What Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 lacks in variety, it makes up for in hilarity.

The Good

  • Laugh-out-loud funny
  • Satisfying combat with tactical considerations
  • Good assortment of classes and abilities.

The Bad

  • Not much to do but fight
  • Huge difficulty spike at the end.

After a respite of almost four years, Gabe and Tycho, proprietors of the Startling Developments Detective Agency, are back on the case. Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 picks up where its predecessors left off, but much has changed since the duo’s last outing. Zeboyd Games has taken over development, and in its hands, the series has taken on the look and feel of a 16-bit, menu-driven Japanese role-playing game.

A dinosaur wearing a tuxedo is a sure sign that the endtimes are upon us.

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The good news is that the series’ signature offbeat humor is as vibrant as ever, and On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 is worth playing for the laughs alone. The better news is that the combat in this loving tribute to the heroic quests of old is smartly designed and stands up today whether you’re a seasoned player of 16-bit RPGs or not. It could have benefitted from a wider assortment of activities for you to engage in, but the few things this game does, it does really well.

No experience with the first two chapters in the saga is necessary to jump into the third. The game quickly brings you up to speed, and though Tycho stuffily spouts sentences of intricate, Lovecraftian lore from time to time, there’s little reason to worry if you find yourself a bit befuddled by the finer points of this cosmic struggle. What drives you forward on your quest isn’t so much a desire to see what happens next as it is a desire to see who will say what next, or what strange and hilarious monster is just around the bend. The interplay between the pompous and loquacious Tycho and the slightly less intellectual Gabe is filled with moments that elicit guffaws, and though there’s no voice acting in this episode, the personalities of the characters come through in the writing loud and clear.

Tycho has a way with words. It's not a good way, but it's a way.

Tycho has a way with words. It’s not a good way, but it’s a way.

Earlier episodes had a character who stood in for you, but this character is gone, and his or her departure from the series is addressed with a humorous lack of appreciation by the game’s heroes. This time around, Tycho and Gabe are joined for the bulk of their quest by a private eye named Moira and a skull in a jar named Jim. You move the party around a map of New Arcadia, but you won’t spend any time wandering aimlessly, wondering where to go next. Instead, you can only move from node to node along a restricted path, and as you progress, nodes for new locations (like the dilapidated Pelican Bay boardwalk and the distinguished Bank of Money) open up.

Once in these locations, you can move freely, but there’s rarely much room to explore, though you do find the occasional weapon or other goodie in treasure chests just off the beaten path. Still, there’s generally little reason to do anything but keep advancing from one group of monsters in your path to the next, and the relentless focus on combat will have you longing for a bit of variety at times.

Your quest takes you back in time in more ways than one.

Your quest takes you back in time in more ways than one.

But at least the combat that you spend most of your time locked in is great. There’s nary an original idea at work in the battle system, but the concepts are lifted from a number of games and assembled into something more than just a rote imitation of early JRPG combat. You use menus to issue commands to your party members whenever it’s their turn to attack. But this isn’t a straight turn-based system. Portraits of each character and enemy in battle scroll along a timeline that’s broken up into three sections: wait, command, and action.

When characters reach the command prompt, you issue them orders, and at the end of the line, they carry out your commands before returning to the start of the wait phase. Characters with higher speed ratings move along the line faster and get more opportunities to act as a result. And some of your characters’ abilities can interrupt enemies; if you perform one of these on a monster when it’s between the command position and the action position on the timeline, you knock it back into the wait phase, staving off its attack for at least a short time.

What Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 lacks in variety, it makes up for in hilarity.

By Carolyn Petit