Release Date: 16 October 2012
Platform: PC - digital download (version reviewed)
The one thing I wouldn’t have guessed when I finished Edna & Harvey: The Breakout a couple of years back is that the sequel would be even stranger. In the first game, author Jan Muller-Michaelis took his lighthearted look at serious childhood psychosis about as far as I thought anyone could, or would. Edna, for those who haven’t played the first installment, is a young lady in a hospital gown, toting a cloth pet rabbit named Harvey around her mental institution as she tries to get the hell out.
Now, in Edna & Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes, the protagonist is an even younger young lady named Lilli. She boards at a convent school that makes Edna’s sanitarium look like Shangri-La in comparison. Lilli, a diminutive blonde kid, has no parents, no friends, no personality (she never speaks, or rather never is allowed to speak, even one complete word throughout the entirety of the game), who is picked on mercilessly by everyone in the school including an ogress of a principal named Sister Ignatz. Lilli’s only friend is, in fact, Edna, still the charming loony.
It’s difficult to decide whether Harvey’s New Eyes takes place before or after Edna’s breakout. Only at the very end of the story does this become clear. For now, poor Lilli is burdened with every chore around the convent as the other kids go out to play, and is blamed for every single thing that goes wrong. The story just piles it on. It’s supposed to be funny. The game’s narrator has a sarcastically saccharine style that of course belies the bare facts. It is funny, at first, but the joke wears rapidly thin. Of course, we’re supposed to root for Lilli, the ultimate underdog, and we do. But the abuses poured on her start to get creepy. The thing that saves it is not the game’s humor, but its vengeance. Lilli, you see, in trying to help her friend Edna, inadvertently manages to murder every other kid in the school, often gruesomely. Lilli, the perfect innocent, is utterly oblivious to this. Her only goal is to placate her one pal.
Then, Dr. Marcel, the child psychologist from hell, as well as from the first game, shows up at the school and matters get even more twisted. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but the game now essentially switches from a satirical depiction of the real world to a psychotic dream world that is also not fully explained until the big bang ending.
This, however, is where Harvey re-enters the picture. Also with a vengeance. In the first game he was a potty-mouthed wiseass, badmouthing and smart-alecking everything within reach. In the sequel, he’s been co-opted by Dr. Marcel as a “tool” to be used in his psychotherapy. Harvey’s “new eyes” are now red-hot glowing coals that brainwash children into doing the doctor’s bidding unquestioningly. The remainder of the game turns into a contest of wills between brainwasher and brainwashee, played out in a series of psychedelic sequences between Lilli and the new antagonistic Harvey. Will Lilli escape her new mental prison or not?
In the first game I assumed that Muller-Michaelis had picked a young mental patient simply as a likely source of satire and shenanigans. True enough. In his doubling-down in the sequel on all things juvenile and psychoanalytic, I’m beginning to wonder to what extent the author is attached, personally or otherwise, to his subject. For all the wild humor and even wilder mayhem the game portrays, it also, underneath it all, seems to have something of a serious agenda. This, of course, gives the game some added depth, but also some added uneasiness. The game is essentially questioning the use of any societal or other restraints on free will. This is a basic human question. When is “control” a good thing, and when is it bad? I took the first game to task for switching at the end from sunny and smart-assey to serious and psychopathic. The sequel, however, has a much more even tone. It starts out sick and stays sick. It confronts its demons more honestly, really. While still trying to get off as many good sick jokes as possible, of course.
Technically, the sequel is quite similar to the first game. This is a third-person cartoon graphics point-and-click adventure with a heavy dose of NPC interaction and conversation. The music is good, like the first game. The voiceovers are professional, like the first game (not always an easy transition from German to English, despite the common ancient origins). Although I did note a few untranslated German subtitles that slipped through. Like the first time around, the candy-colored, hand-drawn graphics take a little getting used to, but grow on you. There aren’t as many charmingly off-the-wall characters in this game. Pretty much everyone other than Lilli and Edna is a despicable rat, which does help when it’s time to off them. The control system has changed. The first game had SCUMM-like action verbs at the bottom of the screen. The sequel basically is left-click use and right-click look. Also, the first game’s vast inventory has been chopped down to one humble row or so. The “tempomorph” sequences of the first game are gone, though in fact there are far more dream sequences now. There are about a dozen standalone “mini” games. Some of these are decent dialog-tree variations, others have other game mechanics, such as a chess take-off. They’re mostly a welcome change-of-pace from all the inventory puzzling that makes up most of the gameplay. Each comes with its own optional tutorial, or you can simply click the “Skip” button to avoid it entirely.
The first game was a commercial product whipped up from a talented author’s college project and the stitches at times showed. Harvey’s New Eyes, the sequel, is a far more polished entity. Daedalic has clearly learned from some of its earlier missteps, and boldly ignored other criticisms. The dialogs, for instance, while clever, still drone on way too long at times. Luckily, right or left clicking skips ahead. Eyes is noticeably shorter as well as easier than Breakout. It took me fifteen hours to complete, encountering no severe stumpings. Breakout, with its old-style big inventory, big game area and action verbs offered an old-style difficulty level too. Personally, I prefer a steeper challenge but in this day of rampant casual gamedom publishers don’t dare challenge anyone.
I suspect that, like the first game, Harvey’s New Eyes is going to be passionately embraced by some and snidely dismissed by others. If you loved the first Harvey game, you’ll feel likewise about Eyes. Having now played both games I sense the author cares deeply about his creation, and about his somewhat dicey subject matter. Like the first game,Eyes has some brilliant parts and some clunky if admirable “nice-try” near misses. Though the game’s experiments are not always successful, and occasionally its edginess drifts over the edge for me, I admire the attempts to broaden the scope of what can be done and discussed in an adventure game. My warts and all assessment of Edna & Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes is, like its predecessor, an overall B plus.