I have always reviewed the big titles back in FPSC days so I've recently picked up doing so too for Game Guru titles.
Fathers Island will be a tough one to review because I both like and dislike this game. I do however believe that a really great and unique game is buried under what appears to be a mixed bag of odd design choices, genuine talent and compromises. So lets get this part started:
First off, let me say that I find it hilarious that a game released in this day and age that openly mocks american ultra conservatives and nostalgic patriotism is entirely held in shades of orange. Get it? Orange??
When booting up Fathers Island you are immediately greeted with the distinct and stylized artwork of our resident Disturbing 13. I find this to be a very well made first impression. The current ReShade overlay is active in the menues as well...which is surprisingly more appealing than distracting.
I'm not sure if this is intentional but fathers island is starting off with the perfect introduction. You see, Homegrown won't play a cutscene and throw you right on to the island. You'll first have to get there.
The player will have to fill up the empty tank of a motorboat. Doing so will introduce you to the core gameplay of F.I. which is exploration, narrative, keyhunt and occasionally you'll have to find an item (which is also a glorified abstraction of finding a key.) The entire concept is presented to us before we venture to the island and are greeted with a genuinely well made, though delightfully sappy, narrated intro.
Fathers island never tries to hide its GG origins. You'll be introduced to an incoherent mix of styles in the assets used, effects blinking in and out of existence, objects clipping through other objects or floating pretty much right away. I can safely say that if the tutorial island, let me call it that, of fathers island does not spike your interest, you can shut the game of right there. While it will have its high moments n' climaxes of oddness later on, most of the game will be what you just witnessed before you fill up the boat.
On the island we will be introduced to life action flashbacks with your father (In this case no other than the great Johann Ivanovitsch Ertlovski himself, alive and raving) who is obviously borderline or all out insane. These cutscenes are really entertaining and Ertlov is upping the anty with his acting the further you proceed throughout the game.
Exploring the island is calming and surreal. You'll often trigger a narration which is usually well voice acted, however over the top it can get. Our protagonist used to be a teacher who was released from prison. I just hope he didn't get his voice and attitude from chain smoking in a cell but rather sounded the same when he was still teaching class. His voice is delightfully rugged and would fit well in an early 2000's action flick.
Visually, Fathers Island is, despite the now improved post processing, nothing to write home about. Its never bad and certainly notches above plenty of GG releases that currently plague Steam Greenlight like an infectious disease but its also not quite good.
Everything seems out of place and I was hoping for a bit better models from someone as experienced as Ertlov. Everything looks improvised and unpolished. You'll find that many different models don't complement each other at all and especially shacks or buildings end up looking like a thrown together mess. There is a lot of "chaos" on the screen. You also have to add that the game is constantly tinned in this extreme, surreal orange. Somewhere in between sunset and the surface of mars. Ertlov and team did try to add a certain logic to the game world though and from a gameplay perspective most of it made kinda sense. You can follow powerlines to find buildings so you are never truely lost and despite feeling quite open world, the game managed to lead me from place to place and I always had the necessary key! (despite one time towards the end)
I find this to be very important because right now, the game was not compelling enough to me for me to put up with excessive back tracking.
What I found appealing was that both in tone and in style the game reminded me a ton of HomeGrowns previous (visually superior) installment: Into the Dark.
I think the general layout of the game would have worked well if it went for different assets and maybe less dark red and orange light. Nothing ever looks quite right and from a visual perspective it always feels completely unpolished. Strangely enough, this kinda adds to its charm.
If you find yourself disagreeing with me while playing the game, visit the school. It perfectly well encapsules what I am talking about.
Fathers Island has competent map design. It really does! However, I do feel like the assets they do use in said decent map design never quite fit. I feel allowed to say this because a large fraction of what they used has been designed by myself. If you walk through the school building specifically you will find that the layout is eerieely reminiscent of old "dark-engine" titles like "The Hunted". You'll also find a weird visual hotchpotch of models and media that clearly stems from different designers. (There is also a room with an odd door that just stands around in the middle of it. With frame and everything. I think finding something like this in an abandoned building IRL would be downright creepy
Now, the reason why I won't shut up about this is because I feel like shutter island would be a whole different ball game if it simply had different models. If the school would look like a derelict hermit school (Wicker man comes to mind), if the island'd be overgrown and showing signs of decay (not mixed in with brand new furniture). I bet that his would be a hauntingly hilarious game if the visuals where not such an incoherent mess...unified by its extreme orange tint.
