Review: Bear With Me, Episodes 1 and 2

Bear With Me is a new point-and-click adventure from Exordium Games. The company previously brought us Zero Reflex and Agenda, which is currently in early access. This is their first foray into the world of adventure games. Watch the trailer:

Plot

Bear With Me is an episodic noir adventure game. Amber is trying to find her missing brother while being aided by her trusty teddy, Ted E. Bear. Being haunted by nightmares, Amber wakes up in the middle of the night only to find out that her brother Flint is missing. She seeks help from her trusted teddy, Ted E. Bear, a retired grumpy old detective. The dynamic duo sets out to hunt for clues and interrogate all the witnesses and suspects unaware of the dangers that recently started happening to residents of Paper City. The plot thickens as a mysterious “red man” has been seen starting fires around Paper City and looking for little miss Amber.

The game begins with your character, Amber, having a nightmare—a city is on fire, a demonic face flashing on the side of the buildings. When you wake up, your brother Flint is missing, and there are no other humans around. Instead, you talk to your stuffed animals: Millie, an elderly giraffe, and Ted E. Bear, a seasoned detective with exactly the voice you imagine he has. I immediately had the impression that the game was a sequel, because characters refer to past events like the player should know about them. This is not the case, at least as far as I could find on the team’s website.
The game really wants you to be invested in the world and characters of Paper City, but it acts as if you, the player, know everyone. Instead, it’s alienating for the player when the characters talk about people and places you don’t know, with no explanation as to their shared history. I would say that the game would benefit from some exposition, but dialogue can be quite long and could have done with some paring down. The plot managed to get me just a little bit invested at the very end of episode two, but I felt it was too little, too late.

There are three narrative sequences from Ted included in the first episode, which are done in standard detective noir style narration over a comic book. Unfortunately, these mostly recap what you’ve done so far, which is completely unnecessary in a two hour block of time. These continue in the second episode, but are more useful and give you backstory instead of flashbacks to events that occurred a few minutes ago.

Graphics and Sound

The game is almost entirely in black and white, with spare usage of red for emphasis. I like the art and animation—there are nice touches, such as Ted’s ears twitching. The style is cartoony, but the black and white gives it a more serious tone. Oddly, almost no one has feet—their legs just end, or in Amber’s case are covered by a skirt. The characters who do have feet don’t move, so I think this has something to do with animation. In the first episode, there’s a storm outside, and the lightning flashing throughout the house is well done and adds to the creepy atmosphere. I also liked being able to direct a flashlight with my mouse in a dark room. The second episode starts in a rainstorm, and the rain falling and hitting the windows looks great. The map added for fast travel in episode two is really nicely done as well.

Check the game’s settings before you start—my speech and music volume were set to zero by default in episode one. This didn’t occur in episode two. Subtitles are always on. The voice over actors are doing a great job, especially considering that almost all are performing as multiple characters over the course of both episodes. King Shark gave my favorite performance. Sometimes in dialogue, there are pauses that are FAR too long, to the point of distraction. The first time this happened, I thought my game locked up. This happens more often in the first than the second episode. In the second episode, there are a lot of instances of dialogue getting cut off at the end of lines, which never happened in the first episode. Episode two also has quite a few subtitle typos and abbreviations, and the voice over was completely missing for a few sentences at one point. Oddly, there isn’t a lot of music in the game as a whole. I liked what’s there, but I wish there had been more of it. It’s most prominent during Ted’s comic book monologue scenes.

Gameplay

This is a one-button game; everything is accomplished with the left mouse button and a verb coin. You can skip a line of dialogue by clicking past it. There’s no hot spot finder, but everything you need to interact with is pretty obvious—no pixel hunting! Double clicking will quickly transition you between rooms (except for entering the attic in the first episode, where you have to watch the long door opening animation every. single. time). You and Ted are a team, and while most of the time you’ll be controlling Amber, there are times where you take over Ted. You can also talk to him, which will make him remind you what you’re supposed to be doing. Unfortunately, this doesn’t consistently give you a useful hint. There are a few either-or choices spread out over both episodes, the consequences of which remain to be seen in future episodes.

