Despite a few faults and a weak start, I quite enjoyed The Adventures of Bertram Fiddle’s opening episode. It was funny, witty, interesting, and sported gorgeous art direction and some decent voice acting to back all of that up. Now, here we sit merely one month later with the second episode; A Bleaker Predicklement. Does it manage to improve the formula all that much? Or, like many episodic servings, does it begin to crumble under the weight of its concept? In truth, it sits inline with the first episode, but houses more depth and intrigue.
I wont go so far as to say that it’s a huge improvement, however, I’ll certainly commend the game for the things it gets right. The story takes place in the year 1884, in which the titular Bertram Fiddle is still longing for his next big adventure. Currently, to make ends meet and to please his demanding wife, Bertram (the world’s leading Victorian explorator) is working as a glorified telesales-man down at the local soap factory, a factory owned, managed, and run by the elusive Mr. Dulsworth. Though, as with the previous outing, all is not as it seems.
It soon transpires that Mr. Dulsworth isn’t the man everything thinks him to be, and it’s not long before Bertram finds himself thrust into an adventure that’s filled with mystery, desperation, and danger. It’s hard to dive too deeply into the story without giving too much away, but it offers new beats at the same time as picking up beats from its predecessor. I’ll say this, thanks to the continued use of stellar voice work alongside the game’s remarkable art design, A Bleaker Predicklement is almost instantly captivating from the get-go.
Sadly, on the other hand, it also falls victim to issues found previously. The crux of play remains pretty much identical to what came before. You’ll guide both Bertram and his sidekick Gavin through a range of locations, solving puzzles and interacting with a variety of wacky characters along the way. Things are, as alluded to above, clearly more intriguing this time round. With the game’s characters and framework setup beforehand, episode two feels more to-the-point, and less hand-holdy. Truly, it’s rather quite refreshing overall.
Players that enjoyed episode one’s cast of characters will be glad to know that many of them make a return here, and although some don’t get the screen time they deserve, the second episode manages to remain respectful to its roots. There’s new characters too, mind, and these prove to be just as mysterious, just as provocative, and just as engaging as characters from the first outing. The lack of screen time (again) plays an issue, but each new introduction serves a solid purpose nonetheless, it just would have been nice to see more.
The general gameplay, as aforementioned, remains exactly the same, give or take a new element or two. Being a point-and-click adventure, you’ll not have any direct control over either Bertram nor Gavin. Instead, you’ll guide a cursor round the screen and will click on areas of interest, or, sections of each scene, to then have the duo investigate, or, move to, respectively. The simplistic inventory system is back again, being that you’ll gather items along the way and will then use said items as and when the game’s episode demands it.
This consists of little more than pulling up the inventory window, and dragging, merging, or dropping items into the correct place. That may sound basic on paper, but in practice, it fits rather well. The puzzle work is more difficult this time around, and although far from tough, I can only appreciate the rise in complexity in comparison to episode one. Puzzles tend to revolve around using your inventory items at the correct time, at the correct place, and in the correct sequence, but the answers to each solution is no longer painfully straightforward.
Further to that, puzzles feel more meaningful here too. They feel in place, and better suited to the story. There’s also more innovation involved, in which puzzles will not only conclude once solved, but lead to new secrets and new puzzles. Sure, you’re still a glorified gofer for the most part, simply providing objects and characters with necessary items, but everything is better structured. I found myself stumped on more than one occasion, especially on the few puzzles that break the mold, serve deeper purposes, and house mini-puzzles in themselves.
These neat twists (I refuse to spoil them for you) provide the game with a layer of added depth, ultimately making for a trek that’s surprisingly diverse, mechanically speaking. I also commend the game’s clever use of its character swap function. Beforehand, Gavin would merely serve as a means to interact with objects that needed his brute strength, but here, you have full control over him whilst Bertram is, well, otherwise engaged. It’s a nice addition that gives Gavin more time in the proverbial spotlight, and he’s all the better for it, I might add.
Regardless, that’s the aim of play here. Despite the odd mini-game or shift in functionality, episode two plays much like episode one. You’ll move from location to location whilst solving puzzles and gathering intelligence to advance the story. The ability to hold down the action button to pull up clues per-area is back, which is a welcoming sight, as is the ability to talk to pretty much everyone that you come across. The only real drawback is that the episode is relatively short, lasting no more than a couple of hours on a moderate run.
Given the sheer amount of characters and locations that you can wade through, it would have been nice to see more exposure here, but I’ve a feeling we’ll see more effort spared here for latter episodes. That being said, there’s the odd bug present. I started my run and met a bug that I couldn’t overcome. I was trying to clock Bertram out of work, and to do so, I needed a work ticket. Sadly, the game didn’t seem to propagate the tool that I needed, meaning that I had to restart the adventure to see this section through to completion.
There’s the occasional bug here and there throughout, but thankfully, technical issues are so few and far between, it’s rather easy to overlook. I also believe them to be quite isolated too, which is reassuring. Back to the plot, the game’s story does a stellar job at keeping you gripped throughout, and closes its main even quite well, whilst interestingly leaving the door open for its follow ups. Repetition is firmly held at bay by the game’s impressive variation across the board; from its many, many characters, right through to its many, many locales.
It helps, of course, that the locations vary in regards to design. You’ll see areas full of color and splendor, areas that are dark by design and theme, and many more between. It’s truly a sight to behold, and something I hope we get more time to spend in, in the future. The game’s characters offer plenty of witty dialogue throughout, with puns of all natures that will hit you fast and frequent from start to finish. The writing is sensationally overdone, and I mean that as a firm and well deserved compliment. It’s daft, it’s bonkers, but it fits so well.
Perhaps its the great voice work that pulls these lines through the most, but it would be unfair for me to attribute that commendation to the cast alone. In truth, these episodes work well on so many levels, it’s hard to appreciate something above something else. Everything from the writing and the voice talent, right through the gorgeous visuals and the outlandish story, is what combines to give the game its respectable distinction. When all is said and done, fans of the first outing will love the follow up, and look forward to what’s next.
The bottom line here is that A Bleaker Predicklement achieves what very few episodic games achieve, and that’s that it improves on what came before it, whilst ensuring that it feels familiar yet fresh at the same time. The developers clearly know their craft, and although they’ve a way to go before they hit perfection, should the series maintain this traction and quality, I’ve every faith it will get close. Episode two isn’t a leap from episode one, but it’s clear that the developer took the initial feedback on board, and worked hard to make adjustments. The end result is proof of that.
Rarely do we see an episodic game getting better as new episodes are introduced, but that’s exactly the case with Bertram Fiddle’s second episode: A Bleaker Predicklement. Whilst short and somewhat buggy, the episode’s enhanced puzzle work and its interesting new mechanics not only make for a worthwhile return, but collectively shows a great deal of promise for the series’ future. Don’t pass this by, things are just getting warmed up.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.