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Genre: Adventure & RPG
Min OS X: 10.2.8    CPU: G3 @ 300 MHz    RAM: 128 MB

The Exchange Student
October 26, 2006 | Eddie Park

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A true adventure game is a thing of rarity these days. A genre that once ruled supreme in the gaming world, these days gamers are hard-pressed to find a title that includes puzzle solving and exploration via on on-screen avatar with accompanying narration. Though typically slow in pacing, adventure games afforded players the chance to slip into the shoes of a fully-realized character, solve a wide range of problems by not-so-obvious means, and act out a complete story from beginning to end.

This is not to say the genre is dead. A few developers are gamely working to fill the void, including Telltale Games, responsible for the Bone and Sam & Max episodic titles, and Pan Metron Ariston, whose initial offering, The Exchange Student: Episode One, is the focus of this review. An adventure title that boasts a look that would be comfortable sitting on a box bearing the LucasArts label, TES bills itself as an interactive sitcom presented in a series of episodes. Gamers not used to episodic content should take note: you won't be getting a full game, but rather the beginning of what will hopefully turn out to be a series of successful games.

Given the constraints that come with episodic content, does TES provide enough to leave players both satisfied and wanting more? Well, TES certainly left me wanting more, but not necessarily in the way readers might be thinking. TES does some things really well, and some other things not so well, but the not so well items may be less of a liability than one initially suspects, due to the very nature of episodic content.

Larry Jr?
TES leans more towards the LucasArts side of adventure gaming, with cartoonish graphics, a whimsical story, and a simplistic point and click interface that includes an easy inventory system. The story, however, is firmly rooted in Sierra's Leisure Suit Larry mythos, as on-screen avatar Emilio looks to get lucky with the ladies in Sweden. As the title suggests, Emilio, who hails from Italy, takes the advice of a friend and enrolls in an exchange program at a Swedish university with the ultimate goal of familiarizing himself with as many Swedish girls as possible. Ironically, while this could be a perfectly believable goal if presented by a real-life Emilio, it's a theme that has been done to death in the aforementioned Larry series, and consequently comes across as hackneyed in TES. Typically, one of the motivations for playing an adventure game is for the promise of, dare I say, adventure. Being tasked with helping yet another lovable loser get lucky in love carries just a bit of that been-there-done-that flavor, which dampens the old enthusiasm a bit when starting a new adventure game.

The actual execution of the storyline contained within the first episode of TES did little to endear me to Emilio's virginity plight. The breadth of it consisted of leaving Italy, arriving in Sweden, and a first evening spent in the exchange student dormitory. While all this is necessary setup for what lies ahead, that's pretty much all it is: setup. It never felt like I made any headway into the story at all. Only a tiny hint of potential flings, no great obstacles to surmount, and no real plot surprises. From beginning to end, the first episode plays out like one long introduction, then immediately proceeds to cut the player off with a self-proclaimed cliffhanger that didn't exactly have me biting my toenails in agony. In fact, it served more as an annoyance and left me with the vague feeling of "that's it?" in terms of plot expansion, which is a definite do-not if one wishes to keep an audience slavering for more.


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