[Mr Creosote] The Feeble Files, the German version being called Floyd (which is the version we'll refer to at some points in the course of this review), was developed by Adventuresoft, which is primarily known for the Simon the Sorcerer games. Under the name of Horrorsoft, the same people also produced such popular games as Elvira - Mistress of the Dark or Waxworks.
[Anchantia] I'm most familiar with the first two Simon games and I was very curious whether Simon Woodroffe could produce an equally compelling Sci-Fi world.
[Mr Creosote] The games have at least one thing in common: You're supposed to laugh.
[Anchantia] Just that the humour in Feeble is a little more profound than in the Simon games - which were focused much more on slapstick.
[Mr Creosote] That's true - but we should start by quickly introducing the basic plot: Feeble is a very average alien being - he just wants to get through life with as few problems as possible.
[Anchantia] It's his job to create crop circles to scare the people on class B planets (one of them being our earth) out of their wit. Basically, however, he's a very harmless bluecollar worker.
[Mr Creosote] And he's actually quite satisfied with his existence. What we should add, though, is that the society he's living in is quite obviously a totalitarian one: A 'big brother' called Omnibrain controls, monitors and generally scares people into obedience.
[Anchantia] The whole world is reminiscient of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Omnibrain even supervises people's thoughts and there are strict rules what's allowed to be thought. For example, the citizens are not allowed to show any grief, because Omnibrain interprets that as criticism towards the system.
[Mr Creosote] You have to understand, though, that in this society, all of this is quite normal and so (in the best of human traditions) the citizens consider it normal, because, well, you get used to everything in the end. That is why Feeble is also convinced that the methods used by the state are right and he actively supports them.
[Anchantia] This goes as far as Feeble being overwhelmed by guilt after kicking a vending machine (which had taken his money without giving anything back). In this society, it is common to confess to such things. The 'guilty' person talks to a computer console which then forwards the confession to the responsible department of the administration. There are also many controllers and robots who punish any disturbance with immediate termination.
[Mr Creosote] To put it as bluntly as possible: Feeble is a spineless informer who (literally) destroys more than one life in the game's first act. He accuses a freighter pilot of carrying illegal propaganda material, just to get his landing permit. Later, he doesn't just destroy the relationship of two people, but also causes at least one of them to be executed - because, as mentioned, being sad is outlawed. Just to be able to change his clothes in a phone booth.
[Anchantia] I wouldn't call him a spineless informer. At the beginning of the game, he just doesn't know better. This government has been there for generations. Growing up in such a society, you believe in it. Feeble changes his mind later on, once he gets a look 'behind the scenes', for example on the prison planet Cygnus Alpha.
[Mr Creosote] The purely factual question of being an informer doesn't have anything to do with cultural imprint - he is one, even if it's understandable how he got there. Later, he gets into the state's grinding machine himself, he is sent to a 'corrective facility', joins a rebel group there - very reluctantly, however, not very enthusiastic.
[Anchantia] Feeble certainly isn't an enthusiastic character - at least during most parts of the game. He is timid and sometimes even a little doltish. But that's just what makes him so likable as a character, it's very nice to accompany him through the story.
[Mr Creosote] Exactly: more human than most humans!
[Anchantia] Here's an example for his doltish nature: On Cygnus Alpha, he meets Dolores from the resistence. In every other game, the hero would know how to free her. Here, Dolores has to tell him each little step how to get her out of there and she asks herself: "Why have you been chosen?" It's such situations which inject the necessary dose of humour into the game. At the beginning, I thought it was all a little dry, but it got better.
[Mr Creosote] Interesting - I thought the beginning was much better than the rest. All this revolutionary stuff later was rather mediocre. In my opinion, the game could just have been about getting through the day in this society the whole time - with all its mentioned side-effects.
[Anchantia] But then, there wouldn't have been a story spanning 4CDs. ;-) It's the slow change in Feeble in particular, who always looks at things as an outsider - and his interaction with Dolores or this sadist robot SAM - which make the game appealing to me.
[Mr Creosote] Sure, there are still funny situations later. This robot who is in a permanent destruction mode is one example. However, the humour isn't nearly as subtle anymore, then. Concerning the length of the game: Phew... quite large one!
[Anchantia] Yes, they really outdid themselves. It took me at least 13 hours to get through the whole game. Playing it completely without a solution would take twice that time at the very least. One more thing about the story: Eventually, it was about defeating the system. This is a topic which we've all seen several times already - but in this incarnation, it is very creative and entertainingly wrapped up. Especially in the area of computer games, I haven't seen such a coherent script for a long time. What do you think?
[Mr Creosote] As I said: I thought the beginning was a very original twist on the regular police state story, because you were playing a conformist. The rebellion itself, however, was pretty clichéd with all its conspiracies and characters. If there has to be a rebellion at all, I would have liked to have 'nothing' behind it all at least - to paraphrase Ming the Merciless: "Why are you attacking Earth?" - "Why not?" Apart from that, I found Dolores very unsympathetic.
[Anchantia] I don't agree, also due to the fact that she has got Whoopi Goldberg's voice (again, German version). ;-) As I said, I like such stories about rebellion and Feeble's isn't bad at all. A long story with lots of dialogue and even more cut scenes.
[Mr Creosote] Exactly, Whoopi Goldberg: the embodiment of annoyance!
[Anchantia] So what did you think about the puzzles in the game?
[Mr Creosote] Light and dark. Whenever the game let me 'puzzle' in peace, it was good. A few time critical scenes, on the other hand, got on my nerves quickly.
[Anchantia] You're refering to the part in the prison, aren't you? Where you are teleported between the locations randomly? That really got on my nerves, too. Apart from that, the puzzles were pretty hard, too, though. Not really illogical, but still very hard. For example, who would think of using a broken teleporter to enlarge objects?
