Thankfully, any such fears are completely unfounded. Fans of the first two Penny Arcade episodes – at least the ones that haven't been following the news – will be immediately surprised at the drastic graphical change presented in Rain-Slick 3. Gone are the cartoonish, polygonal environs of Hothead's games, replaced with the pixelated, 16-bit era style that Zeboyd is known for. I suppose some players might be put off by the intentionally dated visuals, but longtime role-playing fans are bound to be impressed by how closely they mirror the games that Rain-Slick 3 emulates.
And just like those old-school RPGs, the simple presentation belies the depth of the systems underneath. Combat in Rain-Slick 3 has a tactical edge to it thanks to an action bar that illustrates when characters and enemies will attack – essentially the same pseudo real-time battle system used in the Grandia series. By employing the proper techniques at the right time, your party can interrupt and delay enemy attacks. Doing so isn't essential to every battle, though I've managed to change the course of a losing fight more than once with a timely interruption.
Adding more depth to the combat is the class system, which allows you to apply different classes to characters by equipping "class pins." Each class has different strengths. The Crabomancer class, for example, is great at boosting defense, while the Cordwainer excels at speed (and other shoe-based abilities). Beyond each character's innate class, you eventually earn the ability to equip each character with two additional classes – each with separate experience accumulation and leveling – opening up dozens of possibilities for customization.
Apart from the traditional class roles – mage, fighter, etc. – some classes offer some more unusual abilities. The Apocalypt class, for example, doesn't cast spells but makes "prophecies." Once a prophecy is made (let's say Fire and Brimstone), an icon starts slowly moving along the action bar. With each successive turn, the Apocalypt can add an additional effect to the prophecy, such as ice magic, healing or wind magic. When the prophecy finally reaches the end of the action bar, all the effects are unleashed in a cascade of spells and destruction.
Other classes allow you to grow gardens that dole out benefits every turn, or to transform into dinosaurs or to inflict "hoboism" on your enemies (like poison, but smellier). Rain-Slick 3 is at its best when the entire action bar is a sea of characters, various repeating effects, incoming prophecies and summoned monsters, all of it slowly ticking down as you plan your next salvo.
As serious as Rain-Slick 3 is about its mechanics, every other aspect of the game is anything but serious. Zeboyd is known for its humor (you played Cthulhu Saves the World, right?) and Rain-Slick 3 is no exception. As you might have picked up above, the classes themselves are ridiculous. Some are pulled directly from Penny Arcade comics, like the Elemenstor and Tube Samurai, while others are silly takes on traditional classes, such as the mage-like Scholar, whose ultimate attack is the "Master's Thesis." Then there are the bizarre classes, like the Diva, who hurts teammates to help himself. There's also the Slacker, who has the power to "Tool Around" and "Power Nap," and is almost completely useless.
The story picks up where Episode 2 left off, putting Gabe and Tycho square in the middle of a Lovecraftian apocalypse replete with gods, mimes, hobos, cultists and interdimensional travel. The writing is strong throughout, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Familiarity with Penny Arcade – or even the first two episodes, for that matter – isn't necessary, though fans will notice several cameos (Rex Ready! Broodax!). Even the enemy names and descriptions are consistently funny, from the gigantic "Optimus Mime" to the Associate Cultist, who apparently has upper management written all over him.
Ultimately, in taking the reins on Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3, Zeboyd has created not only a game that will sate fans eager to see the story continue, but a game that stands up firmly on its own. At five bucks, it's an easy recommendation for anyone even remotely interested in role-playing games.
This review is based on the PC of version of Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, purchased by Joystiq.
Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.