Adventures of Max Fax review
While a short, breezy adventure can make for a refreshing change of pace, Max Fax‘s debut is hampered by a weak story and translation issues that make too much of the light-hearted comedy fall flat.
Not every game has to have a deep, involved storyline to be fun. Sometimes the quick, simple adventures provide a relaxing way to end a long, hard day. One such game – or at least one demonstrating that potential – is the debut installment of Adventures of Max Fax, a short comedic game made by Alexander Kucherenko. And indeed, with its colourful cartoon artwork, cheerful music and traditional inventory puzzles, this light-hearted first outing is somewhat amusing at times. Unfortunately, hampered by a weak story and characters compounded by translation issues, the positives can't fully atone for the game's lack of ambition and low-budget indie production values.
The game opens with the title character, a young, shifty-eyed man, standing alone in his room. It's Friday night and Max is looking forward to doing his favourite thing in the world. At this point Max unzips his pants. (This would probably be a good time to mention that Max Fax is for people 16 years or older.) Thankfully his plan never goes any farther, as Max is distracted by a message on his computer. It seems a girl in his apartment building has broken up with her boyfriend and wants to talk to Max. Somewhat annoyed at being interrupted, Max nevertheless decides to go talk to her. Of course, this is an adventure game and tasks are never that simple, as Max encounters obstacle after obstacle in his attempt to find his neighbour.
The rest of the game is spent simply exploring the apartment building, talking to everyone you come across, and interacting with objects as often as possible. The goals are simple: find the girl who left you the message, tell her ex that he's a jerk, and defeat another neighbour's attempts to produce an evil chemical formula – yes, things get pretty random before long.
One of the first things I noticed about Max Fax is that there is only a single quick save slot available, which means that there's no chance to go back to earlier sections of the game without playing it from the beginning. It's a quick game however, so more than one save game is probably not necessary. What's worse is the fact that you have to watch the same opening sequence of Max unzipping his pants each time you return to the game before loading your save. It's another small nitpick, but it would have been nice to go straight to the opening menu.
Max Fax is meant to be comedic in tone, and at least some of the elements reflect that. Graphics are simple, bright and cheerful, and everything and everyone you encounter has a cartoonish look. Max's building is the only setting, however, and the apartments themselves look the same, though you are able to explore the stairwells, the building exterior and the roof for some variety. The same whimsical tone applies to the music, which is appropriately goofy, upbeat and very enjoyable to listen to, which is a blessing since each track plays on a loop.
Gameplay is also simple, using a classic point-and-click interface. Left-clicking selects objects and hotspots, while right-clicking an item in the inventory provides a description. Hotspots are highlighted when the mouse is hovered over them, although if you can't successfully interact with one at the time, clicking it elicits no reaction. There is a lot of travelling throughout the building, but thankfully Max moves fairly quickly and the environments are small and easily traversed.
The puzzles are all inventory-based, and while they occasionally veer into "so bizarre that not even the greatest genius would guess to put these two items together" territory, such as trying to figure out how to get an old lady's hearing aid, the wacky solutions at least suit the bizarre tone of the game. There aren't all that many inventory items, so trial-and-error is kept to a minimum, but there are a couple of odd combinations that will have you stumped without it. If you cannot use an object on certain hotspots in the environment, nothing happens at all. There is no text or dialogue from Max indicating that you will have to wait or that the object isn't useful in this particular place. I spent the first few minutes of the game wondering if a certain item was unusable or whether I just wasn't clicking the mouse in the right place.
There's nothing wrong with simplicity, but unfortunately the characters and plot seem to suffer from a bit too much of it. Character motivations don't extend much beyond "I'm evil" or "I want a man" or "I'm old and grumpy." Max himself is meant to be an amusing slacker but ends up coming off a bit bland, with unclear motivations.
Story twists, in what little story there is, come out of nowhere, like when Max develops a sudden crush on a girl from afar that we never speak to the entire game. This might be because there are more episodes planned to follow this one, but it would have been nice to get a bit more than a longing glance at the girl through a window without any introduction of her relevance. I'm all for a no-frills story, but I also like an adventure to feel complete in its own right. Then again, maybe the girl isn't important at all, but Max has other encounters with women throughout the game that aren't nearly so pronounced, such as a singer he manages to get a peek of in the shower (I did mention the 16-plus rating).
What really plagues the game and bogs it down are the translation issues. Apparently the developer has already improved it from when the game originally released, but it's still somewhat rough. As a result, a lot of the potential comedy and jokes suffer. I knew that I was meant to laugh at certain situations, such as when a neighbour invites Max to her apartment for "tea... and buns". But what I was laughing at instead were the awkwardly constructed English phrases. It's not so bad that you can't understand what's being said, but it's distracting enough to be an issue. It's a shame, because there were actually a couple of moments that I found myself genuinely chuckling at a joke and it would be nice to see how this game plays out with a better, more natural translation.
When all is said and done, the game seems to come to a proper conclusion, with Max finishing the tasks set out for him. Then at the last moment, a cliffhanger of sorts pops up, suggesting future shenanigans for our slacker hero. It comes out of left field though, involving a character that you only very briefly encountered earlier in the game. What this teaser means for future installments, I'm not sure; I just hope it means we'll get some more fleshed-out characters if we're to have more adventures with this currently underwhelming cast.
This opening installment of Adventures of Max Fax isn't a terrible game. It isn't even a particularly bad one. In fact, at it's best it can be mildly entertaining for the two or so hours it lasts. But it does suffer from a notable lack of ambition and flaws that are hard to ignore. If you're looking for a deep, lengthy game, this isn't the one for you. If, however, you are looking for a quick and funny experience... well... this one partly gets there, just not all the way to the max.