I’ve been a fan of Cyanide & Happiness (C&H) comics since their inception in 2005. At that time, I was drawn to them for their outside-of-the-box thinking and irreverent humor. Admittedly, the Bob of today is less captivated by this brand of humor that has mostly jumped to YouTube with animated shorts, but the occasional sketch still amuses me. When I heard about Freakpocalypse, I was curious. After episode 1 of 3, I can now say I am no longer curious, not only because I have played through the first installment but because I have almost no interest in future episodes.
For whatever reason, companies and comedy troupes known for one format — like shorts — frequently try to make the jump to other mediums, whether that’s movies or adventure video games. I suppose the need to grow the brand and try something new is natural, but these projects almost universally fail because what largely defines the brand is the length in which the joke or jokes are told. To offer a separate example, one wouldn’t typically expect a short story to work as a full-length novel or a single fantasy novel to work as three movies (looking at you, The Hobbit).
This is where I believe Freakpocalypse fails. Cyanide & Happiness just doesn’t translate to plot-driven narratives. That’s never been what it’s about, and so to make it work, the developers either have to a) toss aside the identity of the source material or b) fill this entire five- to ten-hour story with quick zingers that can simultaneously tell a story and serve as gut-busters. Neither is achieved.
Much like protagonist Coop’s awkward transition through adolescence and into adulthood, Freakpocalypse can’t seem to find a solid identity. Scenes and strings of dialogue intended to drive the plot are peppered with awkward jokes that disturb the flow, and even when the story progresses, the writing is painfully simple. Top this off with crass, shock value-laden jokes, and Freakpocalypse is a painful experience. And that’s by typical C&H standards.
The opening is by far the worst part of the first episode — by a huge margin; this is good news, because at least the game only gets better from here. If you can survive the introduction and first one or two hours, the game gets far more bearable. Unfortunately, someone who doesn’t have to review the game (as I do) may very likely drop the game entirely because it’s that bad. “Funny” scenes abuse characters, contain gross jokes, and seem to even boastfully present mindlessly simplistic jokes. Again, this is by C&H standards.
Most people at this point know whether or not C&H is even their thing, so chances are, if you’re reading this review, you’re at least tepidly interested in this brand of humor. As a fan who’s gradually moved away from C&H, I’m pretty disappointed. The second half contains some much better writing, fleshed-out jokes, characters with at least a modicum of depth, and the kind of dark, irreverent humor that I’m accustomed to — nihilistic, existential commentary, etc. I actually enjoyed playing the latter half and laughed a few times. Could this save the series? We’ll see how I feel after a few weeks or so.
As far as adventure game mechanics are concerned, this is your standard point-and-click, inventory management puzzling. What impresses me is how outstandingly interactive almost everything is. Coop will have something unique to say about just about anything you click on most of the time. Every time you click on a person or object, the option to look at, touch, or speak to them/it is available. Some objects or people give you several opportunities to interact with them, and if an NPC is jiving with you, this is welcome (I loved talking to the ice cream man).
The puzzling is pretty solid, which is hard for me to say about most point-and-click adventure titles. Sometimes they’re too easy, and other times the logic is so obtuse that the enjoyment quickly turns into frustration. In Freakpocalypse, I rarely got stuck, and even when I did, there’s a pretty good hint system baked into each “chore” (quest). Without being too heavy-handed, the hints gently guide players to the location or object that needs to be used to accomplish a task. This is perfect because I rarely want to be given the entire solution without solving it myself, and hints can sometimes be too obvious or vague in adventure titles.
Navigating the world is simple and convenient, and there’s so much to look at. Even when I was frustrated with how awful the writing is, I was excited to enter a new area because I had no idea what I’d find. Even when Freakpocalypse was at its worst, I was curious enough to click on the jittery teacher with coffee in his hands and hear the guy’s story or click around the library to see what kinds of weird books are around.
Graphically, this is a C&H video game. If you’re accustomed to the comics or shorts, you know what to expect here. To that end, the amount of detail and polish in every single screen is impressive, even if the style is simplistic. The music suits the game, serving as light-hearted background music. Astonishingly, every piece of dialogue is voice acted, and fans of the shorts will recognize several of the voices. While Coop annoyed me a bit at first, he grew on me, and most of the other characters are well-acted, even if the script is awful.
While I can’t say I’m invested in Coop’s tired journey through his senior year in high school, I may be enticed enough to take the next episodes for a spin. But that would only be the case if the second half of Freakpocalypse maintains its quality in my memory. For all I know, I was lulled into a stupor or a kind of Stockholm Syndrome. One of the costs of reviewing for a site like RPGFan is that we try to finish every single game we review, and this one put me to the test.