The Feeble Files

Review by Orb

The Feeble Files is a 2D cartoon adventure game originally made in 1997 and brought to the Macintosh by Epic Interactive, the publishers of Simon the Sorcerer II. It's a comedy that matches wit for wit some of the most well-known comedic adventure game productions, and it is every bit as enjoyable as any classic LucasArts or Sierra game that I've had the pleasure of slapping into the ol' computer.

It is an animated comedy, cleverly written and well-drawn, with superb voice acting. The game also has two features that make it worth every dime the player spends—it is the longest game I have played (taking into account that The Longest Journey has not been ported to the Mac, of course), and the puzzles in this game are some of the most difficult, if not the most difficult, of any adventure game. This is a game that requires patience—if you don't have it, don't play it.

The game is third-person, and the main character is an otherworldly being called Feeble, from the planet Grenelon. Feeble lives in a society controlled by an entity known as the Omnibrain, an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing Big Brother. But here the Omnibrain is a really jolly, smarmy version of Big Brother who balances his installation of fear in the populace in equal parts to buying it off with arcade galleries, pill-popping shops, and a zoo with examples of conquered species floating in preservation liquids, among other things. It is a society with happiness by decree or threat, and with this in mind the game is also a clever parody on the ethics of governmental interference in the lives of its citizens. But this message is subtle and never hammered home; rather it is delivered with the best of comedic sensibilities in a very light, clever manner.

Feeble, a worker in the Crop Circle Division of the Omnibrain's dictatorial government, known as the Company, unwittingly finds himself involved with revolutionaries called the Rebellion in a plot to overthrow the oppressive Company. As a member of this group of rebels, Feeble enjoys a series of misadventures leading to a wonderful surprise ending.

One of the finest things about The Feeble Files is the absolutely sterling writing. The player is given an extraordinary amount of long, well-played movie sequences, where large chunks of the storyline are rolled out. This is not a game with a lot of tedious reading to get the flavor of what's going on; instead the story is carried forth by well-drawn, richly detailed characters that are an absolute pleasure to follow.

The graphics feature rendered animation and are well-designed and consistently amusing and interesting to look at throughout the game. There is quite a bit of back and forth of the characters as the game progresses, but unlike other games where this mechanism begins to wear painfully thin, in The Feeble Files it never comes off as redundant because there is just so much darned garish, interesting stuff to look at. Colors are bright; characters are well-drawn and funny. The movie sequences are just great, with a real depth to the animation that is very dissimilar to the usual style of most cartoon adventure games.

The game screen design is very clean, with everything needed by the player stored in something called the Oracle Systems personal database, accessed from the game screen by clicking an ever-present circle in the upper left corner of the screen. In the Oracle, an encyclopedia is included, and it is important to use not just to gain valuable clues to solving puzzles in the game but also because it contains much clever and amusing writing read out loud to the player by the voice of Peter Tuddingham (previously known by Brits for his work in Blake's 7 as the voices of Orac and Zen), who captures well the haughty, autocratic essence of the overwrought government laws.

The one drawback to the Oracle is the inventory system. Inventory does not disappear once used, and Oracle does not allow the player to reorganize items so that used ones are at the bottom—in fact, it keeps the most recent items the farthest away. This system is cumbersome.

I would be remiss if I did not take the time to say just what a high-quality job the voice actors do in this game. Led by Robert Llewellyn as Feeble, the actors bring the writing to life, and the two work in tandem to make the game an excellent example of what can be done right in adventure game stories. Llewellyn, a British author and television performer best known for his portrayal of Kryten in the sci-fi comedy series Red Dwarf, gives Feeble just the right degree of bewilderment and irony to pull the character off properly.

Did I mention that the puzzles are hard? Let me reiterate. These puzzles are hard. I double-dare anyone to finish this without the use of a walkthrough at some point. And yes, you can certainly consider this a challenge. With that said, it's fair to point out that the puzzles are, at the same time, fun and fiendishly clever. Some are inventory-based, and some are built directly into the game. There is an action sequence, but it is certainly built for the adventure gaming crowd, giving the player unlimited chances to try it again until she gets it right. A good thing, as this player was using a trackpad and needed more than a small amount of leeway. There are also some arcade puzzles that must be completed in enough quantity to progress to the next portion of the game, and to those who'd like to know what the secret is to get through these, all I can say is persistence is your best tool, as these randomize each time they are played.

Some problems that I experienced that are worth noting: The game had a repetitive problem of freezing on my computer. I did not try a pared-down set of extensions, which may have addressed this problem. It was, however, played on a six-month-old iBook with lots of RAM, and not a lot of third-party extensions, that is used almost exclusively for gaming (and this is the first game to crash like this since I acquired my iBook), so I felt that this may be more a situation with the game than computer. It was however, very easy to "Force Quit" the game and quickly reload, so I wouldn't let someone considering trying the game be put off by the prospect of these freezes.

Although this is a minor point, the game docs omitted an explanation of how to use inventory and where it is stored. This caused a fair amount of frustration and increased the learning curve at the beginning of the game.

One bonus is that the game comes with a folder of saved game files so that if one of the devilish puzzles thoroughly stumps the player, she can still play and not miss the rest of the game. Whoever had the foresight to do this gets a gold star, as it was, based on the difficulty in completing some the puzzles, a wise move. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Adventure Soft
Publisher: Adventure Soft (PC); Epic Interactive (Mac)
Release Date: August 2001 (Mac); 1997 (PC)

Available for: Macintosh Windows

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System Requirements

PowerPC 180 MHz or faster
Mac OS 8.6 or higher
760 MB hard drive space

Windows 95/98
100% Sound Blaster-compatible sound card
25 MB free hard disk space
DirectX-compatible SVGA graphics card

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