Do you like investigations? Do you like solving puzzles? Do you like sexual innuendos? If you answered yes to one or all three of these questions, then Red Johnson’s Chronicles: One Against All is the right game for you. Entertaining detective/adventure games are few and far between, but I am happy to say that Red Johnson’s Chronicles is one of those few. It is a polished PlayStation Network title that provides hours of entertainment (and infrequent frustration) for a very reasonable price.
Being the second installment in the series, One Against All continues to follow the series’ namesake: charismatic badass and private investigator Red Johnson. The game opens with a film noire-inspired scene that summarizes the events of the first game, and new players are quickly brought up to speed regarding past events. Red killed a mob boss and now has a bounty of $150,000 on his head. The man who placed the bounty is the self-elected ruler and kingpin of Metropolis, known only as Uncle Teddy. While Red avoids attempts on his life by unknown parties, he soon discovers that his brother, Brown Johnson, has gone missing. Thus begins Red’s story, and what can seem to be a never-ending quest to save his brother. To achieve this goal, Red goes out finding clues, solving puzzles, and interrogating the colorful patrons of Metropolis.
One Against All boasts classic adventure-style gameplay, similar to the classic adventure game Myst. Red is never seen during the normal gameplay and only appears during interactions with other characters. Due to the lack of a controllable protagonist, players control a small circle with the left analog stick which is used to scan the surrounding environment and highlight objects of interest. The right analog stick is available to limitedly rotate an object or puzzle when Red is examining it. The R1 and L1 buttons are also available while examining, functioning as different tools in Red’s detective tool-belt. R1 turns the circle into a magnifying glass, while the L1 button blacks-out the entire screen and turns the circle into a UV lamp to find hidden numbers and fingerprints.
The puzzles in Red Johnson’s Chronicles are very well-balanced overall and give the player a great sense of accomplishment when solved. This is a very good thing, because solving puzzles is how the majority of Red’s time is spent. Many of the puzzles push your brain to its limits and all of them are entirely unique. No puzzle style or format is repeated, which kept me on my toes throughout. Some of these puzzles are fairly daunting, but if you get stuck at any point, you can elicit the help of Red’s inexplicably well-informed friend Saul.
While Saul knows what’s what, he’s not about to hand out the answers. The player can buy clues from Saul ranging anywhere from $100 (general help) to $1000 (basically giving you the answer). These clues are occasionally necessary due to obscure instructions or the already-available clues being highly unintuitive. The ability to buy clues is also helpful because, once you start a puzzle, there is no turning back. You’ll be stuck finding a set of numbers for a safe or padlock until the deed is done, but even when the numbers are provided, you’re faced with tedium. There are instances where the numbers are literally right in front of you, and the challenge is only to input them in the correct order. With a four-digit combination, that means twenty-four possibilities – all of which must be attempted.
The team at Lexis Numerique did a great job with gameplay mechanics. Controls are refined and polished, and menus are efficiently simple. However, these same menus can be slow to cycle through, and while they function smoothly, the inclusion of quick time events seems out of place. They only occur during three instances in the entire game and happen rather unexpectedly, resulting in mission failures if missed. Nothing is gained by their inclusion and I believe they could easily be done without. Other design quirks populate the game at large. Why does pushing Start pause the game, but only Circle brings you back out of the break? It’s a minor complaint, to be sure, but for a game that genre that boasts intelligence, it’s certainly unintuitive.
Thankfully, Red Johnson’s visuals and setting create a great atmosphere for the sleuthing adventure. While the overall tone and theme of Metropolis is rather dark, the art style is somewhat playful and whimsical. The caricatured people and environments encourage you to speak with everyone around you and to explore every corrupt nook and cranny you lay your eyes on. The impact of specific events in the story is reinforced by a tastefully-composed soundtrack that adds suspense and gets you into a mood for investigating. The main theme is somewhat reminiscent of James Bond or Cowboy Bebop, and gets you ready to take on whatever lies ahead. Also appreciated is the voice acting, which is on par with most retail titles and even surpasses some. Witty banter and excellent adult humor make for a fun and engaging experience, but the quality is a bit uneven – some conversations are filled with awkward pauses or lack emotional commitment from the voice actors during key moments.
Unfortunately, with scarcely more than puzzles to offer, there is very little replay value here. Without any collectibles, and with a completely linear story, there is little incentive to return to the dirtied streets of Metropolis once the game is complete. The story itself is fairly straightforward, but a few excellent plot twists will take you by surprise. Red’s character itself is a stereotypical, manly action hero who gets things done and done his way. This type of character can make it somewhat difficult for the player to connect with Red because his character has so little depth.
All things considered, Red Johnson’s Chronicles: One Against All is an adventure that is well worth your time. While the majority of the story serves simply as a means to move from puzzle to puzzle, the eight-to-ten hour campaign keeps you entertained the whole way through with clever lines, great humor, and plot twists that you’ll never see coming. Every puzzle is unique and most give you a great sense of accomplishment once completed, but a few are very difficult and might be off-putting for those not ready for challenge. Once completed, there is little reason to return, but excellent voice acting and music make this game stand out from other PSN titles and add to the overall experience. Simply put, One Against All is one of the best games that you will find for the $9.99 price-tag.