I Have Nothing to Fear Except F.E.A.R. Itself…
It’s not secret that I adore Fighting Fantasy game books - I reviewed the recently released iOS app of House of Hell a while back http://maturegamerpodcast.com/bouncybhall-spends-a-night-in-the-house-of-hell/
- but what many folk don’t realise is that the beloved Fighting Fantasy series wasn’t simply full of books based in a fantastical realm of dragons and demons.
With books such as Space Assassin and The Rings of Kether providing a sci-fi fantasy setting and House of Hell and Beneath Nightmare Castle scaring the bejesus out of kids up around the world it was the Super Heroes and Super Villains setting of Appointment With F.E.A.R. that excited me most growing up.
Steve Jackson created a world populated with puns and thinly veiled parodies of famous comic book folk (both creator and character) as you, The Silver Crusader fought the good fight and protected the citizens of Titan City. It was a very exciting variation on the concept of a fantasy adventure and I adored it. I never completed it legitimately though, it was very difficult and I always favoured the ‘fingers in the pages’ technique to get me through the story.
Jump forward to more modern days and the good folk at Tin Man Games announced that they were halting work on their Appointment with F.E.A.R. adaptation to pursue an exciting new direction. Part inspired by Inkle Studios’ work on Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! and part inspired by a decision to go from game book to graphic novel in style they invoked a little storm of hate from the rabid Fighting Fantasy fan base. How dare these upstarts mess around with the classics, eh? Well, I’m glad that they did. Because their final version of Appointment with F.E.A.R. is a joy to play.
This release also represents the first Fighting Fantasy game they’ve released on Steam and as I am well versed in their iOS apps, I decided to concentrate my review on the Steam release. Getting the housekeeping out of the way it supports PC, Mac and Linux as well as featuring a Kev-pleasing Big Picture and Controller support mode from launch. Throw in a pile of Steam achievements and more, and you will know that Tin Man have gone above and beyond for their Steam debut.
So how does a tactile app translate to the world of the personal computer? Well, in short it is pretty much untouched from the iOS version (which I’ve had a splash around on for comparison reasons) but this isn’t a criticism. It retains the interactive graphic novel feel and has a pleasingly free form interaction element as you can click on some elements on the game screen to generate small effects and animations. The game also allows a bit more control over ‘who’ you play in the game with pre-set elements with a degree of customisation, but all held in the grip of the developers to retain the ‘realism’ of the Fighting Fantasy world that Jackson created way back in 1985.
The influence of Inkle’s inspired Sorcery! Apps is evident from the get go as text from the book is laid on the screen line by line, being influenced by your choices. Some of the more odd choices you can make are complimented with great achievements that serve to shame you for your odd decision making prowess, and since starting the game a few times I have been poked for blaming dinosaurs for heinous crimes, for mentally making toast and for being vane, and I needed it to save me from myself.
Decisions do not always result in success, and the game rewards/punishes the player with a Hero points system that dictates how good a hero you are, and if you are likely to get a bonus card at the end of your run. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention them. So, Tin Man have added F.E.A.R. cards to the game as unlockable collectible cards that you collect during the game (and mobile users will be able to trade these via Facebook) and they add an extra element of replayability to the game as a whole. As you play the game you also unlock Luck Points that can be exchanged for a better chance of getting a rarer card. It’s not an essential addition by any stretch of the word, but it is a worthy one regardless.
The game makes good use of the quips used by super heroes, tracking them and providing me with a hearty final laugh in the ‘Game Stats’ section that follows each adventure - even if ending in resounding failure. The humour that runs through the game is the life blood of it’s very being. It may be set in the Eighties, but Watchmen this ain’t. Instead you are at the centre of a silver age style adventure, armed with a familiar looking ‘Crime Watch’, a selection of put downs and a hard-♥♥♥ boss who seems determined on firing you. Life as a super hero can be harder when having to live the mundane ‘incognito’ lifestyle that you use to protect your secret, heroic identity.
On the whole I have spent about three hours on Appointment With F.E.A.R. so far, and can see myself dipping in and out for a good few weeks to come. I even pulled my original Puffin published book off of the shelf, cracked out some dice and sharpened a pencil to give the original a revisit. I was blown up by a car bomb within fifteen mins. Good job I kept my finger in the pages. But could I do this on the game if I wanted? Well Yes, actually. The game has a very clever checkpoint system that allows you to jump back a little and attempt to avoid humiliating failure on a replay. Or reset the whole game. Or choose new super abilities. Perhaps it wasn’t wise to fight a giant stone creature with a Psi-powered super hero, and you think it’s worth going back through as a super strength character. Well, the option is there.
Finally, and I mention this as it is a very pleasing thing to note, the game supports the OpenDyslexic typeface that makes it easier for people with Dyslexia to access products with text. In a game so reliant on reading I can only applaud the good folks at Tin Man for ensuring that this app is open to as many people as possible. Sometimes a game is all we need, and there are enough barriers in life it is fantastic to see more and more developers working on accessibility. Bravo to you all!
So in summary Appointment with F.E.A.R. is a very polished and accomplished effort from Tin Man Games. For any one who has ever raider their older sister’s room, stolen some tights and a cape and taken to the streets to avenge the death of a beloved uncle it is an ESSENTIAL purchase. To those right minded folk who would never consider such acts of perversion and vigilantism it’s a great way to still live out a super-powered existence.
My character is like Jonathan Creek with the ability to punch a bad guy through a shipping container. Who wouldn’t love that, eh?
Appointment with F.E.A.R. is available now on Android, iOS and Steam (as well as being in the Humble Store if you are so inclined). It is almost essential gaming for anyone who enjoys graphic novels, interactive fiction or watching helplessly as a Ripper Shark kills a child in a very familiar scene….
Reviewed on the Steam version provided by the developers.
Running on The Falcon.