Game Review: Guard Duty
Guard Duty from Sick Chicken Studios launches today! You can get it from Steam for $9.99.
It's a thousand years ago in the kingdom of Wrinklewood and you are Tondbert, a dwarf/huma-halfling palace guard. After a night of heavy drinking, most of which you're happy not to remember, not only do you wake up to discover you may have been responsible for getting the princess kidnapped by an evil wizard, but also your clothes and armor are missing, and after you fall from the tower where your tiny bedroom sits, you get stung by a swarm of angry wasps, your face is all swelled up, and nobody can understand the mumbles coming out of your mouth, so you get no respect from anyone—not that you ever did.
Welcome to Guard Duty and oddly enough, that's not where the game starts—a thousand years ago, I mean. It actually starts out in our future, in 2074 to be precise, a mostly unremarkable day except for that whole part about the destruction of the Earth and all.
I've spent several hours now, enjoying the sometimes frustrating new game, Guard Duty, from Sick Chicken Studios. Did I say "frustrating"? Because I meant it, but in a good way. The Sick Chicken people have spent way too many hours watching Monty Python and reading Terry Pratchett novels, and it shows. They also have a thing for golden-age point-and-click games, classic 320x240 resolution pixel art, all combined with comedic and sometimes touching storytelling.
Figure 1. Castle Wrinklewood and the Surrounding Countryside
As I said at the beginning of this review, the story starts, strangely enough, in our future where a demonic monstrosity sets out to bring the end of the world and the destruction of our planet. Like our hero of ancient times, named Tondbert, there's another knight of sorts, embarked on a quest to save what is left of mankind before there's nothing more to save. You get to meet him later, I'm told, though I'm still trying to get my halfling's ghost to stop feeling sorry for himself.
Figure 2. The Future, Right before the World Ends
What makes this particularly interesting is that your actions (or Tondbert's actions) in the past, will have an effect on what happens in the future, when you finally get there. How the threads of centuries wind their way into hero number two's battle is something I have yet to discover, but I'm seriously looking forward to working with him—once I rescue the princess, that is.
Guard Duty is very much a 1990s-style role-playing adventure game, filled with a wonderful collection of whimsical characters with which you can interact, question, or otherwise annoy with your repeated attempts to coerce information from them. Chat with someone in one place, perform some apparently unrelated action, then come back, and the conversation might go in a completely different direction. Ask the wrong questions, and you'll be frustrated at every turn. Ask the right questions, as in the case of the uppity royal photographer dude, or you'll find yourself reliving the same passage in frustration.
Speaking of frustration, there's a young woman named Sam who runs a "Completely Useless Trinket" shop where, in the style of Monty Python's infamous "Cheese Shop", she won't sell you anything. I just assumed she was deliberately wasting my time, but I may be wrong.
Figure 3. Sam's Shop, Where You Can't Buy Anything
Let me tell you about frustration. It took me hours just to get Tondberg back into his clothes. I won't tell you how you finally do that, but let's just say you shouldn't overlook any frogs you find along the way.
And, make sure you stop by the local pub, once you get dressed, of course; no one gets in without at least pants on. In any case, if you've played enough of these games, you know that it's important to talk with everyone at the local drinking establishment, even the ones who don't want to talk to you. You might just meet a drunken old wizard who will tell you his life story and provide clues to the evil that awaits your beloved princess—oh, and the fate of the planet too.
Figure 4. There's always somebody ready to talk at the pub.
The game is broken up into acts. Once you get past a requisite number of mini-quests, all of which Tondbert tracks on a handy notepad that he keeps in his Infinity Pouch, a new act begins with a new map for you to explore. At any point, you can save your location, either by timestamp, which is automatically filled in for you, or by writing a helpful description like, "After the world ends". Sorry? Oh, the Infinity Pouch...yes, that's a pouch into which you can put pretty much anything, unless it's as big as a tree or a woodland troll. Think of Mary Poppins' carpet bag. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, see the Resources section at the end of this review.)
Figure 5. Inside the Infinity Pouch
Moving around is all point and click using the mouse. Right-click on an object or character to get a description, and left-click to select a character, pick up an object, or to choose the things you want to say to the interesting people, and trolls, you meet along the way. Keep an eye on the list in your Infinity Pouch to find out what you've done and not done. Select items in your pouch, then pick a character or object to use that item with. It's all pretty intuitive, but that doesn't mean you aren't missing important clues in any scene. Move your dagger/pointer around to make sure you're not overlooking anything—like a ladder.
In a good, though strange way, Guard Duty borrows from a host of games, books, TV shows, comics—you name it. There's a Dune-like sandworm, gritty and/or grimy characters, the aforementioned cheese shop (sorry, trinket shop), the bumbling halfling hero with a heart of gold, weird anachronisms, and things that just don't make sense. For instance, the princess is kidnapped while filming her latest movie, and yes, I remember that this is taking place a thousand years ago. The king is devastated, by the way, and he's probably still crying uncontrollably—good man, the king but a bit sensitive.
Here's another example of weird. When I ran into the Woodland Troll, he was hanging out with an interior decorator who was waiting for a delivery of red paint, so she could finish painting the inside of his cave. There's a whole lot of weird in this game. There's also plenty of sketch-comedy humor along the way.
Figure 6. Not all trolls are evil. Some just want a nicely decorated cave.
If I had to lob one criticism at the game, it's the music. There's nothing wrong with it, but after a while, I found it tedious, and there's no way to turn it off. Maybe they'll add that option. In the Options, you can silence the whole game if you like, but I still want to hear the characters talk, and I do want the sound effects, just not the background music. All in all, Guard Duty is a wonderful nostalgia trip with a great story, lots of head-scratching puzzles, lovely pixel art graphics, and plenty of smiles as you work your way to the end of the world. I highly recommend it.
Oh, and if you happen to figure out a way to get Sam to sell you anything, do let me know. Right now, I need to get back to Tondbert, who I seem to have killed because he's wandering around as a ghost. A depressed ghost. A bit sensitive, Tondbert.
Guard Duty drops on Steam, today, May 2, 2019, about the time this review will be published. And yes, it's available for Linux.