Point and click your way through a robot future with Primordia

The world – although it’s not entirely clear which world – has come to an end. All that remains are the robots. Like the humans that built them, the machines eke out existences in a variety of ways; some in great, sprawling cities, others in hermit-like isolation. Horatio Nullbuilt v5 and his floating, sharp-tongued companion Crispin are two such robots, living alone in the midst of a great, lifeless desert. But when the core that powers the crashed airship they call home is stolen by a hulking, heavily-armed behemoth, they set out across the desert to reclaim it in a journey that ultimately leads them to the crowded, crumbling towers of Metropol.

It’s an epic setup, and for the most part, Primordia lives up to it. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a Wadjet Eye Games release, with plenty of dialogue, mostly-decent voice acting, moody soundtrack and a low-resolution graphical style that still manages to put up some truly impressive visuals; all in support of an engaging story that unfolds slowly and never reveals all its secrets, even at the very end.

Primordia

The puzzles are generally logical and relatively simple, ranging from the standard “use this on that” to more creative (and fun) challenges like a hunt for a long-forgotten AI buried in the twisting bits and bytes of a computer network. And if you do find yourself stuck, you can consult Crispin for advice and suggestions that sometimes actually prove useful. It’s one of the most effective and smoothly-integrated hint systems I’ve seen, providing a gentle nudge in the right direction without the shameful stigma that comes from a straight-up walkthrough. 

Unfortunately Crispin’s advice won’t help you locate tiny objects or elusive hotspots. Occasional bouts of pixel hunting are unavoidable in Primordia, which will require you to pick small components out of cluttered, muddy backgrounds and search for items in multiple unmarked locations, and also leave you frustrated by the uncertainty that comes from not knowing whether you’re misunderstanding what you need to do, or simply lacking the pieces needed to do it.

There are also a few discrepancies between the subtitling and the voice acting, although nothing severe enough to impede the gameplay, and one or two conversational bits refer to things that either haven’t happened yet or that the player shouldn’t know about. The drop-down interface is cumbersome, turning the simple act of using inventory items on in-world objects into an unnecessarily complex and arduous task. And while the rust, dust and sand that makes up the game world is inherently limiting, Primordia lacks a little bit of the visual splendor of some of Wadjet Eye’s previous releases.

Primordia

Yet Primordia‘s biggest problem is that many of the mechanical denizens of its post-human world are, quite simply, too human. Horatio, the lead character, is effectively a human in a full-face helmet. And even Crispin, who’s little more than a floating headlight, behaves in a decidedly organic manner. Much of the game world also appears designed more for human habitation than robotic: Why, for instance, do robots need beds? Horatio’s virtual humanity, and that of several other central characters, punctures the illusion of a world populated solely by machines.

It’s possible, and even likely, that the robots are merely emulating the humans that preceded them, but that’s an idea that’s never explored in the game’s fiction. And unfortunately the writing does tend to break down at times, particularly near the end when the big secret (which I won’t spoil here, except to say that it’s not really much of a secret at all) is revealed, after which Primordia becomes a fairly rote progression to an inevitable conclusion. There are actually multiple endings, although it’s quite obvious that only one is “correct,” as well as nearly 30 achievements to collect, many of which are seriously tricky and will almost certainly require more than a single playthrough to achieve.

In spite of the complaints, Primordia is a very good game, packed with enough secrets, surprises and twists to keep it interesting from start to finish. Hardcore adventurers may find it a little on the lightweight side, but it’s ideal for newcomers to the genre or those who prefer a more relaxing journey across their futuristic wastelands. And even though the conclusion isn’t quite as satisfying as the build-up promises, the combination of a great setting, fun brain teasers and some interesting story ideas ensures that Primordia still satisfies.