Tag Archives: pixel hunting

To escape Subject 13, Franklin Fargo must defeat Minesweeper

I purchased Subject 13 recently during Xbox’s Spring Sale for a couple of reasons: 1) it was cheap, coming it at a mighty low $2.80 2) it was billed as a traditional point-and click adventure game and 3) the graphics, from the few screenshots I saw, made it look pretty and mysterious and something akin to Myst, wherein there’s an island and puzzles to solve. I finished it off the other night feeling frustrated and dissatisfied, especially as I stubbornly felt the need to see it through, and I would not recommend it to anyone if, like me, the above reasons seem initially intriguing.

Subject 13 comes to us from French video game designer Paul Cuisset, though I’ll be honest and did not immediately recognize his name or work. Shame on me, as a fellow Paul. Evidently, he was the lead designer of Delphine Software International and the creator of Flashback, which is listed in the Guinness World Records as the best-selling French game of all time. That’s cool and all, but I’ve never played it and was way more jazzed to learn that he had a hand in making 1994’s mega-hit Shaq Fu, of which one day I’ll tell a story about. Still, the man has clearly been in the business for a while, and there have been some ups and downs; one of the more recent ups was Subject 13‘s successful Kickstarter back in 2014, which helped bring the game to phones, PC, and consoles.

Right, let’s get to it. Subject 13 opens up rather dramatically with a man named Franklin Fargo–no, really, that’s his first name and last name put together–attempting to off himself by driving his car into a river. However, as he begins to drown beneath the water, something happens and he is magically transported into an abandoned research facility. Here, a strange, disembodied robotic voice encourages him to use his special noggin to solve puzzles and make his way out of the compound. All righty then. Oh, and the robotic voice also refers Franklin as Subject 13 and refuses to answer many questions so right away you know something is fishy. It’s a decent bit of science fiction storytelling though it’s both predictable and under-delivered, with most of the details tucked away in hidden audio logs.

The gameplay is pretty straightforward stuff for adventure games, with Franklin exploring a small area or number of areas, picking up commonplace items, examining them up close, and using them either individually or combining them with others to solve puzzles, the majority of which are based around logic. Don’t be surprised to find yourself dealing with combination locks and slide puzzles and doing a bit of math on the side. It’s not The Witness, but few games are. I truly didn’t mind the puzzles, even if they never felt like they were natural in the world and clearly stuck out as something to do to slow progress, but a couple were extremely obtuse and resulted in me looking up solutions online to keep my momentum going.

Oh, and let me touch upon the final section of the game. Spoilers incoming…even though I kind of dropped a big one in this blog post’s title. After all your exploring and puzzle solving and chasing after holographic women, the only way out for Franklin Fargo…is through a game of Minesweeper. Now, it doesn’t immediately look like Minesweeper because of, y’know, copyright issues, but it’s the same idea nonetheless. And honestly, I’m not too bummed about this, because I enjoy a round or two or three of Minesweeper, but it shouldn’t be used as a final, climactic showdown. Don’t think too hard about the fact that this ancient device is guarding itself via a firewall based on Minesweeper. Also, there’s an Achievement tied to beating this part in under twenty, but the clunky look and nature of the beast means you need to play it slowly or start over again, and it’s the only Achievement I didn’t get for the game…so boo-hoo to that.

Here’s the hard truth–Subject 13 lacks polish and modern, friendly mechanics. It wasn’t designed to have them, but it needs them. I understand that this wants to call back to an era of gaming where adventuring was a little more imperceptive and up to the player to truly figure out, but some of that was left behind for a reason, to make the experience more inviting. For instance, moving the main character around is absolutely terrible, with Franklin strutting forward like a goalless gorilla, unable to make it up some steps or around a corner unless he approaches them from a very specific angle. A more traditional point-and-click interface would have worked better, especially when you often have to walk from one side of the screen to another, and it takes just long enough to have me reaching for me phone to check my email or the weather for tomorrow. Some items are extremely well hidden and, with no internal monologue from Franklin, I never even knew I was supposed to be looking for a bucket. Lastly, while the UI for your inventory is neat-looking, it never made it easy to pick up an item and compare it to another or, if you selected the wrong one, deselect it and try again; I felt like I was always fighting against the system.

