IFReviewed by Greg Boettcher on 2006-05-22 08:42
I'm proud to be the first person in the newsgroups to write a review of Future Boy. It's quite a singular game, in more ways than one. Above all, it's the most impressive multimedia IF game in the last ten years, with cool comic-book-style illustrations, excellent animations, voice acting for all the NPCs, and high quality music and sound effects. In a way, Future Boy hearkens back to the early nineties, when Legend Entertainment produced the last great commercial IF games, which had graphics, music, and sometimes animation.
Future Boy is also a commercial release. It costs $19.95 for the plain CD-ROM, or $24.95 for the jewel case edition. (Shipping is as low as $2.25.) The CD is also packed with a few extras, including a 25-page booklet, "The Art of Future Boy," on the making of the game's graphics.
As you'd expect with a commercial release, the game comes with an easy installation program. And since it's a Hugo game, there's impressive multi-platform support. There's an attractive opening menu (although it behaves oddly in one or two instances). And there's a host of command-line options, allowing you to, for instance, turn various multimedia features on or off.
Naturally, the game also has a demo available, downloadable for free. It is 36 megs and gives you a taste of the game. The demo is quite short, showing only about three segments of the game, but I think I can see why Kent Tessman didn't make it any longer: 36 megs is already quite a hefty package for those with dial-up modems. Anyway, the demo certainly is long enough to give you a taste of the game. (By the way, if you get the full game, you can type "skip intro" to skip most of the demo segment.)
With regard to the multimedia stuff, there are pictures of each room, and the cool thing is that many of them change when the room changes (to reflect, for instance, the opening of a door). Some of them, too, are animated pictures. And there pictures of all the NPCs (often several pictures of each) as well as illustrations of most of the important objects. These were largely the work of artist Derek Lo, as I understand, who worked with Kent Tessman on the project. The game is also interspersed with animations here and there, which are very well done and add to the fun.
The game has some good music, which, according to Baf's Guide, was composed by Nate Laguzza, Dan Langan, and Kent Tessman. Actually, you'll spend more time listening to atmospheric sound effects, like birds chirping in the park. But the game's best sound asset is its voice acting, which I thought was very well done. Every word spoken by an NPC is also heard as voice acting. It must have been hard to get good actors together like that on a low budget. Also, a couple of the voices were digitally modified, with good results (and very funny, in one case).
The game begins with a short opening segment where "you're Future Boy... and you're FALLING..." This is not a particularly interactive segment, and I think Kent Tessman took a risk by beginning the game with it. If you have problems, don't give up without remembering that you can type "hint."
For most of the rest of the game, you are not Future Boy, but an ordinary guy who works as a laundry deliveryman. (Actually, change that to "ordinary woman... delivery woman" as appropriate; the game is careful to not define your gender, as far as I can tell.) You live in Rocket City, which is unfortunately the stomping grounds of supervillain Clayton Eno. Fortunately the city has a superhero as well -- Future Boy.
Early in the game -- during the demo -- you meet Future Boy and learn his real-life identity. He's not what you'd expect. When Future Boy isn't a superhero, he's something of an antihero, and the subject of a few jokes. Later in the game, Future Boy is incapacitated, and it is up to you to rescue the city from the villainous hands of Clayton Eno.
It's not exactly a fresh idea for a game. There have been plenty of superhero IF games before. There have even been superhero-as-antihero games before. What makes this different is the extensive size of the game and the appropriate comic-book-style illustrations. There's a lot of enthusiasm put into this game, and that makes it a lot of fun.
The puzzles are easy to moderate in difficulty, which made for an enjoyable experience for me. On the other hand, there are a couple of good challenging moments, including an interesting segment with the supervillain's computer. The only time I was annoyed by illogical puzzles was at the end of the game. As far as I could tell, it's not possible to lock yourself out of victory, although it is possible to miss the best moment for doing something, making victory more difficult.
The majority of the game involves exploring Rocket City, which is navigable by subway. Most of the time, it's not hard to know what to do next, although in a couple of cases I found myself scratching my head. In addition to the Rocket City section, there's also a series of Hitchhiker's-esque segments where you get to change characters and be somebody else for a little while, which was fun.
If you get stuck, the game's hints are quite good, and are adaptive based on the state of the game. They're not quite flawless; in one case I got stuck and had to get a hint from a message board.
I wish I could recommend this game without qualifications, but no. There are flaws here, some of them a lot bigger than I would have expected for a commercial release. Although this game was tested, I don't think it was tested well enough.
As I look through my list of bugs and other possible flaws, none of them are particularly devastating, but taken together, they add up. Perhaps this is the worst one:
You don't see him.
This is the worst bug because it's the most frequent. It happened to me several times, not just with the blanket. In fact, I'd expect every player to encounter this bug.
In one case, the game contained a puzzle whose most obvious solution was to simply escape the room by the obvious exit. But if you try to walk in that direction, you get "There's nothing in that direction," which is false and infurating.
The game is not very good at cluing you in on puzzles. In one case there's an object that's not obviously important, but is necessary to win the game, and if you examine the collection of items to which it belongs, you get no hint of its existence. As far as I can tell, the only way to find out about it is from the room description. This is downright buggy, and it made me mad.
Unfortunately, the game is a little fussy about syntax. In one case, this turns a moderately easy puzzle into an unpleasant guess-the-syntax moment. This is truly sub-par for a commercial release. Fortunately, this only happened once or so.
The conversation system is generally good, but there are some problems. Laudably, it allows you to talk to people either via menus or via the traditional ask/tell system. (Type "conversations on" or "conversations off.") The problem with the menus is, they are not as good as I would have liked. When you meet a character and "TALK TO" that character, you initially get a respectable list of menu options, but these quickly disappear until you're left with a contentless menu, or simply the refusal to speak. This is okay in the opening part of the game, where the game is split into bite-sized chunks, but in the latter part of the game, long stretches go by in which NPCs' conversation menus are totally useless. My idea would be to leave a few menu options continually available, allowing you to continue to use the menu to ask about topics that are remain relevant to that character at any given time, perhaps being reminded of vital information that the characters had previously stated.
The game makes up for this in a big way by allowing characters to use "ask/tell" in addition to the conversation menus. More importantly, the conversation menus are themselves optional; I understand that the game is entirely winnable without using them at all (although I didn't try this). But there's a problem here, too. With the "ask/tell" system, the NPCs don't respond to a very wide range of topics. On the one hand, this is substandard for a commercial game, but on the other hand, you can see why it happened: when you've decided to do voice-acting for every word uttered by every NPC, there's a natural tendency not to include more NPC-spoken text than necessary. The high quality of the acting will probably make some people not care about this so much. All in all, I found the conversation system to be adequate, but not exceptional -- except for the voice acting, which was really cool.
Future Boy is flawed, yes. Actually, for a commercial release, it's way too flawed. But its strengths are greater than its flaws. For an author who I'm sure was doing this in his spare time on a limited budget, this game is truly impressive indeed.
Is it worth buying? Hell yes! I paid my $25 for Future Boy, and I don't regret it. (Well, actually, I regret getting the jewel case edition; I recommend the other edition instead.) I had a lot of fun with this game.
Definitely, the Future Boy demo is a must-play. The demo gives you a very good idea of what the game is like, both its strengths and its weaknesses. And don't let the shortness of the demo mislead you; the full game is, for me at least, satisfyingly large. If, after playing the demo, you decide to buy the game, I'm sure you won't be disappointed.