I went to Winchester University in 1991. I lasted 10 days before I realised I’d made a terrible mistake. It wasn’t Winchester’s fault or the University, it was me. I wanted something else that it couldn’t deliver at that time. So imagine my surprise when I found that half of “Fragments of Him” is set at Winchester University, the halls of residence and its student union. It’s a game that, like my short experience at the Uni, has moments of joy and emotion – but ultimately left me wanting more.
Fragments of Him is a labour of love by the small indie development team at Sassybot. You can tell by how personal the story is and also by the touching “special thanks” credits at the end of the game. But what is it? Well it’s a narrative driven first person experience like the recent “The Park”. But unlike the spooky goings on in that game, this is much more of a realistic human journey. The main story involves the death of Will and we discover the memories of his life and how he affected everyone around him. It moves from past to present day and is told via voice-overs and action. You play as Will himself, his ex girlfriend from university, his boyfriend and Mary, the grandmother. Each story is told independently and offers up insights into Will’s journey while offering poignant moments about life, love and relationships we have on the way.
Gamplay wise it’s very, very, simple. You move around in a linear way, always forward towards the next objective. You click on people to start the next voice-over, click on objects to begin another, or click on a toaster to initiate the next. You get the idea? Sadly there isn’t much of a game here at all. But we are well aware of games like these now as they have become more popular with the likes of Three Quarters Home and Everyone’s Gone to Rapture. I am a big fan, as it takes games in a different direction that can be interesting and ground-breaking, but the storytelling and direction has got to be very good.
The writing for it is very effective, emotive and considered. There are some lovely pieces of philosophical musing on life and the characters themselves are well drawn and fully developed. The main problem with the writing, and the game as a whole, is the pacing. I will talk about this quite a few times in these sections, but it’s a killer problem. The writing has a lack of light and shade, yes I know how weighty the subject is, but there can be a bit of comedy and dramatic tension in any serious narrative. The gameplay itself suffers from pacing issues as well; at times it feels like you’re moving through treacle. Sometimes when you have to click on objects it feels so removed from the story that it feels like the developers just thought ‘we need to remember this is a game – get them to click on a roast turkey to trigger the next section, that will do’. One segment had me move into my halls of residence and go back and forward to get my stuff from the car. I think I would of preferred actually moving house for real; at least I would get some exercise.
The design and look of Fragments of Him is however where it really succeeds. There is a definite choice about the style of the game that mixes realism with the distortion of memory. Ghostly figures hover, frozen in time, waiting for you to click on them to activate the story, or objects dissolve and change to illustrate the passing of time. The locations are detailed in an art-house design look, all monochrome and stunning to see. The Winchester locations are very accurate, going into the student union bar felt like 1991 all over again. There are some nice breakaway sections that really change the design to great effect; I particularly like the section with Will’s grandmother telling her grandson a story. The homage to the world of fairytales and shadow puppetry is a welcome break from the pallet of the rest of the game. The decision not to give the characters any eyes, but just a blank space is clearly a choice for some reason, but is a strange choice and after a while it becomes annoying.
Sound wise it falls into two parts – the good and the bland. The voice acting in all the four parts is very good, a nice mixture of underplayed acting and soulful delivery. The score itself is well done, but the emotive slow piano track really begins to annoy and grate, and like I said before, dictates the pace of the game and story into a slow drawl.
You’ll be able to complete Fragments of Him in about four hours, but don’t expect something that’s high octane, seat of pants action. It’s a much more leisurely, linear walk-along gaming experience, which has some very beautiful moments in it. If you’re a fan of storybook games it might be worth giving this one a try. The main issues I have though are with the pace, the gameplay and some of the writing, but Sassybot are a new developer who we should all try and support and Fragments of Him could still be worth a look.