Demetrios – The BIG Cynical Adventure is the sort of game that clearly holds the Sierra age of high adventure close to its heart. It wasn’t long ago that there was a severe drought of point and click adventures, but the genre is once again well represented in 2016. Perhaps the earlier release of Day of the Tentacle Remastered spoiled me for COWCAT’s attempt at crass adventure meets hand-drawn aesthetic? If only that were the case but, frankly, Demetrios – The BIG Cynical Adventure falls flat on its face in regards to its narrative, which is the one thing that this type of game needs in order to excell.
Demetrios opens on a large fellow named Bjorn Thonen who works as an antiquities dealer in Paris. An unexpected phone call leads him down the rabbit hole of pursuing a tablet tied to a stolen statue or some such nonsense. The details are a bit blurry as every step of the way the game attempts to shoehorn in a lot of traveling, character interaction and goofiness à la Space Quest into a game that simply doesn’t have the storytelling chops to pull it off. Bjorn, an unlikable dunder from the start, travels along with his neighbor Sandra and her daughter Caroline to save the world. It would be far easier to go along on this journey if any of these characters were likable in the least. It also applies a level of snark to every single situation that is dangerously ludicrous yet it rarely ever hits the comedic notes the writers were going for.
The game is very reminiscent of Leisure Suit Larry in its cartoonish presentation (which is quite good), but it also has all of that game’s subtlety or lack thereof. Everything is equated down to quips that are either crass for the sake of being so, gross-out humor that rarely hits the mark as there’s far too much of it to begin with, or reinforces just how utterly devoid of charm any of the cast is. It would be easy to dismiss some of the most cringeworthy lines if not for the direct application of those same shenanigans for puzzle solving. Need to know what do with that object you got? Why not dip it in vomit? Or, better yet, have Bjorn piss himself and that’ll lead directly to the solution. I found myself surprised at some of the solutions, even if they were a bit obtuse at times as all “classic” adventure games tend to be.
The cynical nature of everything about the game and its characters is what, ultimately, derails it. Characters who are irredeemable pricks can be interesting and funny if handled properly. Tell the player why they are this way, invest in the characters and the payoff can be great. Demetrios certainly has snark by the boatload and is overstuffed with thoroughly unlikable characters, yet we never get a contrast to that side of things. Cruel and unfunny is what it mostly is despite some moments where the quips and the jokes work. They’re so few and far between, though, that this game felt far longer than it actually was.
The game is supposed to offer an eight to twelve hour adventure yet time to completion will likely be half that. The puzzle design is basic and rarely offers more challenge other than having to backtrack to fetch items. Most of the game’s puzzles felt pedestrian, especially by the standards of classic Sierra or LucasArts adventure titles. The tried-and-true tradition of finding objects and trying to combine or manipulate them to solve an archaic puzzle in point-and-click experiences is (thankfully) absent for the most part in Demetrios. That blessing aside, the puzzle difficulty is lacking greatly, and many of them merely serve as padding for the game’s runtime.
It isn’t all gloom and doom, though. The hint system is well done and requires some severe pixel hunting. Each screen has three hidden cookies to be sought out that provide clues to the puzzles at hand. They’re not a necessity as most of the puzzles won’t be stretching one’s gray matter too much, but the hidden cookies are quite tough to parse out from the backgrounds. The idea of collecting “death scenes” proved to be one of the game’s few bright spots as well. Death is mostly an inconvenience and finding out all the potential ways a character could bite it felt interesting to pursue. If the humor were actually spot-on most of the time, it would have worked far better.
The presentation of Demetrios nails it in regards to the screens available for walking through and finding clues and other objects. The colorful variety of the hand-drawn art on display is fantastic. The character design is less so, ranging from decent to downright ugly. It seems fitting considering how awful most of the cast is and the music of Demetrios fares no better. The tunes are forgettable and instead of voice acting, there are sound effects and certain cues for character emotions. A very standard composition for an adventure game that felt like the others that have come before it.
If only Demetrios – The BIG Cynical Adventure came anywhere close to the greatness of Gabriel Knight or Broken Sword that purportedly inspired it, then we might have a contender. There is most certainly an audience out there for an homage to Sierra’s style of adventure game. Sadly, the result is instead an uninteresting example of the many bad adventure games that flooded the market in the 90’s and ultimately led to the genre’s temporary demise.
Demetrios - The BIG Cynical Adventure, from the one-man operation at COWCAT, presents a forgettable tale of Bjorn Thonen and something regarding saving the world. The bad quips and immensely unlikable cast make for a sub-par adventure game that looks great but sounds and feels uninspired.