There are not a lot of games on the App Store that can fall under the ‘interactive comedy’ category. In fact, I’m pretty sure The Act is the only one of its kind right now.
The Act was originally launched as an arcade game back in 2007 but was later cancelled. It was then ported over to iOS and published by Chillingo Ltd. The game has been available on the App Store for a while now for $2.99 but is being sold for a dollar for a limited time, so we thought we should give it a try and see how this new method of gameplay is.
In The Act, you play as Edgar, a window washer, who falls in love with Sylvia, the nurse, while cleaning the windows of a hospital. He has a lazy brother who works with him and keeps getting into trouble. During one such incident, Edgar’s brother gets mistaken for a patient in the hospital, so now Edgar has to save his brother and their jobs while trying to get the girl of his dreams.
The gameplay in The Act is very simple but at the same time, very tricky. The game is split into multiple missions, or “scenes” as they are called here. In each of them you control Edgar simply by swiping your finger left or right. Doing this controls his behavior depending upon the scene.
For example, in the very first scene, Edgar is hitting on this girl in the bar. By swiping left or right, you control how shy or bold Edgar can be, respectively. You have to take it easy and move your finger gently. With each swipe, Edgar behaves accordingly and that determines the response from the other person, in this case, the girl in the bar. You can’t be too aggressive, or the girl will walk away; too shy, and she’ll lose interest.
In either of those cases, the scene ends and rewinds back so you can try again. You get three tries, or “takes”, and after that you end up in the menu and choose to leave or continue the game.
Some of the other scenes involve making Edgar fit into a group of doctors by controlling his behavior so he doesn’t stick out and get thrown out by the security guard, examining patients and interacting with Sylvia.
The problem with the game is that there is a huge amount of trial and error involved for every scene. The game doesn’t tell you what you need to do and it’s only revealed after you fail the mission. Even then, the game can be very tricky. Initial scenes involve swiping your finger in just one direction but in later missions you have to swipe back and forth repeatedly to finish it successfully, something the game never bothers to tell you.
This guesswork can often make some of the later scenes frustrating. There is one scene in particular where most people end up being hopelessly stuck because they just don’t know what to do.
But by far the biggest crime this game commits is that even with all that repeated failure you still end up finishing the entire game within half an hour. The writers could have easily added more events in the game. But right now The Act seems to have been designed to mimic the ’80s cartoons that had a 10 minute format.
Once you are done with the game, you can replay it to try and reduce the number of takes it took you to complete the game. That’s basically all The Act has in terms of replay value. Also, there is no way to play specific scenes in the game and you have to start all over from the beginning every time.
Now talking about the comedy aspect of the game, this is by no means a hilarious, rolling on the floor laughing out loud material. Having said that it is fairly amusing at times. If you’re a fan of old cartoons, then you will appreciate the subtle humor in this game.
Graphics and Sound
The Act’s graphics consist of 2D hand drawn animations that resemble old-school Disney cartoons, which is not surprising considering several Disney animators were involved in the making of this game. The visuals are very well animated and even though there are no dialogues in the game the characters feel alive and believable. The game also does the job of switching between animations very well as you swipe and at no point do you feel the characters are behaving according to your inputs but rather on their own.
There are also some nice touches, such as when you make a move, the other character will only notice it when they actually look at you and not instantly. You can also see their expressions change (along with the music) depending upon your move and at times you can instantly reverse your move judging by the expression, in case you made a wrong one. Such is the level of detail in the animation.
It helps then that The Act is in 2D because it would have been very difficult for developers to make a 3D game based on facial expressions and body language, especially on a mobile device. We all know how much trouble the developers of L.A. Noire had to go through to make it work.
One problem with the graphics is that The Act does not support the Retina display on the new iPad yet, which is a bummer. The game came out after the launch of the new iPad and it has been several months ever since so it’s not wrong to expect support for this resolution right now.
The Act had potential to be something really special and although it comes close, there are several things about it that hold it back. The gameplay requires too much trial and error and can often be frustrating and just when you start to get the hang of things it ends, which leaves you feeling shortchanged. The current $0.99 price then seems apt and something the developers should consider sticking to permanently.
It’s hard to recommend this game considering its length and there is not much in terms of replay value either. Buy this only if you’re curious about the gameplay and want to enjoy some classic hand-drawn animations. Even if it is for a short while.
Note: The Act is also available on OS X.
Rating: 3/5 Pros: Wonderful hand-drawn animations, innovative gameplay Cons: Gameplay involves too much trial and error, very short campaign, no Retina display support on the iPad