Review: Freakpocalypse Part 1
By: Fernando Da Costa
Developer: Explosm Publisher: Serenity Forge Available on: Nintendo Switch, PC Review Console: Nintendo Switch Lite
Around a decade ago, I developed a nightly ritual before bed while in college. Much to my girlfriend’s chagrin at the time, I'd read an Explosm comic or fifty. Cyanide and Happiness had the perfect balance of dark and pun-filled humour. It helped me through quite a bit of tough times. Then, one day, I was browsing the internet and stumbled on an interesting Kickstarter. Explosm was looking into game development.
The game was set to be three separate titles that would tell a cohesive story between them all. As the campaign affectionately referred to them as; a Tragilogy - a trilogy of tragedy. Everything I read had me ecstatic over the possibilities. A few years passed since that initial campaign, and Freakpocalyse is now upon us. Has it maintained those dark laughs, or is the light now too bright?
The evil Dr. Dropout has infiltrated the high school. He’s not only kidnapped your classmates but threatens to render them dumb. You play as Coop, a boy tasked with saving the hostages and defeating the evil doctor. It’s not going to be a cakewalk, though, since his idiot henchmen roam the school halls. You'll need to weave your way to the gymnasium while idiots around you inflict self-imposed headshots. As the showdown begins, it won’t be long before you emerge victoriously but then promptly wake up.
Freakpocalyse Part 1 plants the seeds to what will amount to an outrageous story. A tale that dabbles in sex, fecal matter, tampons, and various other crude topics. Coop is, in reality, a loser no one likes and gets bullied daily. With prom on the horizon, he's on a journey to find a date. Graduation is just around the corner, so this is his one chance to be like the other kids. Buckle up as you take the role of matchmaker, solicit condoms for a stranger, make prison wine, and more in this whacky adventure.
While dark humour is the franchise’s bread and butter, it also has a dryness. The blunt delivery of every joke has an inherent sarcasm to it. Freakpocalypse is a title that doesn't take itself too seriously. Everything is presented with silliness, and isn’t afraid to delve into the questionable. Unfortunately, that’s also the most significant flaw to this type of humour. Most individuals will see it as being immature and write it off. Sadly, I can see that precise scenario play out because of how Explosm approaches it. The utter level of insanity may be a turn-off. To those unaware of the source material, it’ll feel like the developers threw ideas at a wall to see what stuck. At one moment, you’ll be coercing two boys into making out, and in the other, you’ll be supplying a good quality marker for a fellow student to sniff aggressively. The side quests are absurd, but it’s true to what the comic is. I admire and appreciate that as a fan, but it may prove alienating for others.
I chuckled a couple of times at the shenanigans. Freakpocalyse maintains that vintage Cyanide & Happiness charm. Although, it’s buried underneath an over-saturated script. As a point-and-click, the player can interact with almost anything. This puzzles me as in this game, there’s no reason to have 95% of an area clickable. Sure, unlockables are tied to background items, but that covers a minuscule percentage. There’s a ridiculous amount of meaningless padding. To make matters worse, Coop quips for each one. I couldn’t tell you how many times he reminded me of his short stature. It wore thin, and that repeating dialogue exasperated my frustration. Perhaps this is to help the player understand why Coop‘s bullied. We got to experience his incessant need to chatter and why he’s such an annoyance. If that’s true, then they’ve nailed it as far as that goes. In doing so, however, it also severely hampered Freakpocalyse. The insistence to force jokes and banter ruined those that were genuinely hilarious.
Speaking of immersion, I was impressed with how closely this mimicked high school. The student mannerisms reminded me so much of the discussions I had in my youth. The chatter about sex and the human body was rampant. So was being too interested in your friend hanging with the opposite gender. It all hit too close because, as a 15-year-old, that was me. My favourite snippet of conversation was when two males spoke about breasts. One asked the other what it felt like to touch. He answered, mentioning that he needed to rub them so her adult breasts would grow in. I’ll reiterate; it’s painfully juvenile but faithful to Cyanide and Happiness. These were some of the few times I chuckled. It’s just unfortunate the good is far overwhelmed by pointless and at times regurgitated drivel.
There's a system to get hints for those that aren’t exceptional at point-and-click. I didn’t get much use out of it personally, but that isn’t because I’m good. Clues will be presented subliminally, and you’ll need to read between the lines. It’s honestly hit or miss as far as clarity goes. There were a few times I sat there confused. This meant I’d skip on the extras and return to the main course. The issue is that without those, Freakpocalyse isn’t an especially long game. I completed my session in about four hours and twenty minutes. That was with a few side missions, so I’d reckon doing it without may net around three hours. With the hint system as it is, I never felt encouraged to keep trying with side quests. If anything, it actively discouraged me.
Please keep in mind that because this is Part 1, the game ends on a cliffhanger. The second installment is thankfully coming as early as next month. The third, however, is without a nailed down release date. I bring this up, so no one comes into this expecting a fulfilling ending. To be honest, I was only properly getting into it during the last few minutes. To have it ripped away with a “To be continued” felt like I was cheated.
I’ve always touted that a poor story can be salvaged by exemplary gameplay. That’s not something that Freakpocalyse manages to pull off. This title thoroughly falls off a cliff with this. It could undoubtedly be passable, but it’s evident the excessive writing doesn’t do it favours.