I’m not all angry ogre, so here’s what I liked about Subject 13. The soundtrack is subtle and New Age-y, relies on futuristic synth-heavy tracks, but also enough soft sounds to lull you into a moody yet pleasantly relaxed atmosphere that doesn’t get in the way of exploring and solving puzzles. For testimonies, the game’s audio log collectibles, you can always see how many you have found in the chapter percentage-wise, as well as total, which I appreciated as I wanted to get them all in one go. Lastly, instead of “continue” the game uses “carry on” in its menu options, and that is so adorable I’m over here making large cat eyes and nodding enthusiastically.

I bought another game alongside Subject 13 during this sale, namely Anoxemia, and though it is not exactly the same type of game, I’m hoping I enjoy it much more than this, whenever it is that I get around to playing it. See, I’m not always good at immediately jumping into my purchases, though I did on this one and am unhappy. Or maybe I need to give Flashback a good swing–the original, not the 2013 remake version.

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2017 Game Review Haiku, #110 – Madarakinoko

Trapped, four walls cage me
Tenacious clicks, steadfast bricks
I will not be vines

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #103 – Chook & Sosig: Hit the Club

Wanna be goblin?
Prove yourself, clear three trials
What style, what art

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #91 – Morphopolis

Bug transformation
Find out what each insect needs
Frustrating puzzles

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #89 – Haven: The Small World, “Episode 1”

Oxygen is low
Reduce the population
Survive through edits

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Hot spots only for Lilly Looking Through

Look, it happened. I previously mentioned Lilly Looking Through in the post about Windosill in hopes that it would stay in my mind and get me to play it sooner than later, and I ended up playing it sooner than later. Woo, go me. Alas, that trick doesn’t work every time–sorry, games like Silent Hill 3, ???, and ???. I guess it doesn’t matter how many times I type your names. Sigh. Anyways, I probably don’t have too much to say about this Kickstarted point-and-click adventure game from Geeta Games, but I want to give it its spot in the limelight regardless.

Lilly Looking Through tells a somewhat straightforward story the basically boils down to an adventurous childhood day gone tipsy-turvy. Lilly is playing in the woods with her younger brother Row when, suddenly, he gets tangled in a strange red piece of fabric and is whisked away on an extremely strong breeze. Armed only with a pair of magical goggles, Lilly must make her way past crumbling bridges, pitch-black caverns, and deep, icy lakes to rescue him. See, when Lilly puts on the goggles, she is transported backwards in time, with her surroundings revert to their former state. By affecting things in the past, she can change the layout of the future, and get to where she needs to be.

It’s a good mechanic, watching cause and reaction play out, and something that I fuzzily remember from that one time I watched a neighbor play Day of the Tentacle when I was just a kid, switching between different characters in various time periods to affect each other’s environments or help pass essential items to solve puzzles. Except one of the nice things about Lilly Looking Through is there is no inventory; you are not picking up every stick, rock, and piece of rope in hopes of using them either logically or ironically down the road. Instead, it is all about the hot spots and figuring out what order levers should be pulled in or if you need to pull that lever first in the older realm and see what it does to the current realm. Occasionally, there will be an item to pick up in an environment, like a flaming torch, but you will use it almost immediately and then be done with it, which is comforting.

Interestingly, Lilly Looking Through is able to establish a palpable sense of place, with next to no words or dialogue. For the most part, Lilly is alone and doesn’t have anyone to talk to or interact with. All you get are screams of surprise or the desperate call for her brother. However, as she explores and searches for Row, you’ll see signs of civilization are all around. Except there are no people, no leftovers lingering about, save for their creations. It’s a lonely experience, but I connected with it, as I often had a lonely childhood, wandering the woods by myself in search of cool bugs or a dirty magazine. There’s a lot to wonder about here, but the story is light on details, focusing rather on the task at hand and sprinkling story details on the sides.

Lilly Looking Through is a short, but enjoyable couple hours of clicking. There’s a limited number of areas, and each spot focuses mostly on a singular puzzle to solve, and none of them are too tricky. Even if they are, with enough clicking, you’ll power through them. I also really dug the bits of beautiful animation throughout, and the ending leaves our characters in a strange, new world, one that, maybe, some day down the road, we’ll get to explore. Until then, I’ll continue searching for hot spots, like the one that lets me make this blog post go live so I can start playing something else. I think it is…this one…right…here.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #83 – Lilly Looking Through

Chasing after scarf
Magical goggles see more
Beautiful flow, worlds

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.