Video Game Review: Appointment with F.E.A.R.

Game: Appointment With F.E.A.R.
Developer: Tin Man Games
Publisher: Tin Man Games
System: PC, iPad, Android, Linux – iPad version reviewed
Price: Varies

Before we get into things, I’d like to preface this review with an apology. Tin Man Games’ iOS version of Appointment with F.E.A.R. has been out for months. I’ve been sitting with a copy of the game awaiting review since before then. Obviously, that review hasn’t materialised until now, because I’ve only just written it. I could regale you with the details of why the review has been so delayed – starting a new job, moving house, losing the job, moving back – but ultimately, that wouldn’t excuse the fact that I made a promise and haven’t delivered on it. So, I would like to offer my sincere apologies to Neil Rennison and the rest of the team at Tin Man Games for promising to review their rather excellent game and then not bothering to follow through for several months. I’d also like to apologise to the handful of readers who may have been waiting to hear my thoughts on the game, although I’ll wager there’s not many of you. And just in case anyone thinks that my guilty conscience may have altered this review in a favourable way, I can assure that’s not the case. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m simply not that nice of a person.

Enough grovelling. On with the show!

Unlike Forest of Doom and House of Hell, Appointment with F.E.A.R. wasn’t a gamebook I was looking forward to, given that I was never really a fan of the original. Back when I got my hands on it in school, the deliberate mix of camp and homage never really clicked with me. So, going in to the iOS version, I was a little bit hesitant about the whole experience.

The first thing that struck me was just how much of an overhaul Tin Man have made to their gamebook system for this release. The other titles that I’ve reviewed – Blood of the Zombies, Forest of Doom, House of Hell – have played it fairly safe, choosing to emulate the original format as closely as possible. You could see dice being rolled on screen, you had an inventory you could browse, and a character sheet for you to look at, for example.

Visually, the on-screen action does away with the static, page-turning format of previous books. In a move that I can only applaud, despite my initial reservations, Tin Man has embraced the campy, comic-book fun of the source material, and instead display the on-screen action as a series of word balloons and text boxes, broken up by brightly coloured pictures that help to set the scene. That may not sound like much, but when you see it in action, it gives the game a fast-paced rhythm that’s easy to get sucked into.

As with any old-school superhero, there’s really only one way to settle disputes with the villains you encounter – by beating them into unconsciousness. The on-screen action comes with all the flair and dramatism you might expect from an homage to the golden age of superheroes. The combat directly channels the 60s Batman show, with combat punctuated/illustrated by large, vibrant KAPOW – style word balloons.

Combat is turn-based, and each turn, you’re given a choice between three different attacks: one does little damage but is almost a guaranteed hit, a medium attack with a reasonable chance to hit, and a powerful attack which hits only rarely.

While you don’t have Skyrim-levels of customisation, the game allows you to put your own stamp on your character. You can pick and choose from a fairly extensive list of options until you’re happy with the result. You’re able to choose from certain pre-determined outfits, with the ability to tweak the colours, and you can also pick that kinds of powers your hero has.

Plot-wise, the story is glorious comic-book nonsense. Your character hides their superhero activities by means of the requisite secret identity, which is of course a mild mannered reporter. You discover that the super-criminal organisation F.E.A.R., headed up by the nefarious Titanium Cyborg, will be meeting in your city in a few days’ time. Your main task throughout the game is to uncover the time and location of that meeting. Fail to do so, and F.E.A.R. bring their plans to fruition, and your game is over, at least until you restart and try again.

Alongside hunting down F.E.A.R., you can carry out the duties expected of any superhero and solve a multitude of crimes along the way. You’re alerted to these crimes by your Crime Watch, which beeps at typically inappropriate times, forcing you to choose to ignore what may be low-priority crimes in order to keep your real life ticking along. Of course, skip by those petty crimes, and you may miss out on valuable clues for tracking down F.E.A.R..

Because the story only covers a few days, the game rattles along at a fair clip. How much that matters to you is hard to say, as it means you can get through the game in under an hour if you don’t stop to take in too many of the sights. If you’re looking for a quick diversion, then so much the better, but if you’re looking for something to be pored over and fought with for hours on end, you may want to look elsewhere.

However, one thing Appointment does well that previous gamebooks have struggled with, is provide a healthy amount of replay value. It’s more than likely you’ll fail on at least your first play through of the game. Success isn’t quite a matter of being in the right place at the right time, but more of making the right decisions under the right circumstances. That means that not only will you probably end up having to play the game a few times to win, but there’s a lot to see and discover in the game, that will definitely require repeated playthroughs.

Alongside replaying just to make sure you’ve seen everything, achievements are present to entice you back in. There’s more to find in F.E.A.R. though than just the same old achievement we’ve come to expect. Almost every event in the game, from battles to appropriately exciting decisions, offers the chance to drop a collectible F.E.A.R. Trading Card. There’s no in-game benefit or real point to collecting these, other than the fact that they’re there, and at the end of the day, isn’t that the main reason we collect anything?

The only real criticism I can think of is that some people, like I did when I was younger, will find the campy over-the-top nature of the subject matter a bit hard to get past. The game is openly, gloriously in love with its subject matter and embraces it wholeheartedly. Fortunately, as I’ve matured, I’m more able to see the care for the subject matter that underpins the camp. If you prefer your games a bit more straight-laced, then you may want to stay away.

So yeah, go buy this game. You can pick it up via the iTunes and Google Play stores for $5.99/£3.99. Alternatively, you can buy it direct from the Tin Man website for $5.99, which actually gives you access to the PC, Mac, Linux, and Android versions of the game. Even if you don’t fancy it for yourself, you may know a middle-aged geek or two who are likely to enjoy this trip down memory lane.

Tin Man Games very kindly provided a copy of this game for the purposes of the his review. All pictures are also courtesy of Tin Man Games.


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