I won't spoil the story of the game (altough I highly doubt many of you'll be reading this far) as it is something you should experience by yourself. Especially the 4 different endings. Let me repeat that: Fathers Island has 4 different ending sequences all of which are very well done. (I feel like the hilariously extreme ones kinda come out of nowhere, but hey! Its a homegrown game.)
I do however have to mention that after completing a weird fantasy quest (sadly nerved due to engine limitations I heard from Ertlov) involving robbing a grave you will find yourself in an underground laboratory. Complete with 1980's science fiction machinery that even has flat touchscreens. ...I'm pretty sure that I am the only one who is bothered by this after all that has transpired on the island so far. Bestiality jokes included. Looking at most of the machinery in the lab, I'm pretty sure that whoever designed it was a complete dingbat.
And yes, there are also nazis in this game. Don't worry! Well..not as characters but as references.
Another thing with this game is that, apart from some wildlive...and sheep, it has no characters. Hence:
Quote: "the new game from Austrian indie veterans Homegrown Games simply doesn’t fit into an exact genre definition."
Is incorrect. This game is a pure-bred walking simulator.
You'll be wandering the surreal landscape waiting for the either tragically comical or comically tragic narration to set in or for another ludachris acting performance by Ivan.
Into the dark was far more condensed and had shooting elements to keep the player busy...here I find myself walking long stretches of somewhat empty nothingness waiting for the game to humour me with narration. I doubt that many people outside the indie scene would put up with these huge stretches of "dead air". I must however thank you...and I suppose its as good a time as any to start with the personal note:
Playing the game triggered a childhood memory of mine. I now remember a vacation in the woods, a hut, feeding birds in the morning...serenity...stealing an old ski-stick they used to mark some terrain to build another vacation hut and playing knight. That was a magical vacation I had as a kid somewhere. Maybe I should book some lodge for an extended weekend with my lass next year. It would be affordable and romantic! Thanks for the idea.
Besides that: I have noticed you using plenty of my models and I'm sorry that they fit your setting so little. Especially the mystic library fantasy pack mostly shows up in games that are not medieval fantasy at all and they never fit. I think a "1930's mystery adventure pack" would be a good idea for a project sometime next year
Despite me taking the piss out of it, I'm thankful for using so much of my stuff... now plenty of folks see it.
End Personal Note!
While the game managed to always lead me to the right places, even when I was exploiting the terrain for short cuts, I didn't have the necessary key for (what I assume to be) the last door of the game. Blin!
No matter... while wandering through the area I did come across the suicide ending...and accidentally triggered it. By the way, was it intentional or a lucky coincidence that after the ending video you can see the player character drowning??
Fathers Island would be a dozen times better if it where not such a drown out to walk this huge island. If Homegrown decided to go with smaller, better designed levels rather than this huge walk-a-ton I bet the game would be something odd for the ages and way more entertaining. As it is, it is only held up by the novelty of its weirdness, the charismatic narration and the weird humour.
Some gameplay, bet it simple shooter mechanics, be it deeper exploration and gathering mechanics would have added a lot to what is otherwise rather uneventful.
I might sound harsh but I do have a softspot in my heart for this game. I would not have finished (kinda finished) it otherwise if I felt like it was a waste of time.
F.I has the typical homegrown underdog charm and I really value what it has done for GG early on where almost all other games where complete and utter dung.
What would I have done / attempted to have done differently:
F.I. is a game that has very little gameplay at all and lives off its visuals and narrative. Sadly the visuals aren't all that great. It also suffers from long, uneventful walks through nothingness.
If I had designed this game I'd have put stark focus on grapics and aesthetics as well as having it divided in several levels. Events and key places would be closer together and while I'd not completely remove wandering the woods, I'd keep that to a minimum. The music was good and gave everything this sense of calmness and serenity, I'd keept that. Foliage and environmental props would be way more coherent and I'd try to add more exploration to it (being able to browse through lockers and having the character comment on items and so forth.)
While I don't think that F.I. would be all too interesting to the general publich I do believe that indie developers, game guru users and fans of previous homegrown games should get a copy.
To Ivan I can only say: Keep it up!