Red Stewart reviews Reversion: Chapter 3 – The Return for PC (Steam)…
Point-and-click adventure titles have been a staple of computer gaming since the days of the DOS, their simple mechanics making them accessible to players of all ages and experiences. Unfortunately, that relatively easy production process has also given them a reputation for being cash grabs. After all, it’s not difficult to slap together something on GameMaker and put it out to the public at $1.00 a pop. Steam, being the defacto digital distribution platform for PC games, has been flooded with such shovelware, making it hard for fans of the genre to find quality products.
Developed and published by 3f Interactivo and Soluciones 3f S.R.L., Reversion: Chapter 3 – The Return is the third and final entry in a series that has managed to stand apart in its competitive crowd (or at least managed to generate enough revenue for two sequels!). The question is, does this success mean it’s worth diving into, or is it a case of hype overshadowing quality? The short answer is it isn’t worth it, but for the longer answer read on.
When analyzing sequels or prequels, the first question every reviewer must ask is, how necessary is it to play through the predecessors? Not only do we have to see how important the story beats in them are, but whether or not the follow-up fixed inherent problems in their gameplay systems.
Having done just that in preparation for “The Return,” I can safely say that it is not needed in this case, namely because the story in them was so annoyingly minimalized and compressed as to be nonexistent. Set in a dystopian future, the first game (“The Escape”) had you play as an unnamed young man who awakens in a hospital in the city of Buenos Aires, which you quickly learn is under the control of a madman known as Sergio (divulged via a grand exposition dump by the doctor treating you). Wanted by the guards, your goal was to escape the facility with a fellow female patient. In the second outing (“The Meeting,”) this woman frustratingly refuses to tell you anything about yourself before setting you off to find a member of her team, which is fighting against Sergio’s regime. You spend the better part of ‘The Meeting” doing stupid tasks for ungrateful people, before finally making it to the secret lair of the Resistance, where you regain some of your memories.
Again, not much story happened in either third, but if you were even a little bit worried about missing something integral, you need not worry. Right from the beginning, “The Return” gives a strong recap of what transpired beforehand, not only making its predecessors sound much better written and executed than they were, but also telling you everything you need to know. Granted, you will miss some nods to the prior entries, like seeing a trashcan you set ablaze to distract some guards, however it’s really not worth the excursion.
Continuing directly from there, you’re finally given a name and backstory: you’re a scientist called Christian who built a teleportation device with your best friend and teacher Nicolas. This machine, however, ended up failing due to suspected sabotage, creating a portal that sent you both to the near future. Nicolas has spent his time both assisting The Resistance and attempting to rebuild the engine. Your goal now is to find the missing components in order to help Nicolas, head back to the past, and stop this from ever happening (though they specify that doing so would simply create a secondary timeline, making Christian’s quest inherently selfish since it’s just about him going back for himself).
“The Return” is the first time this series actually goes in-depth with a narrative, and, with this, I now understand why they avoided it beforehand: the writers just aren’t good. Unless there were problems with the localization (which wouldn’t be surprising, given the plethora of typos in the text translations), I never understood whether they wanted to be serious or tongue-in-cheek with their story. We’re told repeatedly that Sergio is this insane dictator who is imprisoning, torturing, and ruining the lives of most of the citizenry. However, he and his guards act so idiotic, they never feel threatening. Buenos Aires is reportedly blockaded, but the streets are completely deserted outside of a few NPCs mandatory for story progression. You can’t tell a serious tale about the suffering of the proletariat whilst having them be ruled by a buffoonish despot and his band of idiots.
Your allies sadly aren’t any better. Nicolas is a one-note scientist who comes across as pathetic and apathetic, unwilling to do anything proactive except give you pockets of data through more exposition dumps. Pablo is a stereotypical nerd, full of uptight and pretentious attitudes galore- there’s actually a scene wherein he refuses to give you information you need (for, you know, the success of the Resistance) unless you get him something to eat.
Then there’s Victoria, the nameless lady from the prior entries, who literally does nothing the entire game – there’s even a recurring gag wherein Christian asks the others why she just stands there instead of helping him on his odyssey, which I guess the writers thought would be funny but in actuality comes off as eyeroll inducing with regards to its stupidity (why not have Sergio kill her off in the beginning if you weren’t going to do anything important with her? It would have provided the story with stakes, made Sergio a semi-competent antagonist, and gotten rid of a pointless person).
Finally, the aforementioned NPCs scattered throughout Buenos Aires have varying degrees of personalities, ranging from enjoyable to irate, but credit for the diversity among them.
Thankfully, Christian himself is likable enough, making him a worthwhile protagonist to stick with to the end. There’s a small degree of self-awareness to him, as though he knows that there’s something inherently silly about the future he’s arrived in.
But overall, the story isn’t interesting. By not committing to satire, the serious elements feel lackluster, and by not committing to a severe tone, the frivolous aspects feel out of place. Considering we’re talking about a time-traveling adventure, it is genuinely sad that the writers weren’t able to come up with an engaging narrative.
Graphically, the Reversion franchise hasn’t been bad. I compare the art style to the animated sitcom Archer, featuring cartoony humans drawn with lightly bolded outlines in a muted, secondary color scheme. Everyone looks like a realistic person, but the aesthetic is clearly intended to evoke 90s sprites as though from the Monkey Island series or even Sam & Max Hit the Road.
