Runaway: A Road Adventure is a point-and-click (P&C) adventure game which, by design, it is no more than your typical P&C game from the ‘90s.
The story centres around Brian Basco, an initially shy and nerdy Physics graduate from New York whose life totally changes the moment he almost runs over an admittedly hot chick, Gina Timmins, with his car. Could this be faith? Taking her quickly to the hospital, Brian soon finds out that the mafia gang is after her as a result of possessing an enigmatic crucifix given by her father which she pledged to protect. From here on out, it is knowable what is about to happen and is already hinted in the title itself: become runaways chased by the mafia whilst trying to decipher the mystery behind the crucifix.
While the set up already sounds painfully cheesy, enough to put it next to your minty collection of B-movies from the ‘80s, the overall story is actually decent for an adventure game once you witness the conclusion at the end. In fact most of the story’s writing is corny, but feels shamelessly light-hearted. Split into six chapters, it becomes evident after the second chapter that the story itself is something which must not be taken too seriously – in a good way. It can be wacky (like some of the extravagant support characters) and ridiculous at times (I lost it at the “abduction” part), weirdly making it a very amusing, yet silly, experience. The story builds up well as the game progress, but loses some steam about the second last chapter. It provides several funny moments, but there will be a debate on whether this is because they are intelligently funny or because they are so bluntly stereotypical, corny and a bit sexist. Kind of like laughing at a joke which seemed good on paper but was abysmally delivered. When the story does get serious, it can feel like you are playing a low-budget Broken Sword game. And there is plenty inspiration taken from the first two Broken Sword games displayed in here.
Runaway: A Road Adventure is possibly one of the hardest adventure games you will ever play when it comes to solving puzzles. This can either turn into one of the most satisfying moments of the day when you singlehandedly discover the solution to a challenging puzzle, or the most induced rage you will ever exhibit. In general, the puzzles are mostly logical and varied especially in the first few chapters. Conversely, they are exceptionally unintuitive and require a lot of pixel-hunting. A lot. This will be the thing which will turn off most people, but if you are patient and like actual challenges, then this will be rewarding because the puzzles are truly enjoyable -- a bit absurd and scientifically inaccurate at times though -- once you realise their solutions. Obviously, there are still some awful puzzles which require a lot of backtracking for instance, mainly in the second last chapter. Honestly, that chapter was not well designed from a puzzle solving point of view. An advice is to have a walkthrough next to you just in case you get completely stuck at any point. Also, minor puzzle spoiler: getting high is a solution to one of the puzzles. Greatest puzzle ever?
The graphics are impressive in respect to the hand-drawn backgrounds, which might be the main reason why anyone would be attracted by this game in the first place. There is a variety of nicely drawn locations the player can visit, although the last three chapters are featured in the same dessert setting, so it can be argued that it loses some of its magic in the second half. Sadly, the animations in this game are subpar. The closer the camera is to a character model, the uglier they get. This ugliness can range from realising how bland the models are to their very static facial movements. Similar moments are also noticeable in many of the game’s CGI cutscenes which can be a bit horrific to watch. For instance, there is a particular animation of Gina crawling on the ground which looks dreadfully creepy. Thus, retrospectively, the animations did not age well. Rewind eleven years back, I would probably have been happy with them.
The voice acting is a mixed bag. It is average at best, but enough not to harm the playtime experience. On the other hand, the more hours you sink into the game the more you will get comfortable hearing the voices. Sadly, that is not applicable for some of the support characters who simply make you beg to turn off the audio completely in an instant. Inevitably there will be two or three characters which turn out to sound annoying, not necessarily because of the voice actor’s capabilities but the way some deliver their lines – intentionally over-the-top. The audio compression is also poor, making the dialogues sound fuzzy at times. And this, if you did not know, is not an adventure game from the mid-‘90s which all sounded as if the voices were recorded in a tin can back then. Frankly, the fuzziness is not distracting at all, but rather noticeable when characters talk. Lastly, the soundtrack is solid, without a disappointing track.
One personal annoyance is Gina’s portrayal and lack of involvement in the game. Most of time she is either unconscious, kept locked as a hostage or unable to move due to injury making her useless in helping Brian in any of his tasks. Honestly, she is a pathetic damsel in distress with some admirable “assets”. Thankfully, there are signs of personality and humanness to her character than it meets the eye by the end of the duo's adventure. Yet, she lacked any solid character development throughout most of the story, giving little reason to feel attached to her as a character.
In conclusion, Runaway: A Road Adventure is an adventure game which you will either love for superbly replicating that old-school and wacky feel of classic adventure games -- or hate for its unintuitive puzzles and low production values in the audio and animation departments in particular. Unlike more modern adventure games with damsels in distress, such as Deponia which shares almost the same critical flaws, Runaway: A Road Adventure has a lot more charm. Maybe because it does not take itself too seriously, just the way Monkey Island was more of a comedy-oriented adventure game (of course, the latter had top-notch production values which outshine Runaway in all aspects). Regardless, while there is a lot of room for improvement, the story alone provides enough inceptive to invest time into this adventure until the end if you like wacky fast-ride adventures.