics to chat with.
And of course there plenty of smartly designed puzzles to solve. Alongside your trusty (but foul-mouthed) floating sidekick “Crispin”, which also acts as item, full-time commentator and guide, you will solve these logically structured puzzles mostly one at time. The good part about it is, that none of the puzzles seems forced or misplaced at any time, giving them meaning and purpose (i.e. how to break a door) instead of reducing them to mindless chores or fillers. The number of tasks at hand and necessary locations to fast-travel to is always at a manageable minimum, allowing you to put focused thoughts into every task. The game even grants you some extend of freedom as some obstacles can be overcome in multiple ways, subsequently leading to different endings.
But although there are very few locations (and items) to work with, you will be urged to use your “DataPouch” (PDA) as a reference many times. A lot of the quests and hints are intertwined, allowing you to progress only if you caught an important hint earlier in the game. Some of the choices you make have consequences that only unravel a lot later in the game, which highly encourages you to do a second play-through.
This story and challenge design is an interesting and demanding approach that had me grab a pen more than once because the things that characters say or even their names often matter or have a hidden meaning behind them. It’s a very rare thing to experience in modern adventures, but it’s also an experience that leaves you highly satisfied when finally solving a long puzzle constructed from several parts. It also makes most characters quite memorable as the game encourages you have a closer look at side-characters as you normally would in any other adventure.
The only downside to this approach is that some of Primordia’s riddles feel a bit too demanding at times. There are some parts in the game where you really have to think around multiple corners to progress. The notes you (automatically) collect in your DataPouch are not always that obvious or automatically point you in the right direction. You need to think quite a lot to put some of the hints together in order to form a picture – which gets hard as some of the scenes are timed. Adding to this, the game doesn’t offer any kind of hint- or hotspot system, making you sometimes miss out on important things. This results in those nasty “slap your head and feel dumb” moments when you read about them in a walkthrough.
Bugs and Glitches
Luckily these moments are very rare, and sidekick “Crispin” is also assisting you quite nicely by adding the occasional hint and sarcastic comment. Albeit for a few exceptions most items are also placed in a way you can distinguish them from the background. To sum it all up: “not getting it” never felt so funny in a game for a long time, and overcoming obstacles is a real treat to anyone that enjoys a challenge in his adventures after so many easy years of puzzling.
“Primordia” is a short but intense experience that keeps you coming back for more. Once started I couldn’t stop playing it for hours and had to go through it in just two sessions. In order to enjoy its multiple endings i will eventually come back to playing this rusted gem. It’s a game I will always mention within my personal top ten of best adventures ever made, and it’s a title you shouldn’t miss out, no matter how much the initial look may turn you away! The world of Primordia is a run-down junkyard that reduces the setting to the things that really matter: protagonist and storyline. Just keeping that in mind it’s quite an impressive feat to experience what this game can do with so little.