This isn’t a pretty game and that’s me pulling my punches. It’s as pretty as five men on a stag weekend in Blackpool, who have been drinking for 18 hours straight and then decide to go on the rollercoaster. It’s as pretty as Vinnie Jones doing a one man show of Hamlet in the West End. It’s as pretty as…you get the idea. This game looks like a Playstation 1 game. But you know what…it doesn’t matter because Factotum 90 has deeper, hidden beauty that more than covers its ugly outward appearance.
The plot revolves around a broken down spaceship stranded in space after a mysterious collision with an unidentified object. The life support system is collapsing and it’s up to you to make everything alright again. You have at your command two robots, who are basically nothing more than boxes on legs, and you’ll need to guide them through the different levels of the ship, solving problems as they progress. The setup of the whole game is that you have a split screen with a robot on either side of the screen with a camera behind them. The rest of the screen at the bottom has a menu and another video feed from an outside force that seems to be helping you through the levels.
The gameplay involves guiding your robots by switching between them and working together to get to the lift at the other side of the level. In your way are moving platforms, teleporting vortices, boxes that need to be moved, triggers that need to pressed, light bridges that need to be set up and green organic matter which needs to be blown up. It’s a puzzle game, a platformer and space adventure all mixed into one. For some the idea of controlling two different characters across a split screen to solve puzzles is the equivalent of rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time. However, the game doesn’t ever feel too confusing and the split screen works undeniably well. The closest comparison I could make to another game, if I had a gun to my head, would be Portal and that’s maybe partly due to the included dialogue as well as the level setup. But in truth the one man development team at TACS GAMES have made something truly original, entertaining and fun. The difficulty level isn’t of The Witness type hardness, but can still be very taxing while being always enjoyable. You’ll never want to give up, you’ll find a deep need to get to the end, which is unusual for me when playing any kind of puzzle game.
Graphics and presentation wise it’s clear from my review opening that Factotum 90 isn’t a fancy pants triple A stunner. It’s blocky, old fashioned and there are no surprises in the colour palette as you move through. However I found there is a charm to the look of the game. You could easily HD it all up and motion cap the boxes with legs, make stunning details in the walls etc.…but it wouldn’t add anything to the overall experience. There are also some really nice touches to the presentation, like for example, the main screen is split up like your watching an old monitoring screen on a hunk of junk spaceship. The flickering and distorting text patterns are cleverly done giving it the feel of a vehicle on the verge of collapse. Even the simple box on legs characters you control have a real character to their design and the way they interact with the levels. There’s a lovely detail when every time they meet or cross paths there’s a small robot bleeping conversation between them that you never get to hear translated.
The main narrative is told through the narrator character guiding you through the level. The story is not very complicated and at times is a bit pedestrian, but works well enough in its context. The text and delivery of the lines are I think overly inspired by Stephen Merchant in Portal 2 and don’t really hit the same high standards as his performance. But again it works well in the context and never gets annoying. The other bits and pieces in terms of sound effects and the minimal score are effective and expressive of the game.
There is no online element to Factotum 90. I was trying to work out how co-op would be a nice feature to add with the boxes, but then realised it would ruin the whole concept of the game and its experience. On the negative side the gameplay can get a bit samey after a while and it might not appeal to a huge number of gamers out there. But personally I think this game has a lot of things going for it and the fact that it’s a made by a one-man development team has to be applauded. In a time of huge companies with a thousand programmers, accountants, PR teams and croissant makers who produce their annual first person paint by numbers shooter, it’s refreshing to see something made by a lone voice. Like shopping in a local newsagent or drinking in a local pub, it’s something we should encourage and makes it more than worth buying the game if only to encourage new developers to take the plunge.
Best of all is that it’s under a fiver. Take a gamble, have some fun and control those boxes.