What if the monsters in horror movies were played by actual monsters, instead of actors in dubious rubber costumes? And what if one of those sinister stars was kidnapped, thus sparking a perilous adventure for two journalists as they endeavour to find said monster, unveiling a treacherous plot in the process? Well, that’ll be The Next Big Thing, then.
In the manner of classic Lucas Arts adventures such as ‘Sam & Max Hit the Road’ and ‘Day of the Tentacle’, the story in The Next Big Thing is sheer lunacy. Control alternates between two main characters, the gruff and grizzled Dan Murray and his journalistic protégé, Liz Allaire, as they hunt down the missing star. As with all good fictional partnerships, they start off hating each other’s guts, but come the end...well, you’ll have to play the game to see if they ride off into the virtual sunset together.
The Next Big Thing is as close as you’ll come to a traditional Lucas Arts point-n-click adventure these days. An eclectic cast of weirdos provides the main entertainment, each exhibiting their own unusual traits – be it Liz’s fear of crocs and obsession with her old babysitter Stacy, or The Poet’s desire to experience new types of pain, to inspire his macabre verses. Sure, the humour can often be described as ‘wacky’, but after spending countless hours with these characters you’ll be sad to see the back of them.
Gameplay is very familiar to fans of the genre. You guide Dan and Liz around with the mouse cursor, discovering hotspots to interact with and items to add to your inventory. Interaction is sadly limited – you can only perform two actions on any given object or person: inspect, and either manipulate, pick up or talk to. With a little trial and error, it’s possible to solve most of The Next Big Thing’s puzzles in next to no time.
We didn’t have to resort to random clicking too often, however, as the puzzles are mostly logical. Sure, the situations you’ll find yourself in are surreal, whether you’re chained up in an evil doctor’s lair or trapped inside the damaged mind of a main character. But we were rarely stumped about what to do next, and only one puzzle had us truly defeated.
That puzzle in question (involving a lesson in Egyptian syntax) was a real sticking point. Not only was it completely illogical, there were also no clues on how to solve it. We felt cheated when we finally resorted to a walkthrough and discovered the solution, but even so, we continued to play and thankfully encountered no other stumpers.
Everything about The Next Big Thing screams high production values. The acting is suitably quirky, the animation is beautifully crisp and environments are lovingly crafted with excellent attention to detail. Even the music is fantastic, adding to the overall atmosphere. We’re still humming some of the catchy tunes as we type this review, which is driving our fellow co-habitants a little crazy.
If you’re a veteran point-n-clicker, chances are you’ll fly through The Next Big Thing in under ten hours. Almost every moment is fun, however, with little in the way of padding. Newcomers to the genre will take longer to complete the game, but don’t worry if you’re an adventure virgin, as The Next Big thing has a built-in hotspot revealer and hint system to guide newbies. The hotspot revealer is a particularly good inclusion, as missing just one tiny item will bring you to a crashing halt, thanks to the genre’s typical linearity.
Adventure fans and anyone who likes a quirky tale should definitely check out The Next Big Thing. A memorable cast and excellent all-round design make it one of the most impressive recent entries in the genre. As with all point-n-click adventures, the system requirements are modest. A dual-core Intel or AMD processor, 2GB of RAM and a dedicated graphics card from the last couple of years will give you a silky smooth gaming experience.