Adventure Gamers Awards
When you think of the Wild West, you tend to recall gunslingers like Wyatt Earp and Jesse James, or at least entertainers like Roy Rogers, Clint Eastwood, and the Duke. One name that probably doesn’t leap to mind is Fenimore Fillmore. Despite starring in two previous adventures, the hapless hero of Revistronic’s western series has yet to become a household name even in genre circles. Unfortunately, the long-delayed third installment won’t be the game to create a lasting impression – at least, not for any of the right reasons – as Fenimore Fillmore’s Revenge shoots itself in the foot so often in so short a time that the experience is anything but O.K.
Before getting into specific misfires, a little frontier history is in order. Fenimore Fillmore first appeared in the SCUMM-era 2D comic adventure 3 Skulls of the Toltecs, but due to serious distribution issues, few English gamers became acquainted with the wannabe cowboy until he re-emerged in cartoony 3D in 2004’s Wanted/The Westerner. Though production on the next sequel began almost immediately afterward, it’s taken until now for Fenimore to make his latest return, and while the intervening years have certainly matured him some, the extra time wasn’t spent nearly as well developing the gameplay around him.
Unlike most sequels, it’s perhaps a benefit to have not played either of the previous titles in the series, as the new game is quite different from its predecessors. Gone is the (intentionally) goofy comic tone, both visual and thematic, that characterized the first two adventures, replaced here by a grittier, semi-realistic atmosphere and look. The change is more a curious one than a qualitative one either way, as the new style suits the subject matter just fine, albeit at the expense of feeling much like a continuation of an existing series.
If there’s a drawback to the new presentation, it’s that it hasn’t aged particularly well. Graphically, the simpler cartoon style of the older games holds up well even today, whereas five years through production, Revenge already feels dated, with its slightly angular shapes and lack of finer details the new approach ideally demands. Nevertheless, it’s still a fairly pleasant game to look at, made more impressive by some lengthy cinematics and an abundance of in-game animations sprinkled throughout. Character models are nicely done as well, from mustachioed posse members to the grizzled old-timer who throws in his lot with Fenimore and his love interest Rhiannon. Although one look at Rhiannon might suggest that “lust interest” is a better description, as the game’s lone female representative is a return to the rather preposterously endowed cliché I thought the genre had left behind.
Supporting these visuals is the game’s strongest element, its soundtrack. The orchestral scores subtly but effectively provide an authentic western feel that never gets boring or repetitive. Even the sound effects contribute positively, from Fenimore’s spurred footfall changing over different terrain to the amusing “whoosh” sound playing each time you collect an item. The voice work is more of a mixed bag, with most of the supporting roles being delivered decently while the protagonists leave something to be desired. It can be hard to make out the muffled words of Baker, the old codger who travels with you at times, though subtitles can be enabled. Fenimore himself is inoffensive but virtually inconspicuous in his supposedly starring role, while Rhiannon’s not-quite-Spanish, not-quite-American accent is the worst of the lot. No obvious effort was made to lip sync, either, making the introduction in particular resemble a badly-dubbed martial arts movie rather than a spaghetti western.
Regrettably, beyond the production values there’s little else that’s good, even relatively speaking. Now for the bad and the ugly.
The biggest problem with Fenimore Fillmore’s Revenge is that there just isn’t much game here: locations, characters, gameplay, puzzles, challenge, time. You name it, it’s in short supply here. From start to finish, it took me only three hours to complete, and even that comes with some needless busywork that does nothing but pad out its short-lived duration. Whether the original Spanish version was more substantial I can't say, but several scenarios depicted in the game's early screenshots are nowhere to be found in the localized UK release.
Let’s start with the story, such as it is. The premise itself is perfectly acceptable, but it’s largely all downhill from there. Or more accurately, it really goes nowhere from there. In the opening cutscene, Fenimore and Rhiannon discover a dying man in the desert who holds the secret to a hidden treasure. Naturally, others are after this treasure, and soon the Stevens gang arrives to kidnap Rhiannon and shoot Fenimore, leaving him for dead. It’s the player’s task to reunite the pair and help them find the riches before the bad guys. To do so, alternating between Fenimore and Rhiannon (never working together, and never freely able to switch from one to another), players will need to escape a few rooms, make a few remedies, and…one other task we’ll come to shortly (we’re only in bad, and that’s reserved for ugly). Seriously, that’s all. After your brief opening encounter, you’ll visit Baker’s cabin twice, one other shack where Rhiannon’s held prisoner, and an old abandoned mine site, both inside and out. None of the locations are particularly large, so a couple minutes of exploring and you’ve seen everything there is to see. Epic, this game is not.
