If you hear a gurgling sound in the background, that's just the potential of another promising game being needlessly flushed away.
Back when new hope still flowed freely, Full Pipe seemed an ideal choice to be the debut adventure on Valve's renowned Steam distribution system. Even beyond the remarkably synchronous names, this unheralded adventure is exactly the sort of game that both benefits from and contributes the most to the cause of digital distribution. Previously available only in the developer's native Russia, Full Pipe is arguably too quirky, too raw, too "niche" to warrant an international release as a boxed product. But with the ability to download a game without borders at a click of a button, now even the underdog has a chance to reach worldwide audiences.
Plunge a little deeper, however, and the quality of Full Pipe itself soon begins to clog up the perfect plan. It doesn't happen right away, as the game swells from a delightfully simple premise to a deceptively complex design, and has undeniable charm oozing out of every seal and gasket. Unfortunately, the experience quickly sinks under an endless stream of illogical puzzles, and with virtually nothing in the way of story to keep it afloat, much of the enjoyment is ultimately sucked down the drain for good.
Of course, there are those who might argue that Full Pipe qualifies more as a puzzle game than an adventure in the first place, though that distinction seems unnecessarily restrictive. Nevertheless, the game does forsake many of the genre's conventions, stripping the gameplay down to its core basics without any pretense of characterization and plot.
Full Pipe, subtitled (total flue) in the Steam version, begins with a scene of the nameless protagonist sleeping soundly until a monstrous hand emerges from under the bed to snatch one of his slippers and disappear back to the depths. Upon awakening, our hero -- a rotund little bald fellow who looks something like a Mr. Potato Head with a disproportioned coil on his back -- discovers the theft and decides to pursue the shoe down a giant hole beneath his room. That's right, there'll be no saving the world or exposing grand conspiracies in this game. Following footwear is what it's all about.
Actually, even that's not true for long, as the slipper is found immediately, depriving the game of its one tangible motivation. Instead, the singular abstract goal becomes finding a way back to the surface. Doing so will require working your way through eight levels of a subterranean sewer-like world consisting of 36 different "cells", each connected by a series of pipes and elevators. Naturally (or in this case, quite unnaturally), many of these passages are inaccessible at first, blocked by the various denizens of the deep and requiring you to solve puzzles or succeed at mini-games in order to advance.
In some ways, gameplay in Full Pipe is reminiscent of Samorost or the Goblins games of old, presenting a series of individual challenges in what is essentially a mental obstacle course. But while those games continually push the player forward in a linear fashion, the world of Full Pipe is intricately interconnected, so the deeper you go the more complex the puzzle possibilities. Or at least, that's the theory. Unfortunately, the developers rarely capitalized on the benefits of their own clever design. So while you'll often find yourself backtracking to rooms you've visited previously, you'll usually just be passing through or performing variations of earlier actions instead of finding new strategic opportunities available to you. It's a waste, though hardly the least of this game's problems.
The puzzles themselves are pretty standard fare, relying almost entirely on basic inventory applications. You can't combine items, so progress is generally just a matter of applying the right object in the right place. But that would be too easy, so to increase the difficulty, Full Pipe opts for the time-honoured tradition of using puzzles that make no sense whatsoever. Someone, somewhere, thought this was a good idea. I'm here to proclaim, right here, right now, how very very wrong they were.
Just this once, I'll reject my own principle of never giving spoilers, as I'm not sure I could make up examples as both pointless and absurd as some of what I encountered here. (For those who hate spoilers, rest assured that there is plenty more frustration to discover on your own.) Very early in the game, one particular bespectacled creature was babysitting a lever that I presumed I needed to flip. All efforts (both strategic and otherwise) to overcome this dilemma were futile, but lucky for me, the creature was willing to trade me his glasses in exchange for a cupboard drawer he proceeded to wear as a hat. Why did I want the glasses? I didn't, or at least I didn't know I did, but I was glad to be rid of the drawer, as it had proven too big to turn into an egg in a previous room. If you're not exactly following this line of reasoning, join the club. That growing look of bewilderment on your face is exactly the same one on mine as I played, only without the frequent bouts of cursing. This is neither an isolated incident nor the worst offender of the lot; just a random early indicator that logic and reason are generally unwelcome guests in the land of Full Pipe.Continued on the next page...