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The Adventures of Fatman

Review by Scout
June 2003

In the last few years there has been an upsurge in the release of independently developed adventure games. Whether this has been the result of the commercial developers failing to meet the measure of a small but intensely devoted market or just something in the water, there is a increasing number of adventure gamers taking matters into their own hands. Thus Dark Fall, Harvest, Full Moon in San Francisco, Eye of the Kraken, Xiama, Magnetic, SerpentHead Revisited, Rhem, Alida ... and the list goes on. Every month now it seems a another new game is added to the list, another indie developer stands up to be counted. With the release of his first game, The Adventures of Fatman, Michael Doak of Socko! Entertainment joins the party.

Like most independent developers, Doak has pretty much done it all, scripting, programming, artwork, voice work and puzzle design. Using the ubiquitous Adventure Game Studio game engine courtesy of Chris Jones and an excellent soundtrack by Mark Lovegrove of Screen 7, Doak has given us a pretty nifty little game. I say nifty because it was well put together. I say little because it's relatively small in scope. Both of these are good things.

The main character, Fatman, may seem familiar. He's a brooding guy in black tights, a cape, boots and pointy-eared helmet, a Fatmobile and a Fatcave ... I'm still trying to remember where I've seen him before. I'm sure it will come to me eventually. As you might imagine, Fatman isn't much for rippling abs and bulging deltoids. Well, he does have bulges but mostly they hang over his belt. Not affiliated with any crew of superheroes proper, he goes it alone, cruising the mean streets of Shadowlawn, solving crimes and dishing out Fat-Justice. In his first adventure, subtitled Toxic Revenge, we find him on the trail of Toxicman, an ill-fated wannabe henchman who has gotten himself blown up alongside several vats of Acne Lab's chemically caustic goo. Now green and mutated, minus a skullcap and part of an arm, Toxicman is shot through with the urge to do evil. Can you blame him? But never fear, Fatman is on the case. Sort of.

Fatman is an obvious homage to superhero comics and early graphic adventure games and all the fun times they remind us of. The interface is straight ahead, almost retro in feel with the good old action icons and inventory arranged in a handy bar at the bottom of the screen. Think Indy Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Think early Monkey Island. Smiling yet? Then this game is for you. The graphics are cartoony and brightly colored and flat as a pancake. The 30-plus locations are simple like a haiku poem is simple. Spare but packed with possibilities. It's not about the eye candy and it's not about a super thrilling interface. It's about fun. Remember fun?

Having limited resources, this game depends instead on the wit and energy of its designer. Michael Doak has lovingly crafted this little jewel, first and foremost I think because he loves the genres of comics and computer games and secondly because he's got the bug to create. Or the other way around. Sure, some of the humor is a little lowbrow and some of the graphics crude as hell, but that's part of the experience. Think interactive cartoons with clever, sometimes downright hard, puzzles set a friendly, postmodern, fart-joke environment, and you have Fatman.

Gameplay commences in the Fatcave where Fatman is moping around bored to tears. Even though his trusty computer tells him of strange goings-on down at Acne Labs, Fatman decides it's probably a faulty burglar alarm and goes to bed. Noon the next day and he's back at the computer, grumpy and barely awake. It seems dastardly deeds transpired after all. Fatman zips down to what's left of Acne Labs only to be stopped by a cop. I was barely a minute into my first conversation when one of Shadowlawn's finest drew down and shot me dead. Yep, you heard right. You can die in The Adventures of Fatman and quite regularly too. Push that button on the dash of your Fatmobile that says END IT ALL and guess what happens. Luckily you are dropped right back to the moment before you died if you are playing on Easy or, at the worst, back to your last save if you are playing on Hard. There are only six save slots, so if you are playing on the Hard setting, you've been warned. Anyway, to get past the cop you have to give him the spiked doughnut but first you have to lace it with drugs but first you have to buy the drug but first you have to find the money to buy the drug but first you have to get a job to get the money to buy the drugs ... Getting the picture?

I mentioned earlier that the puzzles are difficult, and some of them are, very much so, at least for me. It's vital in Fatman to look closely at everything and try everything. Often the developer and I were on the same mental wavelength, but a few times I was really spinning my wheels. A lot of the these puzzles require that you scrutinize the location carefully, trying all possible actions on all possible hotspots. Fortunately the game is good at prodding you along just when you need it, giving you enough hints at just the right moments so that you're never at a loss where to go next or what to do when you get there. It's the how that's the thing. Fatman's not an easy game, contrary to what you may have heard; at least I didn't find it so. These kinds of puzzles, situational, embedded in the graphics, are the ones I find hardest. For some reason, though I was an art major, I do better with arcane math stuff, visual memory puzzles and conversation trees. Another gamer might find him or herself breezing through the Fatman puzzles. Your mileage may vary wildly here, especially if you cut your teeth on early LEC and Sierra games.

One area in which Fatman really shines is the voice work. Doak did several of the voices himself and most likely relied on friends and family for the rest. While there is the occasional clunky delivery, most of the voices are surprisingly fresh and vital, and this really goes a long way toward putting this game over. I suspect Doak was one of those kids who ran around the house babbling in tongues and driving his parents nuts.

There's no real story in Fatman. You track down Toxicman, battle him and prevail. You have no important side characters to fill in the blanks, and Fatman, other than his propensity for stuffing his face, remains pretty much a cipher. He doesn't even seem particularly cut out to be a superhero. He would probably be just as happy scarfing pizza and vegging out in front of the tube. The lack of any engaging story was my biggest complaint and probably not an altogether valid one. There wasn't meant to be much of a story. Doak, at least in his maiden journey, seemed thrilled just to show up.

Most of the pleasures you'll get from Fatman are simple ones. Opening drawers, unlocking doors, finding passwords, driving the Fatmobile, tallying up points, using your nifty Swiss Army knife. It's a mechanical, hands-on world in fair Shadowlawn, and but for the talent of the designer this game would have begun to drag early on. There were minor annoyances as well. The exits weren't marked and sometimes took a lot of clicking about to find the way to the next screen. Fatman had a habit of planting his big butt in front of whatever needed to be manipulated, requiring me to walk him to the side of the screen so I could see what I was doing, but this is endemic of third-person, puzzle-heavy games in general. But Doak is talented and smart and energetic and he pulled it off with panache. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with next. Now that he's shepherded a game through to its release, hopefully he will set his sights a little higher the next time and give us a more fleshed-out character, a bigger world. (Maybe one without so many clickable cigarette butt hotspots?)

By the way, there're some goodies on the CD that you should explore, specifically the Special Features section with early sketches, concept art, script, sfx, audio tracks, personal photos and even a bonus game called Pizza Quest. Um, pizza you say ... now where's that Fat Phone? The End

The Verdict

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The Lowdown

Developer: Socko! Entertainment
Publisher: Socko! Entertainment
Release Date: May 2003

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows operating system
Pentium 100 MHz or faster
32 MB RAM
All DirectX-compatible sound cards are optionally supported

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