The inventory is simple—just drag within it to combine items, and drag an item out to use it in the world. You can’t examine items once they’re in your inventory, but they are labeled. Not being able to examine items is annoying, especially in the instance of a pamphlet that gets placed in your inventory. If you’re not paying close attention, you might not remember what it’s about, and there’s no way to review notes or look at it. It’s the solution to a puzzle later. Every time you add a new object to your inventory, the icon pulses to bring your attention to the new item. I found this annoying—I know I just picked something up! The walking speed is slow, but doesn’t matter so much in episode one, because all the rooms are small. Unfortunately, it’s painfully obvious in episode two, when you’re traversing outdoor areas.

In one instance, you have the option to interact with an object before you can actually do anything with it – Amber’s response is “Nope!” until you trigger the dialogue that allows you to use it. I wish the use icon hadn’t been there at all until you have to use it; it doesn’t make sense.

You can look at almost anything, and Amber will have something to say about it all. Often, she tries to make a joke, but it doesn’t always land. For example, there’s a hockey mask in her closet, and looking at it makes her say: “My friend Jason wants to borrow that, what’s the worst that could happen?” Another time, Ted does his best David Caruso impression and we hear The Who’s famous YEAHHHHH. In episode two, Stark Industries is on the side of a crate, and looking at the logo triggers an entirely unnecessary cameo from JARVIS. It doesn’t work, especially because the game falls back on this kind of humor a lot.

Twice in the first episode, Ted breaks the fourth wall to point out how lazy the game developers are, once for an instance of asset reuse (which I honestly didn’t notice until he said something), and once for a puzzle solution: “How convenient is that? That’s just lazy writing!” Unless you are very confident in the quality of your game, do not point out aspects that are lazy. It’s not a good look. Even more infuriating is an entire exchange in episode two where breaking the fourth wall is discussed at length, acknowledging that fourth wall jokes are “kinda hit and miss,” and that they “don’t work” on a certain character. That character proceeds to break the fourth wall himself, giving you the solution to the puzzle you have in front of you.

There are a few puzzle solutions that made me grit my teeth in frustration. One requires you to turn a cog. The solution: you must combine a pipe and a wrench because you need a more “delicate tool” than the wrench by itself. The resulting tool is literally a wrench shoved into the hole of a pipe. Why?! Another puzzle involves making a banana split. The ingredients are ice cream, a banana, and nuts. Not only can you not add the nuts to the ice cream if the banana hasn’t already been combined with the ice cream, you have to peel the banana using your Swiss Army knife. There are two problems with this: one, a knife is completely unnecessary for peeling a banana, and two, there is no indication that peeling the banana before combining it with the ice cream is a step you have to take.

I’m not sure of the audience for this game. Amber is ten years old, but she’s flirtatious with some of the stuffed animals you interact with. Ted E. Bear has a drinking problem; it’s interchangeably referred to as carrot juice and booze. Amber says that Ted throws like a ten-year-old girl in order to make fun of him, but she herself is a ten-year-old girl, which are mean words to put in her mouth. There are two jump cuts which could be jump scares for some—the atmosphere in these is much creepier than the rest of the game’s tone.

Time to completion for both episodes was four hours and thirty minutes. There are 53 achievements between the two episodes (I was able to get forty over the course of playing), and you can earn Steam trading cards.

Final Thoughts

The art and voice acting in Bear With Me are great, but the puzzles and dialogue are lacking. I hope that the team will find its feet in future episodes, but I can’t recommend that you go out of your way to play this unless you really love the idea of a teddy bear as a noir detective.

Score: C-

You can get Bear With Me on Steam for $9.98 if you want both episodes so far, or $4.99 per episode. Follow the game on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the official site.

[Disclaimer: A review code was provided for me to review this game.]

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