"Yelltown is a distinctly dreamlike place: hand-drawn in an offbeat comics style not entirely unlike Nate Powell or Charles Burns, it comes across as an uncanny blend of Lisbon, Leipzig, and middle America. "
Unforeseen Incidents is the upcoming debut of German studio Backwoods, a point-and-click adventure set in Yelltown, a sparse city under quarantine due to the outbreak of a disease called, fittingly, Yelltown Fever. Extremely contagious and with a high mortality rate, Yelltown Fever first manifests as cold symptoms before blood erupts from the orifices. Over at EGX Rezzed's Application Systems Heidelberg booth, I met with Unforeseen Incidents' composer Tristan Berger, who explained Yelltown Fever and walked me through a portion of the upcoming adventure's first chapter.
Dropout repairman Harper Pendrell, on his way home from fixing his former professor's laptop, finds himself face to face with a victim of late-stage Yelltown Fever — a woman lying in the street, showing the tell-tale signs of infection. The woman pleads with Harper to just leave her to pass away, but he offers to call the RHC, a shadowy emergency disease control unit whose posters are all over town. She becomes intensely fearful at this remark and begs Harper not to do so. However, a nosy neighbour inserts herself in the situation and, bowing to peer pressure, Harper makes the call. The operator insists he stay where he is, but the ailing woman tells him to run, as RHC will vivisect them both. She entrusts him with a sealed envelope and asks him to deliver it to a reporter named Helliwell, who is a guest at the nearby hotel.
It's at this point I was given free reign of the small district of Yelltown that Harper was in. I stopped by his apartment, a filthy hovel with a mattress on the floor, cardboard taped over the windows, and a large ham radio dominating the far side of his bedroom. It invited, even dared me to operate it, but I didn't know where to begin — no doubt foreshadowing for a later puzzle. I'd also begun to notice Unforeseen Incidents' tonal dissonance at this point. Despite witnessing a horrific event, Harper was content to make the usual suite of goofy adventure game protagonist comments on anything and everything, while dramatic music swelled behind his observations. However, I wouldn't exactly call this dissonance inappropriate. Yelltown is a distinctly dreamlike place: hand-drawn in an offbeat comics style not entirely unlike Nate Powell or Charles Burns, it comes across as an uncanny blend of Lisbon, Leipzig, and middle America. Its elevated alleys rise in impossible directions, its town square host to a sculpture that combines a Roman masculine figure with a television screen in place of its head.
There's a surreal feeling permeating every corner of Unforeseen Incidents, one that only grew stronger when I found the hotel: a large pub that, from the outside, wouldn't be amiss in the British countryside, but inside resembled a makeshift rec room in someone's basement. A low tempo, Badalamenti-esque tune played. Although I was unable to locate the elusive Helliwell before I had to dash off to my next appointment, I observed two Minnesotan accented sports fans in lawn chairs assembled in front of a tiny CRT television to watch VHS after VHS of their favourite teams' glory days. The encounter felt abject, yet strangely enchanting.
Something is very wrong with Yelltown, and it's not just the fever. Adventure game buffs will be able to find out for themselves when Unforeseen Incidents releases on May 24th.