Version tested: PC
I'm in two minds. Which means I fit in well with the world of Edna & Harvey. An adult woman and the toy rabbit she talks to are trapped in a padded cell, with little idea why they're there. And as the title suggests, it's all about trying to break out.
Naturally, this sets you up for a classic style of point-and-click puzzling adventure: trapped in an ever-growing series of locations, surrounded by peculiar characters and collecting every object you can find with the intent to click them on every other object you can find.
In many ways, Edna & Harvey not only revels in the classic LucasArts games, but more importantly, also understands them. And in many other ways, it's a clusterplop.
Edna Bricht Aus, as it was named in its original German form, manages to be at once entertaining and frustrating, funny and bemusing, well written and incoherent gobbledygook. At every point where I thought, "You know, this might actually be quite good," five minutes later I was inevitably thinking, "This deserves to be torn apart by rabid wolves."
On the most basic level, it's a terrible piece of software. There's no option to adjust the miniscule screen resolution, and no option for a windowed mode. Task-switching led to some spectacular crashes of my graphics card. Saving and loading causes the game to freeze for a troubling amount of time, and it's glitchy all over the place, with twitchy graphics and characters walking through scenery. Most seriously, mouse clicks only work about 50 per cent of the time. Which is, obviously, infuriating.
On top of all that, while it's proudly a 2D cartoon adventure (something we could do with seeing a lot more of), it's a tacky one. Edna & Harvey began life as a university project and the final product never shakes off its amateurish design. The characters look like the doodles that one kid in your class who could sort of draw would do of the teachers, which you thought were incredible at the age of 11, until you realised he'd copied them all out of the Usborne Guide To Cartoons (Alex Garside – yeah, I'm calling you out.)
But something about it survives all that. Which means there must be something pretty decent going on in there, too.
It's not the interface, that's for sure. Incredibly – and, the game's site boasts, deliberately – it goes back to the pre-1994 SCUMM-style interface, where you click on verb buttons at the bottom of the screen and then click on the item to which it applies. Except it manages to do a worse job that LucasArts' ancient menus, lacking even keyboard shortcuts for those who don't want to click four times to ensure it selects "Use" before it loses that when it doesn't click on whatever comes next. There's no option to scroll through mouse cursors, so you're stuck with a degraded retrograded setup, laboriously sweeping the cursor all over the place.
Nor is it the localisation, which is painfully close to decent – meaning that, while it's mostly intelligible, you more often interpret what the characters meant to say rather than just hear it. Jokes tend to lose their edge when put through that mangle.
It's partly the puzzles. With a few clanging exceptions - you need to explain to a man how the dinosaurs died out to change the channel on a TV to which you must then speak to learn the correct order for buying and selling stocks which you repeat (except not quite) to a patient talking on a broken telephone to an imaginary broker who will then lose everything and give you the receiver so you can use it on the cradle of the payphone to get a coin that lets you buy a coffee from a machine to give to a man in a bee suit so his ears will leak out wax in which you can embed a fly - a lot are decent. Insane, but decent.
It's a lot to do with the voice acting. The poor American actors have been handed semi-English to read but they've struggled though impressively, often rescuing gags (overtly evidenced when the words you hear don't match the nonsense in the subtitles).
And a huge, huge portion of my affection comes from the absolutely exceptional amount of effort that's gone into ensuring there's a response for absolutely every eventuality.
This is a feat beyond belief. In a game with an enormous inventory, a daft reply has been written and voiced for clicking just about everything on everything else. When I click a spanner on a bucket, I expect to hear, "I don't know why you'd want to do that." Not a specifically written line, sometimes even a conversation between Edna and Harvey, about it. I used a drinking straw on a giant roof aerial. The maniacs had written a joke for that. Not a good joke – not even one that made sense - but a joke. And wow, that makes an enormous difference. (Oh, and if you play it, make sure to click objects on mirrors.)
There's another slightly awkward issue here. Playing a patient in a mental asylum, whose insanity is not in question – her stuffed rabbit talks to her – might perhaps have required an ounce of sensitivity. There's really none. The other loonies in the place are referred to most frequently as exactly that, and at one point this squirmingly uncomfortable line is shouted at a patient: "Give me the medal, you mental!"
While the ending is predictable, the inevitable darkness that you're working toward makes for an interesting, sinister tone. About two-thirds through, Edna & Harvey really stops being a light-hearted comedy and becomes genuinely disturbing. It's no more sensitive – bleakly so – but it's a smart direction.
I love the peculiar abandon so much of the game demonstrates. Very often you can use multiple objects on objects of value – cars, desks, etc. – and break and damage them for no reason. It's an act of rebellion against Edna's captors, and is delivered with an infectious glee.
So yes, two minds. It's a dreadfully built game and it often looks like crap. The Germlish is tiresome; there are no excuses left for a game's script not to be proofed by those fluent in the language in which it's intended to be published. (Why is a regular diamond-shaped kite referred to as a "dragon"?) Not being able to click half the times you try is abysmal. And yet, as often as I was cross with it, I was grinning elsewhere.
If you want to play a truly great recent adventure game, then get hold of The Dream Machine [recently awarded an 8 by Dan - Ed.]. But as much as I'm certain I should be warning you off this bizarre, broken thing, I can't quite bring myself to do it. Clearly, if they'd localised it properly, fixed the numerous bugs, and made it in an engine that remembers John Major as Prime Minister, the score would go up significantly.
5 / 10