Doing nothing to round out what little plot there is, there are only one or two interactive icon-based dialogues in the game (and even those are optional), though you can click on Baker if he’s around to hear him growl out some unhelpful remarks. Neither Fenimore nor Rhiannon offer any useful or interesting commentary of their own. In fact, the “look” action does nothing more than center the object on screen, and “using” something isn’t much better. I was just about ready to let Stevens keep Rhiannon if I heard one more snotty “I don’t do that.” or “Yeah, right.” out of her. Oh, sorry, Rhiannon. I thought fire logs belonged in a fireplace. How about some actual feedback, then? Character-driven, this game is not.
All this would be bearable if it’s all about the gameplay, but Revenge fares no better here. All puzzles are inventory-based, but because the game has forsaken its comic roots, item use here is strictly straightforward: ropes lasso horses, gas cans fill machines, and shovels dig dirt. The game tries to ramp up the challenge by refusing you much in the way of clues, and then requiring particular objects in particular sequences for no valid reason. While this does throw more obstacles in your path, however contrived, there are few enough items and interactive hotspots that your options are limited anyway, meaning not even guesswork is particularly time-consuming. In a couple sequences, Baker’s health is in jeopardy, so you’ll need to solve each scene’s puzzle(s) before he keels over. It’s an utterly pointless addition, as the game simply reloads from the beginning of the section if he dies, leaving you to repeat the 30 or so seconds of gameplay to get back to where you were. There’s oodles of time to save him once you find the items you need, so the only reason he’ll croak is if you fail to see something important.
Unfortunately, you might just do that, as the game’s camera system and interface are anything but user-friendly. It’s strictly point-and-click, so it’s never rocket science, but it’s still far sloppier than it needs to be. Right-clicking cycles available actions and left-clicking performs them, double-clicking makes characters run, and the inventory is accessed at the top of the screen. Simple enough, but where the annoyance comes in is how “floaty” the camera is. As you move your protagonist, the 3D screens will pan along with you, but even the tiniest of mouse movements can nudge the camera just as you’re about to click on something. Finding scene transitions is even more of a pain, especially at the bottom of the screen, as the pathfinding can be dreadful and it’s never clear where you need to be for the camera angle to change. There are onscreen arrows that appear occasionally, but whatever these were meant to do, they rarely if ever function as exit cursors. The only times I got even slightly stuck in the game related to an inability to find small objects from the game’s inconvenient angles. It’s hard to complain about difficulty from a game that otherwise has so little, but the challenge should come from its puzzles, not its interface.
These issues are bad enough, but where Revenge finally turns ugly is the disastrous collision of interface and gameplay in the shooting sections. You’d think the developers would have learned from the public outcry over the target shooting minigames in the last game, but apparently all they learned is that the action would be improved if they worsened the mechanics and had the targets shooting back! Now, let’s get the disclaimers out of the way: I play action games, I rarely struggle with action in adventures, I don’t dislike such sequences in principle, I totally support some gunplay in a western, and even here I didn’t struggle much. But when people complain about how poorly action is often implemented in adventures, this game would be submitted as Exhibit A.
After an easy target-only practice that may leave you thinking you… uhh… dodged a bullet, Revenge makes you start doing just that, tossing three increasingly difficult shootouts at you late in the game. Fenimore is pitted against 4, 7, then 10 different opponents concealed behind labyrinthine makeshift barriers, and you have no idea where they are until they begin firing at you, almost guaranteeing a certain amount of trial-and-error until you spot them all. But what really makes these encounters so dreadful is that the action area is bafflingly split up into grid squares, and Fenimore is limited in how he moves around. The ultimate backfire is that the same mouse button both moves him and makes him crouch. With enemy guns ablazing, countless times I clicked on a grid square only to have Fenimore not budge. Other times, I’d click only to have him stoop in place in the middle of an open field, giving the firing squad free potshots.
I’d harp on the equally inconvenient need to reload your six-shooter – only from a crouching position – but you get the idea. The point is, pulling the trigger is the least of your worries, as you’ll spend more time fighting the awful mechanics than your inept opponents. The most attempts I ever required was six, with no round lasting much over two minutes (most of them much shorter than that), but the less dextrous or easily-rattled gamers should brace themselves for some unpleasantness. Death means nothing more than restoring to try again, but the whole unavoidable event is simply a bad idea, horribly designed, and provides not one speck of fun in the process.
By now it should be obvious that there’s very little about Fenimore Fillmore’s Revenge to recommend. Its western setting provides a nice change from the usual adventuring fare, but the actual experience offers neither the quality nor quantity needed to support its promising atmosphere. Offering only a few hours of gameplay, even if you’re a fan of the previous games – or maybe especially if you’re a fan – you may very well want to quit while you’re ahead and remember Fenimore as he was in earlier, happier times. The developers surely meant well by taking the series in this darker, earthier direction, but ultimately this game only threatens to bury the franchise for good.