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The Pedestrian Review

Edited by: Jade Swann

The Pedestrian is one of those indie games built on a gimmick that could either become a surprise hit, or it could just pass by unnoticed. It’s one of those games that asks, “What’s it like to be a ____?” But instead of something normal, like a goose, The Pedestrian asks what it would be like to be one of the little people from a bathroom sign. Literally — you pick the featureless man or the woman wearing the dress, and your adventure begins. The only word to describe the result is, well, “neat.”

This is, first and foremost, a puzzle game.

The logo for The Pedestrian is the title next to a running man symbol that echoes the logo for Portal. Indeed, there are references to Portal’s cake in The Pedestrian, and the puzzles have a similar feel. That is, they make you think in unfamiliar and interesting ways that make for consistently satisfying solutions.

The puzzles in The Pedestrian are all sign-based. The idea (I think) is that the little pedestrian symbols are seen all around us, from bathroom signs to wet floor signs to crosswalks, so in this world the pedestrians are able to traverse the environment through any kind of sign. That means a door that leads out of one sign to the right can be connected (by you) to a door on the left of another sign. A ladder leading up out of the top of one sign leads into the bottom of the next. And things are made more complex by the fact that you can rearrange the signs on the wall to make them line up in different ways.

Then, things like power cables, boxes to stand on, keys, and other items are added to the signs for even more complexity. Mechanics are consistently added right up until the end of the game, culminating in a surreal experience to top everything off. Without spoiling too much, this game doesn’t spoon feed you answers, but it also doesn’t shy away from explaining the plot implications of having little pedestrian people run around the city within the frames of signs.

The puzzles are also supported by solid aesthetics.

The puzzles are consistent and clear in their solutions — there’s never a time when you wonder why a certain method solved a puzzle — and this solid platform of mechanics is supported by crisp, polished aesthetics.

The art style in the foreground consists of simple and clean 2D images, just like the signs that inspire it. The background holds glimpses of a more interesting 3D cityscape. It serves as a pleasant background that drives your curiosity to see more, and this feeling puts you and your pedestrian avatar on the same page (sometimes literally, as you travel through notebook pages and blueprints).

The score is also subtly ever-present and nice to listen to. At just the right moments, it builds feelings of curiosity and wonder about where this is all leading, and the story arc doesn’t disappoint in this regard. There is nothing mind blowing about the ending, but it wraps everything up in a neat little package.

But a game like this can never really be anything more than “neat.”

The Pedestrian practically asks the player to compare it to Portal, but I think even the developers know it can never reach those heights. It is certainly a very nice little homage to that classic, but in the end The Pedestrian minus the 3D environment could easily have been a free Flash game until a few years ago (RIP Flash and my childhood, by the way).

Because, save for a very brief exception, The Pedestrian actually all happens in 2D with a few simple keyboard and mouse controls. There’s nothing wrong with this simplicity and it is in fact The Pedestrian’s greatest strength, but that fact and the game’s (again, very appropriate) length puts it in the category of games that are usually free. That simply means justifying the price tag takes all the more effort — something which I think the developers at Skookum Arts have done well, but nothing more.

Everything is very nicely done, and thankfully so because it looks like it took the studio six years of hard work to reach this level of polish. They certainly deserve credit for that, but in the end the concept just doesn’t pass the threshold from puzzle game to revolution like the Braids and Portals of the world have done.

7

The Verdict: Great

The Pedestrian is a solid puzzle game with clean mechanics, a polished soundtrack and artwork, and a satisfying story arc with excellent pacing. However, in the end it’s just a puzzle game with an interesting hook — a game about signs. While it serves as a nice tribute to Portal, it doesn’t quite have that special something needed to make it transcend its own genre.

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Nicholas Barkdull
Written by
Monday, 24 February 2020 16:51
Published in Adventure

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Nic is a writer and narrative designer with a PhD in Social Research and Cultural Studies. He thinks real time strategy games are still a valid form of e-sport, that true RPGs should be turn-based (with huge casts of characters), and that AAA games have a long way to go before they earn back our trust. He is the Lead Writer for Pathea Games's My Time at Sandrock, and his work can be seen in Playboy, South China Morning Post, The Daily Beast, and many other places.

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