The Feeble Files
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Adventuresoft's Cosy Rural Offices, tucked away in a picturesque corner of Sutton Coldfield, are serenely quiet when I arrive for an early look at their latest creation, Feeble Files. But within minutes this silence is shattered when the room I'm sitting in rings loud to the strains of the well-known Beastie Boys hit Sabotage.
A licence for this seminal hip hop/punk masterpiece is currently being sought by the Adventuresoft legal department for use in the impressive intro sequence which opens Feeble Files. Here the music and special effect-laden visuals combine in a headlong rush through a startlingly busy asteroid belt at pace and with humour. I am impressed.
Over two long years in the making, Feeble Files is the brainchild of Simon Woodroffe (the instantly likeable and totally up-front son of adventuring legend Mike Woodroffe of Adventure International and Simon The Sorcerer fame) -a man currently attempting to combine two decades of adventuring experience with the latest in computer animation and digital audio techniques.
The tale of amicable alien Feeble, a green lizard-like creature - portrayed vocally by Red Dwarfs Robert Llewellyn - unfolds in a universe that appears to owe something of a nod in the direction of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy and George Orwell's 1984. With a bit of Spitting Image thrown in for good measure.
Feeble's world is controlled by an unseen force called the Omnibrain, a ruler about whom very little is known. As the game points out early on: "All information about the Omnibrain is classified for your convenience. Gathering information about the Omnibrain is a violation of directive two-seven." So, being the persistent, dirt-digging alien you are, off you go to ask around and find out what the bloody hell is going on in this God-forsaken one-horse universe.
Although Feeble Files displays a cheery exterior there are also darker, more subtle undertones running throughout the story, such as the entire populace being force-fed 'happy pills' to quell any subversive tendencies they may have. "In this 'utopia' everyone takes 'chemical supplements' to keep themselves happy," says writer and project leader Simon Woodroffe. And he demonstrates this by taking his pointer-led character to the in-game one-stop drug shop. Was he expecting any criticism for this?
"Someone's bound to get pissed off about it, I'm sure. But we're not condoning that sort of thing - you're against this whole society for starters, and secondly, the game is set in a fantasy world - it's not here, it's not now. No one ever makes out that kids should be forced to take these things in the game. Admittedly, we were worried about it at first, but we decided to leave it in because George Orwell describes a similar sort of thing in 1984. In the game, Feeble does take the drug in the beginning but when he stops taking it he becomes more inquisitive and the mysteries of the game begin to unravel - so it is relevant."
The highly-polished presentation echoes this marriage of self-deprecating fun and doom-laden mystery, combining scrolling screens, pre-rendered animated movies and conventional point-and-click adventuring to good effect. Most of the art has been generated by Adventuresoft's north-eastern branch in Newcastle, and there's a heck of a lot of it. The game promises to be absolutely massive.
"There are about 70 or 80 locations," Simon told me, "but many change as you progress through the game. There's one section where, after spending three weeks in a prison cell, you're released into the same locations that you've previously played through, but this time round you'll find a whole load of new characters and puzzles waiting to trap you all over again."
Which was something else I wanted to ask: I'll admit that I found the Simon The Sorcerer games extremely hard in places, so naturally I was curious to know if the puzzles in Feeble Files were going to be as difficult.
"Yeah, it will be a challenge. We've made the first section quite easy to get into, so that at least everyone gets a chance to learn about their environment and have some fun with some of the stuff found lying around. But it does become more difficult in the second section, and the third section is a real bugger! We've tried to remain 'fair' throughout. We don't go in for all that lateral thinking bollocks."
So give us an example of something which is 'hard but fair' in the game.
"We've put quite a few logic puzzles in, which we haven't done in our games before. In one scene you're given a list of chemicals and told what they do, and you then have to mix them together to create certain effects. You're allowed to heat some of them, but not others. You know certain effects the chemicals have when combined, so you'll be required to write out what you've tried and ascertain the correct mixture you need in order to produce the desired effect to solve the puzzle. It's a case of 'I've done this, now I've got to do this, then I've got the answer'. I doubt if anyone will be able to keep all the information in their head so you'll have to use a pen and paper, but we think that's reasonably fair. We just really want to give the player something to think about."
As Simon navigates me through significant points in the game, pointing out how Adventuresoft's ARGOS II adventure writing system works, explaining their 5000 lines of speech and how their highly interactive conversation system really does help keep the ball rolling, I immediately become awar that Feeble Files is something pretty special - by virtue of the fact that the whole game is very 'British' in the way in which it's been written and performed. The graphics, plot, and especially the speech, possess qualities which will undoubtedly appeal to those who know a good adventure game when they see one.
Add to this one sense of humour (irony-enabled) and a puzzle-solving mind (complete with an adventurer's patience) and Feeble Files could end up being a big hit this year with a lot of PC gamesplayers. We'll find out if this is the case in our full review next issue.
Download The Feeble Files
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP