Fenimore Fillmore's Revenge
First posted on 10 July 2009. Last updated on 24 February 2010.
We have all been there—switching aimlessly between television channels when, suddenly, we are faced with that panoramic long shot of a poetically beautiful desert. A horse and its master enter the frame with a romantic elegance reserved only for the most timeless of heroes. Despite the clichés, there is a mystic about Spaghetti Western that eludes us from switching over right to the end credits.
So, as I begin playing Fenimore Fillmore's Revenge, I am not surprised to be so easily drawn into the same charming familiarity, despite the game's few shortcomings along the way.
Gamers who are familiar with the series' history will recognize that Fenimore Fillmore's Revenge is actually the third game in the Revistronic's loosely tied western trilogy. The first is an obscure 2D cartoon adventure called 3 Skulls of the Toltecs. This is followed by the second and more prominent 3D sequel called Fenimore Fillmore: The Westerner, also known as Wanted: A Wild Western Adventure.
The game starts with our hero Fillmore and his partner Rhiannon riding into the romantic sunset when, unexpectedly, the pair is confronted with a dying stranger. As Fenimore fetches for water, the man whispers to Rhiannon the whereabouts of a secret treasure, but not long before a group of ruthless bandits finish off the stranger, kidnap Rhiannon, and acquaint the returning Fenimore with a bullet that leaves him critically wounded in the middle of the nowhere.
Fenimore Fillmore's Revenge takes a departure from the goofy humor and colorful visuals in Fenimore Fillmore: The Westerner (that have become the staple mark for the series) and makes radical changes of a different sort. Gone is the clumsy, almost useless Fenimore who shares much in common with his obvious influence, Guybrush Threepwood of LucasArts' Monkey Island, and in with the new broody, ruggedly handsome hero, with more than a hint of Clint Eastwood about him. The cheery, vibrant farms and shops have also been replaced with gritty, sparse, abandoned mines and sweeping deserts, accustomed with epic music that will not feel out of place in even a John Wayne flick.
Sparse environments are often considered a criticism in adventure games, but this game's authentic approach is a real compliment to the Wild West it attempts to replicate. Whilst the game is ridden of a varied color scheme, the relatively clever lighting effects and sharper textures give quite the nostalgic twilight touch.
This all comes at a price, however. Whilst Fenimore Fillmore: The Westerner is so filled with eye candy that you can spend hours just absorbing the overwhelming scenes on display, Fenimore Fillmore's Revenge will have you readily familiar with every nook and cranny within just minutes.
Fortunately, you will not be locked to an area long enough for it to outstay its welcome. The story switches back and forth between the 3 main characters, and due to the nature of the plot that pits them in a race against time (and bandits), the game is far from the slow and meticulous pacing typical of adventure games.
Better yet, swift playable characters and minimal numbers of locations mean that there is little to no hanging around backtracking or getting lost in the game.
Unfortunately, this is where the game's biggest criticism also comes into play. Experienced gamers will finish this full-length adventure faster than most so-called episodic counterparts. The lack of items and detailed surroundings mean minimal interaction and downscaled inventory puzzles. Thankfully, almost all of the puzzles feel relevant to the plot and can be solved with common sense, although very few are ambitious or rewarding.
Furthermore, due to the constant shifting of the plot, there is little opportunity for character development. Fenimore and Rhiannon's relationship are again neglected and has not expanded on here. Even if you buy into the buildup to their pairing in the previous game, there is simply not enough of a chemistry seen between the pair before Rhiannon is snatched away. Consequently, despite a good half a dozen intense cut scenes going for it, none is performed to be quite as gripping or emotionally charged as they are meant to be.
Some sections of the plot are also questionable. For example, very early on in the game, Rhiannon is locked in a room with a sleeping guard right beside her after her capture, and she is given full freedom to explore around. Considering how tough her character is, I am certain that no lone bandit is in his right mind feeling safe in a room awake with Rhiannon on the loose, let alone being secure enough to fall asleep beside her.
Likewise, the third new main character in the game does not have enough hold to the burden of a plot which is held too tightly to a genre which is not renowned for depth or complexity.
To be fair, it is hard to criticize Fenimore Fillmore's Revenge for its lack of depth without criticizing the Spaghetti Western genre as a whole. After all, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly is not remembered for the lone gunman having a deep, intricate past or intellectual conspiracy theories. To expect more from this game, which so clearly wishes to pay tribute to the genre, is perhaps missing the point.