Because it’s a point-and-click, progression is tied to quests. These will be given by the various NPC’s scattered in the area. It sounds pretty straightforward at face value, but complications arose when I was asked for a key item. To get it, I had to find and combine two hidden items, so I’d gain access to my goal. That’s where my problems lay; it was so easy to overlook or spend several minutes looking. Backgrounds are generally messy and filled with redundant objects. What‘s needed will be in the midst of it all. Everything, however, blends together, making it hard to discern what’s important and what isn’t. While granted, one or two will be fairly blatant; the majority aren’t. This added an abhorrent quantity of tedium to an otherwise simplistic task. I couldn’t tell you how many times I unknowingly glossed over what I had to get.
Freakpocalyse is in dire need of reworking how obvious obtainable items are. As an example of how bad it can be, I scoured every nook and cranny when I was looking for a quarter. No matter how hard I looked, though, I kept turning up empty-handed. After a minute or twenty, I just quit and went back to the story. I did have money in my inventory at the time, but that wasn’t recognized. Eventually, my curiosity did catch up to me, and I looked it up. It turns out the coin was on a table that I frequently passed. Because the top‘s full of clutter, I assumed it was all trash when in actuality, a tiny circle at the corner wasn’t. The missteps continue with other mechanics too.
The collision detection is frankly abysmal and randomly decides when to work. For instance, late into the game, you’ll need a particular item. While I easily found said item, using it proved rather difficult. I chose it from my inventory and dragged it to where I needed it. Doing so was met with affirmation from Coop that it, indeed, failed. I tried again, and again, and once more, but each time, he spouted that same nonsense. Because it was a mission for the main story, I couldn’t skip over it. In frustration, I took a break before coming back after a few minutes. I tried again and could not believe it; the item worked on the first attempt. I’m clueless about why because I didn’t change what I was doing. I continued to drag the item to the spot as I had before. It made me wonder if the pixel positioning was slightly altered, and it triggered the short animation. If so, pinpoint precision is needed, which will needlessly aggravate a player.
I’m a really big fan of the voice-acting. The deadpan delivery of the lines helped to amplify the dry humour. I was impressed and thought it helped bring each character to life. Keep in mind that the performances tend to be one-note. It’s meant to help the sarcastic script, and it’ll rarely showcase a wide range of emotions. That said, my favourite character is a hippie that played the guitar. Everything he said was sung in different melodies. Whoever voiced him did a fantastic job. That was easily the highlight of Freakpocalyse.
I need to preface just how offensive the content can be. There are questionable stereotypes that voices actively tap into. To name one, the idiots are a relic of the past. They were common imitations seen in the past but are awful these days. In that regard, do be aware that this game isn’t up to modern standards. I wasn’t personally bothered by it because I knew the boundaries Cyanide and Happiness were willing to cross. As a controversial comic series, it will always push the envelope. I do commend the willingness to keep the soul intact for older fans to enjoy. It, however, comes at the price of potential new ones. Every voice is sublime, fitting characters to a tee. I must call out the actor that made the puking noises. It sounded way too authentic and was stomach-churning.
The colours are vibrant, and although there’s a distinct absence of detail, the simplicity it has works great. It’s the iconic style that Cyanide and Happiness has always had. Because the visuals aren’t extensive, they were able to pull off some raunchy things. It also means that the animations aren’t complicated and are smooth. It was both fluent and never showed signs of stuttering. I also really enjoyed how expressive the faces got. That, combined with the excellent voice work, nailed the atmosphere the game wanted to create. Freakpocalyse isn’t going to strain your Switch, but the visual experience won’t be less either.
I wanted to like Freakpocalyse, and the start seemed promising. But as the layers of this onion unraveled, the bruised aspects showed up. On the positive, the humour is genuine to Cyanide and Happiness; it’s controversial, gross, and juvenile. Fans of the web-comic will feel right at home. Those who are unaware of the franchise may be a bit put off by the abrasive nature. It’s authentic-looking visually., meaning Explosm and Serenity Forge worked hard to keep the soul intact. I love that since usually, with licensed properties, they tend to lose themselves. Finally, I was massively into the voices. Unfortunately, Coop overstayed his welcome with constant quips.
On the negative, gameplay and over-saturation of dialogue wounds this title. While it won’t be lethal, Freakpocalyse is left unable to stand. Key items needed for quests are regularly lost amongst other redundant objects. The lack of a highlight to signify its importance led to tedium and aimless searching. The collision detection seems to rely on pixel-perfect placement with no wiggle room. It’s either right, or you’re relegated to try over and over. Then, there’s the puzzling decision to make 95% of the map clickable, despite not needing to. If it isn’t something of interest, Coop remarks every time. It became grating and annoying real fast, and this is coming from a guy that loves talking in JRPG’s.
Freakpocalyse Part 1 wasn’t compelling to play. However, I can recommend this for diehard fans but with a caveat. If you’re interested in the costumes, do yourself a favour and use a guide. I think for the asking price, it’s a bit steep for what you’ll get. While there’s some semblance of fun to be had, I suggest waiting for a sale.