2008’s Edna and Harvey – The Breakout is an important title in the history of developer and publisher Daedalic. It’s the first game they ever published based on an original property and it was created by Daedalic’s co-founder Jan Müller-Michaelis AKA Poki while he was at university. Despite winning awards in Germany, when it launched internationally, it was met by a decidedly divisive critical reception. Those that loved it really loved it. Those that didn’t, really didn’t. A decade after it initially released on Steam, Edna and Harvey – The Breakout Anniversary Edition was released on PC. A remaster with totally re-drawn artwork, altered controls and a new UI, it is now arriving on PS4 and Xbox One. And it’s unlike anything I’ve ever played before.
On the surface, it’s nothing you won’t have seen before. It’s a point and click adventure in-keeping with Deponia, Monkey Island and the rest of the LucasArts adventure classics catalogue. You point. You click. You talk, use, pick up and look at things. You do these things to overcome puzzles and obstacles. It’s a 35 year old formula that’s still tried and true today. The difference maker with Edna and Harvey – The Breakout Anniversary Edition is that it has a wacky, zany, utterly ‘out there’ concept and that sense of whimsy and insanity permeates every element of the game. Sometimes to its own detriment.
In The Breakout you play as Edna, a young woman who wakes up in a padded cell in a sanatorium. She has no memories of how she got there – no memories at all in fact – but is convinced that she doesn’t belong there and needs to escape. Her cuddly bunny toy Harvey tells her as much. Convinced by her inanimate mentor that there’s something sinister going on at the mental hospital that’s closely tied to why she’s incarcerated, she breaks out to investigate.
Like the best in the genre, Edna and Harvey – The Breakout Anniversary Edition plays out as if it’s a stage show with an audience and no fourth wall. Any interaction with an element of the world comes coupled with a comical vocal from Edna and/or Harvey which, more often than not, is directed at the player (or Harvey who often acts as a proxy for the player) rather than another character. You can tell that the developers had fun (and possibly some drugs) while making this game because there’s pop culture references, goofy slapstick humour and clever wordplay everywhere you look. When given a list of available drinks at a bar, if you ask for a Grog the barman will say he hasn’t served one of those since a patient “who wanted to be a mighty pirate” asked for one. It sounds like things didn’t end well for Guybrush Threepwood. Talk to a bin in the security office and a famous Sesame Street character makes an appearance. In fact, a surprising portion of the world in The Breakout will talk back to Edna if she opens up a dialogue, whether it’s inanimate or not.
The cast of animate characters you meet in The Breakout are colourful and charismatic. The main antagonist is Dr. Marcel who, according to Harvey, has wiped out your memories and locked you up. He’s not really a persistent presence in the game but he pops up during the integral moments of the plot. He’s the LeChuck here – close but never directly in contact with you until it’s poignant to the plot. The rest of the cast are quite simply bonkers. A man dressed as a bee because he lost a bet, a guy who can only say “Droggeljug”, a man who thinks the dinosaurs on his TV are real, a guy who wears tinfoil on his head, a man who is a master at playing board games because he was struck by lightning and many, many other odd balls. It’s what you’d expect from a game sent in a sanitarium but dialed up to 11, like the rest of the game.
There’s not a single puzzle in Edna and Harvey – The Breakout Anniversary Edition that doesn’t live up to the insanity of this core concept. In order to escape your cell, you’ve got to butter up then insult the mini-golf obsessed guard patrolling outside. Later you’ve got to convince a mad scientist that a fly pushed into a cup of ear is precious amber. You meet a pair who’re convinced they’re siamese triplets (only the 3rd triplet is away at art school). Escaping this sanatorium is about as nuts as the people it houses, staff included.