One of the biggest additions, this time around, is the presence of cutscenes. 3f Interactivo and Soluciones 3f S.R.L. must have had a budget increase because these are very beautiful to watch; they’re done in the style of motion comics, but feature the same artistry as the regular game, meaning the transitions to and from them (despite having some lag) look natural.
Old-school principles also guide the animation, which is very limited (ironically also like Archer). Not that you need extensive motions for these kinds of games, but whenever Christian would grab things or walk to the other end of a room, it was noticeably a rehashed movement.
The sound continues that same limitation, which is a shame because I actually remember those older adventure titles having good soundscapes- it was one of the things you had to put some effort into back in the day given that you weren’t going to have much in the way of graphical extravagance. Granted, I could just be suffering from nostalgia, but, regardless, Reversion didn’t put much effort here. Everything sounds like a simple stock noise, every similar looking item has the same sound, and there aren’t even footsteps! I also don’t recall hearing anything atmospheric, like birds or static from technology.
The score, by composer Emiliano Saenz, is actually quite good, intermixing Hispanic music and instruments (like flamenco guitars) with the occasional dark synth. In particular, his song for the title screen, which has been the same for each entry, is ridiculously catchy. Despite this praise, there is an inherent problem with his compositions in that they’re too area-focused. The exact same track will play in the exact same area, no matter when you enter it- it restarting to the beginning if you leave and return.
This kind of static tuning is fine for pure platformers which are about getting the player from point A to point B- you just need something to play in the background. The problem here is two-fold: one, you often have to come back to areas to get new items or talk to an individual(s) again, so having a changeless melody is repetitive and feels lazy, and two, Reversion is a story-driven title, meaning the music has to change with the tone of the narrative. When you access a region for the first time, for instance, the music works very well- but returning to that unvarying consonance is a little jarring when you have to do it again and again.
The voice acting is VERY hit-or-miss. Stefan Martello is the actor credited with playing Christian, and I got to say he has really grown into the role. When I first heard him in “The Escape,” I didn’t think he fit the part, doing a good job reading the lines but his voice inherently not working if that makes sense. However, with Christian finally being given more of a personality this-time-around, I couldn’t imagine anyone better. He embodies the character perfectly, and does an excellent job pronouncing Spanish words, as well as alternating his tone depending on who he’s speaking to or the situation at hand.
This excellence is countered by many of the others, who often sound like they’re doing impressions of ’80s movie characters (which wouldn’t be surprising, given the number of pop culture references to media like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Back to the Future). Nicolas, for starters, comes off like a clone of Doc Brown, whilst Sergio sounds like Beetlejuice after years of chainsmoking. These latter instances of over-the-top throwback retrogression wouldn’t be bad if “The Return” went full-out parody, but because it walks a strange line it appears awkward at best.
Lastly, we have the gameplay, which was never going to be a saving grace. As I said above, graphic adventures inherently don’t have complex mechanics- they’re purely about examining objects, putting certain ones in your inventory, and using them to solve eventual puzzles. In spite of this simplicity, “The Return” makes things harder than they need to be courtesy of implementing a double-click key: you need to tap the left mouse button twice in order to pull up the menu of options per an interactable object/subject (examine, take, or, if possible, speak to), then tap the button again to go through with your choice. Double clicking might not seem like a big deal, but when you have to do it for everything it can get a little grating on your finger, and it’s regrettable because there was an easy solution for this: make the right mouse button the one for the menu. The worst part is this is a problem I’ve had since “The Escape”- the devs could have implemented a simple fix considering they had the money for the aforestated cutscenes.
The puzzles themselves were alright as far as the genre goes. There were times where I felt the solution was a bit contrived in terms of finding out how to make an item, or items, work together, but overall it was solvable, and you are given a hint system in the event that you do get stuck. And to the developers’ credit, used items are mostly taken out of your inventory, compared to the previous titles where you were forced to carry nearly everything (making sifting through your inventory a drag).
But that’s the best praise I can give Reversion: Chapter 3 – The Return. After two disappointing entries, I didn’t go in expecting much- then I was hit with that opening recap and changed my mind: by being more story-driven, there was a chance for this series to end on a high note. Unfortunately, the way the devs/publishers went about expanding the campaign was flawed, with an inconsistent tone being the main issue. Add to this haphazard voice acting, minimal sound, poorly-implemented music, and a slightly irate point-and-click system and you have a faulty game that doesn’t stand well, either on its own or as a finale to a trilogy.
It took me about 5 hours to beat “The Return,” which makes its $10.00 asking price technically worth it. But as I pointed out in the introductory paragraph, that’s how these narrative video games work- they’re churned out quickly at just the right price to make them worth exploring to the casual or dedicated gamer. But just because something is cost effective doesn’t make it worth it, and that’s the case with the Reversion franchise. I can’t recommend it, even if it hits my ratio.
+ Pleasant art design
+ Terrific lead performance by Stefan Martello
+ Main theme
– Tonal shifts
– Unlikable side characters
– Inconsistent voice acting
– No gameplay improvements from predecessors
– Basal soundscape
Rating – 4/10