Indie Wonderland: Appointment With FEAR

Trawling for suggestions in last week’s pigeon-related wonderland, I noticed long-time reader Museli talk about a game called Appointment With FEAR. And, I’ll be honest: a more western-oriented, superhero-themed visual novel game sounded like an excellent palette cleanser after four weeks of anime faces and high school romance plots. I looked it up on Steam, noticing that it can’t seem to keep its nomenclature straight — seriously, is the title supposed to read FEAR or F.E.A.R.? — but still mostly finding myself intrigued with the general idea put forward. The lone superhero defender of Titan City, fighting to oppose the forced of 1980’s villainy? Sure, sign me up!

FOR JUSTICE.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, medium. Mechanical, high.)

Opening

Loading, loading, loading… Tin Man Games presents, press A to continue, with the assistance of the Australian government and Fighting Fantasy… Ah, there we go! Steve Jackson’s Appointment With F.E.A.R..

No, not the Steve Jackson who designed Munchkin. This one seems like a cool dude too, though.

“MANY YEARS AGO…”, if the word of this marvelously all-caps Comic Sans textbox is to believed, “Your birth was the moment all the doctors had been waiting for.”

“It turns out the doctors didn’t really have all that much going on in their lives.”

Well gee, Appointment With FEAR. Thanks, I guess! I never knew I, Jarenth, was important enough to your game for you guys to dedicate the opening crawl to the occasion of my birth. I do appreciate that, makes me feel all special and whatnot. But, er…

…are we starting? It kinda feels like we’re starting. Don’t I get, like, a chance to mess with options or something before we kick off the game proper?

Clicking anywhere in the screen continues the textbox-based storyline. But maybe… I click on the three circles in the top left of the screen, and sure enough, a menu appears!

MEANWHILE…

A mostly worthless menu, mind. As far as I can tell, there are… no options at all? No graphics, no sound, no text speed, nothing. Every option in this menu is related to supporting gameplay, somehow, and screw the people who’d prefer to play this game muted, or windowed, or whatever!

Well, I can’t make sense of any of these buttons yet, so back to my birth it is!

Wooshy Batman-style screen change!

The story continues. Doctors were interested in my birth not because of any intrinsic interest, but because my parents had consented to strange radiation experiments. Thereby forfeiting any and all claims to future ‘parent of the year’ awards, I’m guessing. Nevertheless, everything went well, and a happy…

Am I a boy? Or am I a girl?

Soon after the failure of the superhero project, the dejected lead researcher, prof. Oak, would take up wild animal training instead.

A happy baby boy was born, with no apparent effects from the radiation experiments. My parents took me away, shielded me from further experiments while growing up, and everyone just sort of… forgot about the whole thing.

Of course, I did still develop superpowers in my adolescence. Of course. But which powers?

How can I pick just one?

Amazing Energy Blast powers in hand, I decided to adopt the superhero life. Changing my look to…

…Hmm. No. No. No, that’s not it. No, I don’t like that face. No. No. Why are only the faces changing, anyway? The body type and the weird grey-grey colour scheme seem pretty set in stone.

Too grim. Too dumb. Too silly. Not silly *enough*. Too grim…

Oh, I see! I pick a head, and then I can choose colours. Primary colour for most of the suit, from a set of nine options, and a secondary colour for flourishes.

Finally, I adopted a fittingly heroic name! Appointment With FEAR isn’t in the business of letting me write my own name, but it happily provides a list of random-generated nonsense to pick from. Stuff like ‘Rare Order’, or ‘Cold Drosphila’, or…

Oh my GOD.

And so, The Wrinkled Breakfast was born! Evildoers of Titan City, beware! Because from today onward, breakfast is served… even after 10:00 AM. And be sure to try our special: eggs Benedict with a side of justice!

Initial impressions

Fast-forward to the present day.

Here it is.

Woo-hee. I, The Wrinkled Breakfast, appear to be doing pretty well for myself. Look at the size of this high-rise apartment! The superhero life ain’t nothing to scoff at.

I take some time to introspect. “I sure love living in Titan City – the best city in the world!” Sure, it has a few spots of super-criminal trouble. But that’s what I’m here for, aren’t I? The citizens of Titan City can rest safe, knowing that their ever-vigilant champion will be there for them when they wake up.

Filled with patriotic inspiration, I bellow my battle cry. “Time… for Breakfast!”

The alternative reading of this scene — that I’m just announcing my breakfast plans to an empty room — is too dumb to even consider for long.

Using my amazing Energy Blast powers, I fry myself a twelve-egg omelet. The Wrinkled Breakfast needs a lot of protein to get through the day, after all, and concerns about high blood cholesterol are for lesser humans.

Doing so unlocks an achievement!

It’s worth noting I haven’t actually *done* anything yet.

Suddenly, my radio transmitter springs to life! As it turns out, I miraculously manage to catch news of a high-level F.E.A.R. meeting being held in Titan City. In three days! Whatever this meeting’s agenda, one thing is sure: if Vladimir Utoshki — the Titanium Cyborg — is calling all his F.E.A.R. agents to one location, nothing good can come of it. My mission, regardless of whether I choose to accept it: find clues to the whereabouts of the F.E.A.R. meeting, crash the meeting, and stop whatever evil plans F.E.A.R. may or may not be plotting!

