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Big Versus: Penny Arcade Adventures - Episode One

In Big Versus we tackle multiplatform releases that land on PC and console and weigh the pros and cons of the PC version against its console sibling. In each installment we compare games based on included content (such as single and multiplayer features), visuals and everything in between. While our mascot may show an admiration for PC gaming, we're all about telling you the truth in Big Versus.

In our first installment of Big Versus we're tackling the recently released episodic title, Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness - Episode One. In this feature we'll compare both the PC and Xbox Live Arcade releases and pinpoint any differences that could affect your purchase decision.

Grab your boot straps, equip your sharpest rake and get ready for attack. This is Big Versus.

Penny Arcade Adventures:
On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness - Episode One

Developer: Hothead Games | Release Date: May 21, 2008
System Requirements | $19.95 (PC) -- 1600MS Points (X360)

Download the demo for On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness now!

Note: The information in this feature was based on the Xbox Live Arcade and PC versions of the game.

Taking place in the fictitious setting of New Arcadia, 1922, your house is destroyed by one foul swoop step from a giant steam-powered robot. This, seemingly random event, begins an adventure where you (as a fully customizable character) team up with web-comic icons Gabe and Tycho, of Penny Arcade fame, to uncover the mystery that surrounds the tragic house-flattening and the sudden appearance of pelvic-thrusting, fruit-addicted robo-fiends.

Basically, your crib got dusted and since you need something to do anyway you've decided to fill your afternoon with a full serving of revenge, topped with a generous scoop of loot-hunting.

The story, setting and characters are identical regardless of version. As a simultaneous release, On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness has no advantage of platform the way some PC releases do (eg. Mass Effect's bonus content download).

Recap: Simultaneous release means everyone plays the same game regardless of which platform selected. Either way you'll be able to enjoy the same hilarious story from either your couch or computer desk.
Purchasing either version of On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness - Episode One will net you similar. The game engine--Torque, familiar to Marble Blast Ultra fans--runs the 3D experience fluidly with few hiccups while the 2D flash-animation cut scenes look vibrant and colorful regardless of platform.

While both platforms are similar, the console version does suffer from some general blurriness whereas the PC version is crisper with more noticeable thickness around the world adding to the comic feel of the presentation.

click to enlarge the comparison shot

Another noticeable difference between the two versions is the heads-up display (HUD) presentation and menu system. The startup menu on the PC version affords some standard PC options (eg. running the game in full or windowed mode with three pre-set resolutions).

The HUD differences are integral to the differences in gameplay. See a rundown of gameplay differences below.

Recap: While both versions look solid in both cut scenes and during gameplay, the PC version is cleaner. The Xbox 360 version suffers from some blurriness, but the difference is smaller.
A surprising revelation is the gameplay in On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode One is dramatically different between both versions of the game. The console gameplay is comparable to traditional turn-based RPGs (eg. console Final Fantasy) where movement is dedicated to the left-analog stick and each face button is responsible for the game's various commands (attack, special attack, inventory menu, summon).

Clicking 'Next' or hitting the spacebar progresses the story but only clicking enemies will attack, a problem with smaller foes.

The PC version control is more akin to classic action titles (eg. Diablo) where clicking on the world will direct your party to the position selected. However, the title suffers on the PC from a lack of keyboard support. Typically in modern games you can click on an area to move your character, or use the arrow or WASD keys for the same effect, this is not an option in Episode One.

Battles are another area where the lack of keyboard support comes into play. In the Xbox 360 version you can press any face button that corresponds with the desired command (eg. the 'X' button for attack) and then press it again to attack the selected enemy (or press the 'A' button to confirm your selection) . On the PC version you must click the icon of attack and then click the desired enemy (which can sometimes be frustrating due to their size). This isn't an issue on paper but as battles get more fierce over time, the simple double-tap of face buttons has an advantage over the PC's clicking method.

The Xbox 360 version benefits from commands mapped to face buttons on the controller whereas the PC version only has mouse support.

The issue isn't with the amount of mouse-clicks, as all PC gamers have grown used to, but with the lack of keyboard support for hotkeying commands. The game has no support for mapping keys to act as any of the four basic functions, a surprising omission considering the public fondness Penny Arcade creators Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik have for titles like World of Warcraft. The issue isn't a dramatic one, but can sway your opinion based on your personal tastes.

The game also features a blocking system that works well on both platforms. As an enemy approaches to attack his health meter will flash, timing it correctly will block the attack and counter-attack the foe without using your turn forcing you into a cool-down period. On the console the block button is the right-trigger and the space key was the block button for PC. We had more success with the PC blocking.

Navigating the menus works slower while enemies attack without warning. You'd better master the block!

As we stated the lack of keyboard hotkeys and character control is based on personal choice and after experiencing both titles, the console version was simply more fun to play. The PC version feels slower in battle, adding unnecessary steps to each command. We hope Hothead Games addresses hotkeys in an update or by the second episode which is scheduled to hit before the new year.

Recap: While player control could be argued for either side based on personal preference (point and click for PC, analog for console) omitting the option for hotkeying makes us hope an update is pending to allow us showoff our fancy keyboards. Our personal choice gives the edge to the console this time.

Future outlook is reserved to compare how far the entry price can be stretched, and short of playing the game again, there is no more to do with the experience once you've beaten the game. The first in a planned four episode series, On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode One offers little in the way of replayability. The Xbox 360 version offers achievements but each mini-challenge can be normally executed with little afterthought.

Recap: Neither version does much in the way of getting you to come back beyond the initial experience. The average completition time has been clocked between 5-9 hours and for a $20 experience with this much humor either experience is well worth it.

After stacking both versions of On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode One we've come to a dead-heat. Both versions offer the same funny storyline that is specifically designed for Penny Arcade enthusiasts. If you're a fan of the series and have the option of purchasing one or the other, the decision you make will have to be based on your personal preference of control scheme.

Recap: The console version is more fluid with a light traditional RPG undertone whereas the PC version feels a little more like a Diablo without the hotkey functions but includes a slightly prettier graphical coat. We're calling it a tie. Now you go make the tough decision!

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