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The Awesome Adventures of Polly Review

We're entering a new era of video games, a time of Hollywood budgets, flash, and zazz. As costs and staff skyrocket, so creativity and risks lessen, and we must look to the indie groups to reach the true heart of gaming, where financial returns take a backseat to fun and new ideas. I recently discovered a little-known gem by an up-and-coming developer nicknamed PollyEsther, and despite a very short single player campaign and outdated graphics, the game delivers on some unique mechanics and a very witty script.

The Awesome Adventures of Polly opens with our heroine, Subject D7, awakening dazed and confused in a subterranean chamber. Barely having regained her bearings, a disembodied voice informs D7 that she is to be the subject in a number of chilling tests.

Fans of Valve Software's "Portals" take note: if you thought GlaDOS was a good villian, the mysterious voyeur in The Awesome Adventures of Polly will give you a run for your money. While Portal's mean machine was delightfully inane, the voice in TAAoP is devious. The voice will play mind games with you, attempting to lead you down the wrong path and taunting your mistakes. D7 is no slouch of a protagonist, either, and replies to the voice with her own cutting verbal barbs.

D7's task is made no easier by the limitations imposed on her. She cannot rely on silly, unrealistic portals to transport her effortlessly through the game. Fortunately, D7 has one trick up her sleeve: she has the superhuman ability to leap her whole height, a full 4 and a half feet, into the air. Players must use this jumping technique to navigate a series of platforms throughout the test chambers. Without a first-person camera this may seem a difficult task, particularly in later areas where you must make carefully timed running jumps, but the game is forgiving and will allow you as many tries at each puzzle as you need.

Presentation is adequate. There is a notable lack of voice acting, but the game's personality still comes through crystal-clear in the writing and facial expressions in cutscenes, and the disembodied voice is perhaps even more creepy left to the player's imagination. Unfortunately the rest of the visuals are not nearly up to par with the rest of the game. D7 moves convincingly, if a bit stiffly, but even the most imaginative gamer will lose their sense of immersion looking at the background graphics. The subterranean caverns are pitch black, and it is impossible to tell if this is meant to indicate their size or the amount of light. Specular effects on the walls may have helped, and in either case a better lighting engine would have beautified the game greatly. Sadly what is visible is not much better. Floor and platform tiles are low-res and grainy, and in many cases suffer from bizarre clipping bugs, where the black background is clearly visible through platforms. Worst of all, almost all background elements share the same blue-green colour. Ultimately it is a stylistic choice, and the intent may be to accurately depict the sterile sparseness of an underground test chamber, but for this purpose brown, and perhaps the occasional smidgen of grey, would have served much better.

Despite these flaws, The Awesome Adventures of Polly is a worthwhile journey. The creative jumping puzzles and top- notch script will keep you engrossed in D7's adventure and the surprising ending (at the risk of spoilers, the disembodied voice may not be as malevolent as you think!) leaves her real identity a mystery. If the developers can maintain their standard of writing, and perhaps add another button, we can only hope TAAoP will be noticed by a producer and hop hop hop around the tobacco patch in a thrilling, Unreal Engine 3-powered sequel.

SCORE: 4 out of 5 socks!

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