This gains me a Luck point!

*Still* haven’t actually done anything.

Suddenly, my trusty Crimewatch beeps. The Crimewatch provides me with updates on crimes being committed in Titan City. These crimes may or may not translate themselves into clues about the F.E.A.R. meeting! Also, you know, they’re crimes, so I’m to stop them as a matter of course.

The Crimewatch clamors for attention. There are rumors of unspecified ‘danger’ during the President’s upcoming visit, which is totally a thing I knew about. ‘Speak to the Serpent or Rat-Face Flanagan for more information’.

Yeah, that’s… that’s a clue, I guess!

All this crime-fighting jazz’ll have to wait, though: I’m late for my job! My alter ego’s cover job, of course, as a…

…a mild-mannered reporter, huh. Well, I guess it’s a classic for a reason.

AAH I’M LATE!

Donning my disguise most excellent…

Nobody will *ever* know.

…I am off!

I head out into Titan City. A couple of things happen, involving my Crimewatch beeping again and some clue about ‘the Alchemists’ robbing some bank somewhere, but listen: that’s not important right now. What is important is that I finally found my first seemingly-meaningful choice!

People are arguing, cars are honking, papers are selling, and I’m already late for work.

A hero’s life is never easy, is it? I check out the honking cars, and, through a series of events I won’t recall in detail, find myself at a murder scene.

*Sigh*.

I investigate the murder scene! The victim has divorce papers on him, so I go check out his wife for a possible motive. Largely unaffected by the news of her husband’s death, she suggests I ask the Wayne Bruce office employees for more suggestions. None of the senior executives can shed any light on this mysterious murder either, however.

So I just kind of give up on the investigation.

“Fuck it.”

Yeah, er… I’m pretty sure I, the player, have a few ideas about who to talk to and what to investigate. But The Wrinkled Breakfast, the character, has already had enough of this nonsense. Solving murders isn’t heroic! Preventing murders is!

Case in point: in the nearby Peter Laboratories, four irradiated dogs have escaped their cages!

Don’t be sassy, Breakfast. Radiation nonsense got you *your* powers.

I run up to the door the rapid, irradiated dogs are hiding behind! I attempt to break open the door! This involves a test of my SKILL, which is apparently a thing in this game!

Let’s see if I can do this thing!

Success!

I break open the door, rush to face the door, and accidentally click past some text I really wanted to read. Dang. But, no problem: that’s why most visual novels have some way of accessing earlier text, don’t they? Let’s see…

How about this conveniently-placed back-pointing arrow in the lower left corner? I click it, and…

Time rewinds. I find myself outside the dog door again. Okay, I… that wasn’t really what I wanted to have happen, but sure. I attempt the skill check again… but in this timeline, I find myself less lucky.

I failed at the thing, *and* I never got to read that text I wanted to read!

Oh no, a failed skill check! That’s disastrous! If only I’d found some apparently consequence-free way to rewind time, as often as I’d like, forever! Man, that could really have been handy. But alas.

Anyway: I proceed to fight the irradiated dogs. Fighting looks a little like this:

Riveting option gameplay!

I pick an option, roll an invisible die, and see whether or not I deal damage. The dog picks an option, rolls an invisible die, and see whether or not it deals damage. I pick an option, roll an invisible die, and see…

Long story short: I beat the dogs. This nets me a F.E.A.R. card!

Yeah, another thing that I don’t know what it does!

Oh boy, a F.E.A.R. card! What do these cards do? Do they do anything cool? They’re tied into the Luck points I’ve been getting all the time, so surely they must be more than silly collectible gimmicks that I don’t really care about.

Oh, and I also gain 2 Hero Points. ‘Whatever those are’, to finish the refrain.

Hmm. I don’t feel like I feel as heroic as I should, right now. I stopped a bunch of radioactive murder dogs! I signed a bunch of autographs! I gained Hero points and F.E.A.R. cards! But… what have I done so far to find out or stop the F.E.A.R. meeting? Nothing, that’s what.

Let’s try some more heroics! That should solve it.

Maybe I can stop this story robbery!… no, wait, that was just a kid with a water gun. And I almost killed him by overreacting.

Maybe I can find more clues at my work!… no, wait, my boss is livid that I didn’t show up all day yesterday, so he’s suspending me without pay.

Maybe I can stop this theater kidnapping!… no, wait, I failed the random Skill check, so the kidnapper got away scot-free.

Maybe I can stop these random muggers! …no, wait, they ripped my civilian disguise, spotting the superhero costume underneath. Now my career is over.

Yyyyup.

Wait, hold on. What? Didn’t we do a whole joke, earlier, about how my ‘disguise’ is just a pair of glasses? How am I suddenly wearing an actual disguise? And how can these random shit-goons manage to rip it? And even if they rip it, how would that be ‘the end of my secret identity’? These guys don’t know who I am! I’m just some random sucker they mugged. And even if they somehow figured out the ‘real’ me, and even if I can’t swear them to some form of secrecy, and even if I actually have ‘friends and loved ones’ that require protecting… why can’t I just fry these two goons like an egg?