[Mr Creosote] Yes, the prison was extremely annoying. Especially this: Even after showing that I knew how to escape, I had to do it all again and again when I got caught (which wasn't always avoidable due to randomised elements) - once would have been enough! That aside, yes, the puzzles were quite obviously designed for experts. It even becomes harder, because a lot of locations are opened up to you, so simply trying everything out isn't really an option anymore.
[Anchantia] For me, although I've played a lot of Adventure games, the puzzles were already a little to much - even though their design is very varied. There are even some classic puzzles and dialogue puzzles. Later in the game, you can also control SAM and Dolores. The developers really tried to get away from the pure inventory puzzles and offer some diversity instead. Another very positive aspect: you can't die!
[Mr Creosote] Sometimes, this diversification got overboard, though: The game flow was interrupted by pure mental exercises time and time again, none of which had any real relation to the actual game.
[Anchantia] Can you give me a few examples?
[Mr Creosote] The colour puzzle at the end of the prison, the puzzle about mixing the chemicals or the machine in the arcade.
[Anchantia] Yes, the arcade was pretty annoying - especially, because I hate it if an Adventure game forces me to win a mini game to progress.
[Mr Creosote] Above all, these are all old and well-known mini games which have lost their fascination decades ago. The best and worst one at the same time: Mastermind. Though it's Mastermind with six spaces, six 'colours' and the option of using each colour several times - guessing that in just ten attempts is anything but trivial.
[Anchantia] I think this was a least common demoninator solution. Let's talk about the presentation and technology now - or do you have anything else about the gameplay?
[Mr Creosote] Yes... the graphics... the game's weakest link.
[Anchantia] Weakest link?
[Mr Creosote] The scenery is ugly and the characters are as stiff as it gets, 'thanks' to 3D rendering (with the usual negative impact on the detours Feeble takes), and the screens are completely overloaded with blinking and sparkling trinklets.
[Anchantia] I disagree with you there. It's especially the the 'blinking and sparkling trinklets' which make the world come alive, together with all these small animations. The locations aren't the most creative ones per se - the space bar, for example, reminds me a lot of the McDonald's variant found in Simon 2 - but I can't say I dislike the locations.
[Mr Creosote] Take the city - I didn't even know where to click with so much stuff being there. The obstrusive colouring and shading even made it hard to tell foreground from background at times. Sensory overload.
[Anchantia] OK, but at least, the locations weren't so large that you could get lost. As I said, I would rate the graphics as solidly middle-ground. Of course, the studio had to cave in to the predominant 3D trend in the industry. There were way stranger fruits at the time, in my opinion.
[Mr Creosote] Not quite as bad, but still the source of some minor annoyance: the controls. Not really bad, but things could have been made much easier.
[Anchantia] Being forced to go through the menu just to get to the inventory, for example, was quite cumbersome. Or Feeble creeping across the screen - that almost drove me crazy. Why can't I just double-click on an exit as a shortcut?
[Mr Creosote] Exactly - again and again this (extremely slow) "greetings, citizen..." menu which can't even display more than six objects at a time, but wastes the screen space uselessly instead. And then this permanent switching of the verbs with the right mouse button...
[Anchantia] The latter didn't really bother me. There were only four verbs, after all. It didn't work quite as smoothly as in Sam & Max Hit the Road. The sum of these small quirks just make the whole package a little less comfortable.
[Mr Creosote] I agree. The dubbing, on the other hand, is very professionally made.
[Anchantia] That's right, the (German) voiceactors are doing a very good job. Did you notice that even the graphical writings, like signs have been translated? They even went as far as 'transfering' some jokes for the different cultural background, e.g. the appropriate comments about the Stasi at the beginning.
[Mr Creosote] The voiceactors are all professionals - which certainly makes a good impression. At that time, it still wasn't uncommon to just drag the janitor in front of the microphone (or the secretary, because she was the only woman among all these programmers). The translation itself (meaning the wording) is mostly quite good as well.
[Anchantia] There are even some very prolific voices to be found. Feeble, for example, is voiced by Tobias Meister - the German dubbing voice of actors like Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. However, I have to contradict you on one thing: Since LucasArts and Adventure games like Simon the Sorcerer or Discworld, it became more common to put the voiceacting in the hands of external, professional studios. This lead to some funny stickers on the boxes: "Featuring voices known from radio and TV".
[Mr Creosote] There were very different cases at the time: For the CD versions of the Lucas Arts Adventures, the voice acting was funded very well - but on the floppy versions, only the intro featured voices at all, and these could hardly have been worse. Feeble fell into a period when things were shifting.
[Anchantia] That's true. Compared to the dubbing of older Adventure games, what's done today seems almost amateurish - though that's certainly also a question of taste.
[Mr Creosote] I played the game with english texts, but German voices in order to judge the quality of the translation itself as well. It's quite good, better than some stuff shown of television (meaning you won't find any awckward literal translations).
[Anchantia] None of this helped the game, though. It was released when the Adventure genre was already dead and nobody bought it. Everybody was crazy about 3D shooters. What is your opinion about the game?
[Mr Creosote] On the whole, it is solid and entertaining. On the one hand, I appreciate that something 'challenging' was released at such a time at all, something which takes more than two hours to complete. I also liked the plot. On the other hand, the controls are less than comfortable, the graphics are abysmal and some game elements have all too obviously been included only to make the game longer (serving no real purpose).
[Anchantia] I'd even call the game good. The humour is excellent, the characters are mostly sympathetic and the story is simply good. Technically, I also thought the game was well done. The disadvantages are just the missing comfort in the controls and the extremely complicated puzzles. I'm still giving the game 5 points.