The Next Big Thing preview
As I walk by the passed-out Mexican gangster with claws for hands, I kneel down next to the mutant dog-plant, Tobby, and wave a can of caviar in front of him. I need him to get the scent of my journalist colleague—she's gone missing, on the property of a mansion owned by a monster (who's a respectable movie producer that just happens to make monster movies).
Afterward, I ventured to a science lab (located on a beached boat), and convinced Poet, the lab assistant, to stick a cactus in his eye (relevant: he's a giant monster—pain inspires his poetry). It was then that I decided The Next Big Thing is one of the most accessible adventure games I've ever played. When I recommend adventure games to my friends, they usually quit after 20 minutes because they get stuck on a puzzle, or the game just doesn't hold their attention. Thankfully, TNBT addresses both of these problems.
The game's quirky universe works in its favor. Monsters are ordinary citizens that live among humans—they work regular jobs, wear suits and earn money. For instance, the aforementioned rich movie producer (who happens to be a sea monster) goes by the name William A. Fitzrandolph. All these characters held my attention—if you saw a half-human, half-Creature From the Black Lagoon man-thing in a tuxedo smoking a tobacco pipe, wouldn't you want to talk to him?
When you begin TNBT, you're playing from the perspective of journalist Liz Allaire. You and your partner, Dan Murray, are headed to cover the Horror Movie Awards. Just as the two of you prepare to leave the after-party, Liz spots another monster—Big Albert, a brainy, Frankenstein-like movie star—breaking into Fitzrandolph's office. Liz decides to go back into the mansion to find out why.
The first puzzle you're presented with is how to get Fitzrandolph away from the main room, so Liz can sneak into his office and see what Big Albert was up to. In order to do so, you'll need to find a way to convince Dan, a friend of Fitzrandolph, to distract him. But Dan refuses and just wants to go home. Its up to you to assess the characters and analyze what makes them tick. For example, Dan's a sports writer who loves boxing. You'll need to use this knowledge to leverage him to do what you need.
The other thing non-adventure gamers will appreciate about TNBT is the game's hint system. Your difficulty level determines how helpful the game will be. On the easiest setting, you'll have two help options. One option reveals hotspots: clickable items in the world that you can interact with. The second is a vocal tip announced by the game's narrator. Here, the game will stop and pull out, almost as if the entire thing was a bedtime story from the narrator. He'll then show you a picture of a room, and say something vague like, "Liz went back into the dressing room...for...something. I can't remember." At the same time, the camera centers on a vest on the staircase. It feels a bit like hand-holding, but it's nice knowing that I could sit my girlfriend down in front of TNBT without worrying she'd walk off frustrated a half-hour later.
TNBT will digitally distributed—probably on Steam and other retailers—starting April 21. Even if adventure games or point-and-click gameplay aren't your thing, it's worth a glance. The silly story, funny characters and great voice acting show a lot of promise.