Sure, identity-concealing murder isn’t exactly heroic. But then again, neither is this:

“Rats, some muggers figured out who I am. Better let this wicked conglomerate of super villains take over the world, then.”

But no. Muggers saw me, game over. Nice try. “Do you want to play again?”, asks Appointment With FEAR. “Or do you maybe want me to put you back in an earlier spot in the story? You could try again, maybe not fuck up so much this time.”

I… I don’t actually know what I want right now, Appointment With FEAR. I was really invested in The Wrinkled Breakfast. But to just undo his ignominious fall from grace seems… seems like cheating, somehow?

You know what? I need to sleep on this. I’ll get back to you on the next page.

Onto page 2. >>

7 comments

  1. After-the-fact comments update: I actually went back to Appointment With FEAR in the space between writing this review and posting it. I… feel like I really want to like this game. It’s teetering so closely to the edge of being fun to play, and the theme and the writing all resonate with my interests.

    But it’s no good. The only way to be successful at Appointment With FEAR is to memorize every single decision path, recognize every clue for value, and try every single unintuitive choice. You have to explore the game’s narrative fully to get to all possibilities, and unless you do, you’ll never know when you’re being punished for taking the logical choices over the seemingly silly ones.

    Example: on day 3, the first choice you get is either ‘go to a robot expo’ or ‘go see the president’s cavalcade’. At this point, it’s highly likely you’ll have been tipped off about the president’s assassination. So you go there… right?

    Wrong. If you go to the president event immediately, the day ends afterwards. If you go to the robot expo, you can still go save the president immediately after. But wait, there’s more: if you go to the robot expo, then/i> go to a friendly ballgame, you’ll still get the president’s event as a third choice! Going to the president first is objectively the wrong choice on day 3… and you’ll never figure this out unless you decide to take the silly-sounding options instead.

    That’s Appointment With FEAR in a nutshell: randomness, dead ends, unintuitive choices, and at the end of it there’s still a major chance you won’t actually get the clues you need to win. Because hey! You stopped the rampaging Android, good job! But because you weren’t a flying-type hero, this doesn’t get you the clue you needed! Should’ve intuited that an energy hero like yourself should have gone after the Creature of Carnage instead! Better luck next time.

    I want to like Appointment With FEAR, I really do. But Appointment With FEAR seems dead-set on making me loathe it.

    1. I would feel bad about recommending a game that you haven’t liked, but we’ve got a great article out of it, so I’m pleased that I’ve avoided what I’d consider to be the biggest sin, that of wasting your time.

      A note on the combat and the skill checks: in the original books, you’d roll dice to determine Strength, Skill and Stamina stats, and then roll dice in combat to determine hits and misses. I wish they had kept this system in the game. Skill checks feel especially limp. I do love the ‘do [move] on [body part]’ combat text though. Grapple that dog’s eyeball? Sure, why not.

      “That’s Appointment With FEAR in a nutshell: randomness, dead ends, unintuitive choices, and at the end of it there’s still a major chance you won’t actually get the clues you need to win.”

      That’s pretty much all Fighting Fantasy novels in a nutshell. I put part of my enjoyment of them down to nostalgia, but I do still get actual pleasure from reading/playing them, so it’s not all in my head. For other FF fans out there, I should also add that the main body of the text and the art in AWF is faithfully recreated from the book. As a bonus, they’ve added terrible quips for your character in combat so you no longer need to shout out your own like a crazy person. Not that I ever did, of course.

      1. I do really think these books would be more fun as books. I’d probably be a lot more forgiving about strict linearity and dice rolling nonsense in the context of a book, where I can accept that — once printed — not a whole lot of it is going to change.

        Video games, though. I have different expectations regarding video games.

  2. Well at least it sounds true to it’s Fighting Fantasy origins. I grew up with those books too and while I loved them I do recognise that they were terribly designed. My favourite one I think was called The Crypt of the Sorcerer and it culminated in a boss fight where you had to have found 5 or 6 specific items from throughout the branching world in order to beat the sorcerer. And to make sure you couldn’t cheat they often had ‘turn to the number inscribed on the ring’ and such to make it difficult. I don’t think I ever fairly beat that book.

    I think you’re right Jarenth, these things are fun as books, as these kind of relics that had their limitations and were sometimes ridiculously, preposterously unfair so no-one ever judged you for keeping your thumb on the previous entry. Maybe that’s just the nostalgia element at play, but I’m young enough that we also had games like Baldur’s gate around and I do remember that I’d rather have played these books at that time. So in conclusion, I had terrible taste as a child.

  3. I couldn’t stomach that combat system. If you don’t know what the probabilities of hitting/missing actually are then how can you work out the expected value and try to make decisions? It’s like the game is asking you to guess which number it’s thinking of.

    1. That’s basically all of Appointment With FEAR in a nutshell, honestly. “What am I thinking about right now? Wrong! You fail everything.”

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