Unforeseen Incidents review: A gorgeously retro point-and-click, warts and all

The Pitch

It’s interesting that, in 2018, even Telltale - the developer who crafted their reputation and brand bringing the point-and-click adventure genre back to life - have largely eschewed that style of game in favor of their own interactive fiction formula. These days, the point-and-click genre has been in the hands of homegrown projects like Machinarium and niche European fare titles like Frogware’s Sherlock Holmes franchise. It’s still niche to be sure, but adventure games are far from dead.

Backwood’s Entertainment’s Unforeseen Incidents fits into the former mould without any fuss.

By The Numbers

Set in a contemporary but slightly-off-the-beaten track locale of Yelltown, players take on the role Harper Pendrel: a quirky handyman/layabout who is dragged into a world of shadowy cabals, corporate conspiracies and sinister biotech schemes.

Running across a sickly woman infected with ‘Yelltown Fever’, Harper is given a coded letter and instructions to bring the letter to a journalist named Helliwell. To cover the story in any further detail would risk giving too much of the game away. If the idea of a X-Files-inspired conspiracy thriller set to a rural Californian backdrop catches your ear, it’s safe to say you’ll likely be a fan of this one.

In line with classics like the Monkey Island series, Unforeseen Incidents isn’t without its own sense of humor, charm and need to poke fun at the conventions of the genre. That said, the story does plays things straight for the most part. It’s not quite as grim as it could be, given the subject material, but it does take itself a little more seriously than something like Sam & Max might deliver with the same premise. One moment, Harper will be poking fun at hipster culture. The next, he’ll be exploring the shattered ruins of a mining town left abandoned after its entire populace was killed by a vicious biochemical.

Still, despite the occasional uneven tone, I can’t fault the look of Unforeseen Incidents. The game’s environments and characters have this gorgeous hand-sketched look to them that manages to look just distinct enough from other point-and-click adventures to stand out but similar enough that the UI logic is instantly recognisable for what it is. This description also applies to the soundtrack and voice acting in the game.  Even when the animations come off as a little stilted or succumb to a minor bug, every detail on-screen feels full of personality.

Unforeseen Incidents main story is broken up across four chapters, with each of those chapters setting Harper loose in an area to gather clues and slowly piece together the mystery of what’s happening in Yelltown and the nature of the diabolical forces operating behind the curtain.

The Truth Is Out There

In terms of how these pieces practically fit together, Unforeseen Incidents is about as traditional as point-and-click adventures come. You point the cursor at stuff on the screen to see if Harper can interact with them, then you click on them and see what happens. Harper has an inventory - located at the top of the screen - and most puzzles come down to ‘using-this-with-’that, and so on. There are also a few hacking sequences that involve using basic command prompts, which I wasn’t massive on, and a handful of timing-sensitive sequences, which I liked even less. I wouldn’t dispute that Unforeseen Incidents has a clear logic to its puzzles. Regardless,I frequently found myself pretty stumped by some of the more arcane ones.

Each of the game’s four chapters is somewhat non-linear, with several different plot threads competing for your attention. On one hand, I liked how this gave you a little bit more agency and choice in what mysteries you wanted to pursue. Unfortunately, on the other side of things, the amount of puzzle solving and investigation associated with each plot thread can sometimes become overwhelming. The only exception here is the game’s final act, which is a more focused experience but comes across as slightly rushed in terms of its pacing.

Your mileage may vary but, frustratingly, I often found that clues from one mystery would stick in my inventory and act as red herrings for other, unrelated puzzles. Harper tends to pick up and hold onto items with kleptomaniac abandon. So you can’t rely on the classic point-and-click logic of assuming Unforeseen Incidents will give you exactly the correct amount of items you need to solve every puzzle it throws at you at any moment in time. 

As a consequence of this (and a few other, specific puzzle design choices), I found myself wishing Unforeseen Incidents had a slightly better hint system in place. The rhythm of adventure games in this classic mold is obviously all about lateral thinking and problem solving. Unfortunately, I often found that the game all too often revealed vital puzzles clues in one-off dialogue exchanges and then offered no way to rediscover or recollect that clue if you missed or forgot about it.

The Bottom Line

Still, these minor quibble aside, Unforeseen Incidents is a pretty solid, albeit-conventional, point-and-click adventure. Assuming you’ve still got the patience for these kinds of games, this is a very well put-together one of those - and you’ll probably come away pretty satisfied with the eight or so hours it takes to see it through to completion.

Aside from jaunt into a genre that doesn’t usually get this kind of treatment, Unforeseen Incidents is predictable and familiar but has just enough to charm to win you over nevertheless.

Unforeseen Incidents will release May 24 on Steam (Windows, Mac, and Linux) and other stores, such as gog.com, Humble Store, greenmangaming.com, Mac App Store, Windows Store, gamersgate.com and others.

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Fergus Halliday
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