Nonetheless, the film has become a classic due to its captivating settings, epic production, and charismatic hero that reflects the values and defining moments of the country's history. This is why such films are able to retell the same stories for years.
Still, it is precisely due to the constant retelling with the lack of innovation that eventually causes the genre to inevitably fall out of cinema's favor. It is here where this game also falls victim.
Unlike Monkey Island that excels as a classic by taking a new (often comical) angle to a defined genre, Fenimore Fillmore's Revenge does little to elevate what is predominantly a mediocre experience.
Looking more meticulously at the smaller details, it is easy to see that the game's restrained production seems to be holding it from realizing its full potential. A lit stick of TNT not showing smoke or flame, a bullet piercing through Fenimore's body looking more like a graphical glitch, unbalanced music drowning out the voices and sound effects, and awkwardly switching camera angles are all signs of an unpolished game.
Most of the game's flaws are on a technical level. Whilst my gripes may sound nitpicky, when put altogether, they become more obvious.
If this has been an episodic game, I may be far less critical. This is because these shortcomings, whilst noticeable, do not break the overall experience. As a standalone game, which has taken years to develop, why has the developer not found the time to iron them out?
Still, the game has a number of highlights. There are some truly cinematic sections that, although typical, come with editing that is dynamic and exciting. They are a small consolation for the weak puzzle payoffs.
Whilst Fenimore does well enough at playing macho, from the start it is the strong willed Rhiannon that carries the story forward. In the sea of clichéd stories overwhelmed by cutout damsels in stress, she is a welcoming change to the age-old formula.
The characters' facial expressions are well animated. The artistic style is rough enough to hold fans of darker themed adventures but is still slight cartoonish to appeal to family friendly audiences. It is a pity then that the lip-synching is sometimes severely out of place, even showing characters talking seconds before any dialog is heard, though this in part can be blamed on dubbing the voices from Spanish to English.
The locations are well orchestrated, providing a balance of exploration and accessibility. There is enough scenery to explore around for you to never be felt cheated, although you will merely be focusing on most items as the game lacks verbal clarification with what you interact.
The dialog, though wanting in greater measure and choice, is exceptional and certainly shines during the few darkly comical moments.
There are only 3 major characters with which you can interact and control. Even then, no more than 2 characters are together at a scene during play at a time. Seeing as the developer is proclaiming the game as having an "ambitious and authentic script", it is a real downer that it chooses not to create a town full of lively denizens to network with.
There is a single element about this game which I have yet to mention that will likely shut doors to many pure adventure gamers. What can a Western not be without? Shootouts, of course! What does Fenimore Fillmore's Revenge have? Action sequences, of course! In fact, the game's final climactic scenes are dominant by trigger-happy gameplay.
Worst off, despite feeling natural to its narrative structure, the game's controls are far too unresponsive to even hold the attention of seasoned action gamers.
You control Fenimore's aiming, shooting, ducking, running, and reloading using both the left and right mouse buttons. The controls are never explained within the game, and the game gives you only a single opportunity early on to practice. Supposing you choose to complete the tutorial first time, there is no way to replay it to hone your skills. The tutorial also does not give you the chance to learn the duck and cover tactics necessary for the later fights, meaning that you will be tackling those as you go along, with bullets zooming past your head, for life or death.
The mouse buttons are too few to control the number of actions you are expected to perform, causing Fenimore to interact with the surroundings when you do not want him to do so, such as to show his face when you prefer him to duck, or to run in directions you want but he does not. It is in these situations perhaps the game may be better played with direct control scheme rather than point and click.
Moreover, the controls are made more difficult with a camera system that sometimes feels as if it is rooting for the bandits in the way that it sometimes prevents you from looking where you want. At the end of each shootout, you are given an accuracy rating. If the moments have been more enjoyable, this may offer the game some replay values. As it stands, however, it is yet another missed opportunity.
Personally, I am happy with the direction Revistronic has taken in Fenimore Fillmore's Revenge. Overall, it feels more natural and accessible than the previous titles in the series. The easy play and neutral setting means this game is ideal for gamers wanting to sample the adventure genre. However, the drastic style change and technical glitches have also weighed down the game's full potential.