I like Bill Murray. I said it. He’s a funny guy. He’s great in Ghostbusters, excellent in Lost in Translation, and pretty amazing in Rushmore. But one film of his I will always come back to is Groundhog Day. Murray’s portrayal of irritable, arrogant weatherman Phil Connors trapped in a time loop on February 2nd, doomed to repeat the same day over and over, has been ingrained on the popular consciousness and many of the moments, such as the daily wakeup call of Sonny & Cher’s “I’ve Got You Babe”, have become famous in their own right. Randal’s Monday is heavily inspired by Groundhog Day and like the aforementioned film features a time loop as its primary theme. The eponymous Randal is trapped in a time loop on Monday and must try to escape the downward spiral of madness that ensures as a result of him stealing a cursed gold ring. On a purely mechanical basis, Randal’s Monday works, with a nice art style and a huge amount of pop-culture references. However, the humour and writing can be very hit or miss and the plot starts off strangely before throwing all basis of reality quickly out of the window. Couple this some monstrously dislikeable characters and some of the most illogical puzzles ever created, and Randal’s Monday quickly loses any charm it initially gained.
Randal’s Monday follows Randal; a cocky, bored slacker who can never hold a steady job and has uncontrollable kleptomania. His best friend Matt is marrying his girlfriend and has bought her a huge gold ring, but after a wild night of partying, Randal wakes up, gets fired, and sells the aforementioned ring in order to pay his rent. Unfortunately, the ring has a curse on it which causes Randal to get stuck in a time loop; Monday keeps repeating, but anything Randal previously interacted with remains in its changed state. For example, on the first Monday you leave Randal’s apartment via his fire escape, breaking it in the process. On the subsequent Mondays, the fire escape remains broken, so you must escape via an alternative method. The plot just about hangs together with its own twisted logic, but you’ll need to suspend disbelief more times than necessary in order to follow it deeper through the madness. The game is also pretty lengthy, so be prepared to suspend disbelief for the long-haul.
Gameplay is adventure game point-and-click, through and through. There is much chatting with characters to be had, as well as solving puzzles using items in the inventory, or combining said items. All objects can be examined, spoken to or picked up, using exactly the interface The Curse of Monkey Island did in 1997. The trouble is Randal’s Monday takes adventure game logic to new unsettling heights. If you thought the monkey wrench puzzle in LeChuck’s Revenge was unfair, it can’t hold a candle to some of the baffling puzzles in Randal’s Monday. Despite the game’s insistence that the solutions are merely “extravagant”, they are decidedly insane. You will often be using objects with other objects that make zero discernible sense unless you’re somehow mindreading the developer, or more likely looking up the resolution using the in-game “hint system”. And by “hint system” I mean walkthrough, since it doesn’t offer hints but instead literally spells out what you need to do next. The solutions are laborious and time-wasting, and it quickly becomes a chore to return to old locations again and again.
One of the major problems is the lead character of Randal himself. He’s utterly dislikeable, and not just in a “oh he’s a loser but he’s got a heart of gold” kind of way. Randal has zero redeeming personality traits. He’s lazy, rude to everyone, constantly making inappropriate jokes and snide asides. When confronted with the charred corpse of his best friend, he barely reacts with remorse and instead is too busy annoying the cops investigating the suicide. It’s utterly baffling why anyone would ever want to be friends with him or why he would be trusted to do anything at all. In Groundhog Day, the character of Phil Connors works because deep down, he is a good person who can be redeemed. Randal Hicks shows no such redemption, being almost uniformly rotten to the core.
Furthermore, everyone he encounters is similarly just as horrible. His landlord is short and bad-tempered (and getting gradually more Scottish); his former boss is old and bad-tempered, even the police officer he regularly meets is morose and bad-tempered. It’s like the world is entirely inhabited by misanthropic whelps. When 95% of the people in a game are either depressed or angry, it has a tendency to rub off on you. The humour is mainly derived from people insulting one another, usually at Randal’s provocation, and there is a fair bit of cursing throughout. Conversations last way too long, with far too many insults being traded back and forth. Personally I really don’t enjoy this kind of humour, and it wasn’t long before I was skipping through most of the dialogue just so I didn’t have to listen to the characters moaning at each other.
One thing many people may actually enjoy is the huge amount of pop-culture and video game references that have been crammed into the game. Randal lives in an apartment on Threepwood Street. At the bar in town, a poster for the Rapture Masquerade Ball hangs in the bathroom while “The Cake is a Lie” is scrawled on a stall door. In Matt’s apartment he has a Half-Life fridge magnet and film posters for Alien and Shawn of the Dead. This is not even to mention the vast array of references to Kevin Smith’s View Askewniverse, from Randal himself (voiced by Clerks own Jeff Anderson, plus his name is an amalgam of the two main characters names from that film) to the fact that Jay and Silent Bob even have their own cameo. These references are there for people who will get them; the game doesn’t shout about them but often inspecting something in the background will yield a semi-witty line from Randal.
Voice acting is what it is. It’s well acted throughout, but I personally found Anderson’s voice rather grating on the ears, leading me to hate Randal even more. There is a wide variety of characters however, including some memorable ones such as the HAL 9000 from 2001 (who basically just quotes lines from the film at you). The soundtrack is mediocre, with some looping soft rock permeating most locations which are nothing to write home about. Something the game does have going for it is the visual style, which is nicely comic book-esque. Characters animate pretty well and the environments themselves are suitably detailed and colourful, providing the world some much-needed atmosphere.
Randal’s Monday feels like a video game from 1998, and in the worst possible way. It wasn’t for no reason that adventure games kind of died in the early 2000’s and have only made a resurgence in the last few years. After Grim Fandango, adventure games had become self-inflated with their own ego; overlong, overwrought try-hards that simply spouted pop-culture at you and failed to understand what made the Monkey Island or King’s Quest games good in the first place. The closest equivalent to Randal’s Monday is Leisure Suit Larry, in that it’s trying to be up there with the big boys, getting a slice of the action, but behind all the bluster it’s just a scrawny kid in sunglasses. With a nicer set of characters and less abrasive writing Randal’s Monday could have been on to something, but alas it was doomed to make the same mistakes, over and over.