Adventures of Fatman
Review by Scout
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
Moon in San Francisco, Eye
of the Kraken, Xiama,
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
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
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
Release Date: May 2003
Four Fat Chicks Links
Windows operating system
Pentium 100 MHz or faster
32 MB RAM
All DirectX-compatible sound cards are optionally supported
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