It may surprise you to learn that during the rare moments when I’m not gaming and/or getting deeply emotionally invested in the lives of fictional characters, I’m a psychology student. Apart from leading to many “hilarious” jokes about me psychoanalysing my friends one day, my interest in psychology means that when I saw that Daedalic’s 2011 title Edna & Harvey: The Breakout was set in an asylum, I was cautiously optimistic. It’s not often that mental illness plays a role in games (explicitly, anyway), and when it does it’s usually used as an offensive way of explaining why a bunch of goons are flailing wildly at your face, so I hoped that this might be a fun change that I could really get behind. When I actually started playing, however, I became a little glad that the optimism had only been cautious.
The game begins when Edna, a young girl that you quickly realise can talk to her toy rabbit Harvey, finds herself locked in a padded room with no easy way out and no idea how or why she’s gotten herself thrown in there. After a quick conversation with the guard outside, you learn in true adventure game style that there is in fact a way out, but it isn’t through the cell door, and that the reason for your confinement may have something to do with an act performed by the father that you also know nothing about: you just know that the likelihood of him doing something truly horrid is quite low. So, fuelled only by this tiny bit of information and some encouraging but sarcastic comments from the rabbit that can inexplicably speak, Edna decides to (as the name suggests) break out of the asylum and clear her father’s name, while trying to find out a little more about herself along the way.
Of course, that doesn’t prove to be easy. Shockingly, the guards aren’t exactly happy to let a resident simply walk out the front door, so Edna is forced to enlist the help of her fellow patients in carrying out the wacky tasks that somehow form a cohesive escape plan. In true adventure game style, the weirder the objects seem to be, the more sense they seem to make as tools, and making sense out of the obscure is something that many games don’t do so well. Unfortunately, this strength is linked to one of the games more irritating flaws – when a solution does finally present itself, the game finds ways to make actually implementing this solution unnecessarily hard. Even if I could clearly see that two things needed to interact to move past a certain point, there were times when Edna herself would have to be given the command to look at things before the game would recognise that you’d seen them and that just put me offside from the beginning. The most prominent example I found happened about five minutes in, when our heroine actually carried out a conversation with the guard outside the cell door, but before the game would allow me to move on I had to command Edna to look at the grate on top of the door to tell me that there was someone there, and that the door wasn’t a viable escape route. Really, Edna? You mean I can’t just waltz out the front door, and it turns out you weren’t just talking to yourself this whole time? Shocking. Then again, you do spend most of the game talking to a toy rabbit, so I suppose that second part wouldn’t be so strange.
I know I’m sounding overly negative, but this game unfortunately hit upon many of my pet peeves. There was a lot of backtracking through a complicated sequence of rooms, and the loading times between sections made this an even more painful experience than it needed to be. The voice acting was somewhat grating, and the animation seemed more like a lazy solution than a successful attempt at a retro feel. The fact that the game was originally written in German showed through, not because the translation wasn’t great but because there were times when the German label for an object would appear in place of the English one or a glitch could only be fixed by reverting the game to its original language.
There were, of course, positives to this game. Mixing different options together would result in appropriate and humorous comments being made by the protagonist, instead of repetitive stock-standard lines about how the two things weren’t supposed to combine. While the ending was strange, the story wasn’t actually terrible, and the dialogue worked to show the diverse characters off in all their glory. I have to commend Daedalic for that – even if in places things were a little too weird for my liking, it couldn’t be said that the game lacked creativity. There were times when I laughed, times when I cringed, and times when I wanted to bang my laptop against the wall because I’d accidentally initiated the same conversation for the fourth time – which, to be honest, could in a roundabout way sum up my entire Edna & Harvey: The Breakout experience. The story was unique, the setting was great, but the execution just didn’t quite cut it.