That’s both a blessing and a curse. Most point and click adventures follow a certain logic. Sure, there’s differing levels of absurdity but most of the games in this genre stay at the same level of lunacy throughout. The Breakout is anything but consistent. The solutions to some obstacles are so outside of the box that the box is nothing but a dot on the horizon. I’ll confess, I had to consult a guide to overcome 2 puzzle aspects and audibly said “…What?” each time. If I’d not looked these up online, I’d have never guessed how to get past them. I often made progress in the game by randomly using items in my inventory (many items remain in your inventory long after you’ve outlived their usefulness) on items in the world. There didn’t seem to be any logical link between the 2 items but I think that’s the point. Logic is out of the window at the mental hospital.
At times, the game becomes more focused. It lists what you need to do and how to achieve it and if you’ve been thorough, you’ll have seen where you need to go next. It’s here, when the crazy is a side show rather than as prominent as the main quest lines, that The Breakout is at its best.
There’s some really long form puzzle solving too. One of the guards is called “The Bladder” because of his ability to go a whole shift monitoring the CCTV monitors without heading to the W.C.. To get him to move, you’ll have to send him subliminal messages and to do so, you’ll have to explore the whole building performing specific actions. It’s a well designed puzzle that’s pretty vast in scale.
Unfortunately, this and many of the other puzzles require a vast amount of backtracking to solve. During the first half of the game, the hospital is split into 3 by fences with only a singular method to navigate between them. Aspects you fiddle with in one area will need to be reported back in another so there’s a lot of back and forth across a time consuming journey which feels like padding rather than anything else. I get the feeling that this was originally a way to mask loading and saving but for the Anniversary Edition this really could and should have been adapted.
One thing that most definitely has been updated is the artwork. Edna and Harvey – The Breakout Anniversary Edition has been completely redrawn with a cleaner, modern and more consistent art style. Outlines that most definitely looked hand drawn with wobbly outlines back in 2008 now look clean and easily readable. The UI has been totally updated too. While it used to open as a big box across the screen no matter what you had in it, now it expands as you pick things up. This is a totally unnecessary touch but it’s the little things that make the experience a little more pleasant to play.
It’s odd then that some aspects that definitely needed to be updated remain the same as the original. Animations for some characters look almost identical to the 2008 versions and are still a little ropey. Some actions (like dropping off a laundry lift onto a blanket) don’t even have an animation. You press the button and appear on the floor. There’s some really awkward moments that haven’t been altered either – Babbitt will still miraculously appear ahead of you despite leaving him in a room behind you. Maybe this is intended to keep the game in the same vein as the original but it simply feels like an oversight that could have been overcome in this remaster.
The same can be said about the sound effects and vocals. They’re exactly the same as the original. While most of the vocal performances haven’t aged a day, there’s some that sound like they were recorded on a mobile phone. Some of the sound effects are really dated too. During one section, you mess with a fragile box and trigger a series of destruction sounds. What’s played is so muffled and unclear that it took Edna to say “Glass!” for me to understand what was in there.
One aspect that’s entirely new for the Anniversary Edition of Edna and Harvey is controller support which totally changes the way you play the game. Originally a traditional point and click where Edna and Harvey would move to where you clicked, on PS4 you move Edna with the left stick and choose which part of the environment around you want to interact with with the right stick. The text prompts for actions are gone too, replaced with a radial wheel that appears when you choose to interact with something. This is likely the best solution to porting a point and click game to the PS4 but the result is a little cumbersome. Dots cover the environment representing points of interest which can be really fiddly to maneuver through in a busy area or totally obscure the finer details of the screen when things are far away.
Despite all of these issues, the ending to Edna and Harvey – The Breakout Anniversary Edition is dark, tense, thought provoking and well worth powering through to experience. Seeds that are planted early on in the game blossom into really powerful narrative devices that put a decision at your feet that really needs to be considered.
The Anniversary Edition is a much better looking version of the original Edna and Harvey – The Breakout. Despite updated visuals though, there’s still some wrinkles that haven’t been ironed out, notably with sound effects and animations. The move to controller support on consoles has been a little rough on the playability too. The core concept, narrative and personality of the game is quite ingenious but the backtracking, inconsistent lunacy and uniquity of some of the puzzles mean it’s sometimes tough to get through. You don’t have to be mad to play The Breakout, but it’d help.