The Next Big Thing is a traditional humorous point-and-click adventure game developed by Spanish studio; Pendulo Studios who developed the Runaway series of adventure games. Set in a 50’s style America where humans and monsters co-exist in an uneasy peace. Most monsters work for MKO Studios which is a film studio dedicated to making horror films; which the monsters naturally star in. The game centres itself around two journalists for the newspaper “The Quill”: Miss Liz Allaire; a rookie journalist and daughter to her own boss, also she is mildly insane and Dan Murray; a sports journalist with drinking, gambling and attitude problems.
The game starts with a profile selection/creation screen where you can select or create your profile for you to save your game with. Creating a profile begins with selecting an avatar from a selection of portraits of the games characters. You can then assign a username and password (if you wish, but it isn’t mandatory), and finally a difficulty level. There are three difficulties to choose from: easy, medium and hard. Easy gives access to the hint system and hotspot utility, medium lets you use hotspots and hard makes you make do without either. The hint system is extremely helpful at times and very vague at other times (usually when you have done nothing recently to try and further the plot). The narrator will give a verbal clue with (normally) and picture beside it. Depending on the area you are in the picture may also change to help you narrow down the location of the next step in the plot. The hotspot system shows all areas currently on screen that can be interacted with; this includes objects, characters and locations.
The controls are simple; move the cursor with the mouse, left click moves the character or interacts with something, right click changes the type of interaction. Each object, character and sometimes location has two interactions: one is always examine (excluding locations) which changes the cursor to an eye, use/move is a cog, pick-up is a hand and change location is and arrow pointing in the direct the new location is. Double clicking on an open area brings your character there immediately which helps during searches of an area when you are stuck. Pulling the cursor to the top of the screen reveals five options: hints, hot-spots, inventory, checkpoints and options with hints and hot-spots greyed out and un-selectable depending on difficulty level. Checkpoints shows a “map” of the plot and which sub-plots you still have to complete. Options gives you the option to save, load and delete saves, adjust sound levels, turn sub-titles on or off, watch the credits, look at statistics (some real and other made up) or exit the game.
The story begins with the narrator (a face and voice you will see and hear often) setting the scene of what happens later in the game before abruptly stopping to start the story from the beginning. The new scene takes place with Liz and Dan (Murray from here on) arriving at an award ceremony at the home of the head of MKO Studios; William A. FitzRandolph. Liz is determined to cover the story as asked by her father who expects both her and Murray to work on the report together, but Murray decides to stay at the car and drink while Liz does their job. After she returns the pair spot Big Albert (a famous monster-actor who is constructed from a reanimated body, with the brain of one of the greatest dead scientists in it) sneaking into FitzRandolphs office. Liz being a rookie takes this opportunity to finally get her big scoop, and Murray takes it as an opportunity to stay at the car and let her leave him alone.
One of the first things that you will notice when the game starts is the striking art style which is a cartoon style with caricature-like realism which is emboldened by the deep palette of colours and hand-drawn environments. The animation can look a little awkward at times with characters moving with a certain stiffness to them and character mouths flapping open and closed when talking in anything but cut-scenes. Also rooms with angled corridors will affect character models by warping them slightly in one direction when the character is in a certain part of the environment. It is supposed to give a perspective view of the character but falls flat as it doesn’t really work and makes the character look out of place with the wrong dimensions. Also the narrator interrupts when each sub-plot and plot is finished which removes the character voices and uses the narrator instead which feels immersion breaking. There are times when interesting interactions are alluded to as the camera pans away and you are left with sound affect and the feeling of being cheated out of an interesting scene. The most impressive work is in the cut-scenes where the character and environments not only look and are animated the best but the direction and sound behind them are also very high.
The sound in the game is quite respectable with nice sound effects for actions and environments and more than competent voice acting which many bigger budget games seem to lack. Although the voice acting is excellent; the lip-sync is probably the second thing you will notice when you begin and it can be quite distracting. Fortunately this is not a huge problem as it is dubbed to a fair standard and having been developed by a Spanish company it is obvious that for a change, English speakers have to put up with a dubbed title. The music feels authentic to the time it is set in and also to the locations you find yourself in but the music is short and can leave you wandering around a room in silence or near-silence which can feel alienating and dull. Also some of the sub-titles do not display the correct speech which annoying but luckily very infrequent.
The story is an interesting premise filled with intrigue from beginning to end filled with humour and references to games, movies, actors and economic crisis’. The writing is witty and charming and with most conversation lines being repeatable if you miss something important first time round; just start the conversation anew to get back into the thick of it. Unfortunately the end comes a little too soon and the story feels as though it could have lasted a little longer as the ending brings itself into view.
The overall quality of the game is very high with beautiful character and environment design with its hand-drawn art style. But the awkward moving and speaking characters can be a little underwhelming and distracting at times but manageable. Either way the cut-scenes are truly beautiful and are full of charm which makes the whole game more than worthwhile.
The voice acting is top-notch and the music is wonderfully composed and befitting of the era it is set but lip-sync issues and dead silence can leave you feeling detached from the world that has been created.
The controls are simple and intuitive meaning that when you are stuck you won’t spend hours trying every combination of item and action together like older adventure games but the puzzles being relatively simple or being alluded to in conversations will mean that there may not be much challenge. Luckily all puzzle answers are not entirely absurd and do make sense in the context they are used for.
The game should easily last 5 hours upwards you take the time to enjoy the conversations and don’t get all the puzzles immediately. Unless you are a true veteran and mastermind of puzzle solving in which case most of the puzzles will be completed without any problems knocking another hour or two off the time. After completion, don’t expect to want to rush though again and again as once the story is over there is little point in revisiting until you have forgotten most of the puzzle answers.
Whether you are a newcomer to adventure games or a seasoned veteran you should find the charm of the graphic style, brilliant voice acting and intriguing story enough to find enjoyment in. Unfortunately the game is hampered by its own genre by having little replay value, simple puzzles and some dodgy graphics. It also feels as though it could have been drawn out a while longer while still retaining an interesting and well written plot. If you want something to sit down and take in the atmosphere and relax to; this is the game for you but if you want action and fast movement then you should probably pick this up when you’ve calmed down.
I thoroughly enjoyed playing the game but I did find that even playing on the hardest difficulty setting the puzzles were far too easy to figure out, with me only having to take a couple of breaks from the game to reassess the situation and get further. Most of the humour I found to be quite enjoyable but some “jokes” are lost in translation and don’t hold up in English. Also the references to other media were quite subtle and not forced so they feel like they belong in the game rather than as a poor attempt at humour and thankfully there wasn’t any portal references. As mentioned in the review the cut scenes were amazing but the lip-sync just detracts ever so slightly from that when the character just doesn’t seem to want to say what you can hear.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.