If a game is created for the bargain bin, how do you rate it? Do you give it credit for being a good bargain bin game, or for being awful compared to all games? That would be my dilemma for Farscape: The Game from Simon & Schuster Interactive, except that for some reason Simon & Schuster isn’t pricing it as a bargain bin game. So that makes things easy: Farscape is short and simple and repetitive, and it has really awful graphics, but for some reason I sort of liked it anyway, maybe because I also liked the television series it’s based on the one season I watched it.
If you haven’t watched Farscape on the Science Fiction Channel, let me try and describe it in brief. There’s a ship of odd, alien prisoners (who aren’t especially guilty), and they’re joined by a human named Crichton, who accidentally traveled through a wormhole to end up in their corner of the galaxy. Then each week the cast either travels to an exotic world and has an adventure there, or they’re chased by the Peacekeepers, who want to lock them back up and capture their ship, the Moya, which is alive and also pregnant.
In the game, the Peacekeepers attack and board the Moya, and the crew scatters. Crichton and a thief named Chiana escape using a “prowler” (a Peacekeeper ship) but crash land on a desert planet. That means, as the game progresses, you first have to repair the prowler, then you have to rescue the rest of the crew from whatever jams they’re in, and finally you have to defeat the Peacekeeper attack force. There’s also a strange bit about a group of people who want to grow a forest in the desert, and for some reason they end up being the bad guys. Why they’re bad guys is resolved at the end, but the resolution comes way out of left field. The game feels like it should have had about eight acts instead of five, and the sudden ending makes me think the developers ran out of time or money or both.
At this point it’s hard to tell what kind of game Farscape is. If you’ve watched the television show, then you might expect it to be some sort of adventure, or maybe a role-playing game, because the show stresses the interaction of the characters more than action sequences. But instead Farscape is a pretty basic action game. And when I say basic, I mean basic. Just think of the original Diablo but without interesting equipment, or the wide variety of foes and locations, or quests. Then you might have something like Farscape.
And so, for good or bad, Farscape is all about shooting things. The good news here is that the game has a reasonable selection of weapons. You can use everything from pistols to flame throwers to rocket launchers, and, if you played Fallout and got a visceral thrill out of blowing people away with mini-guns, you can get the same sort of satisfaction here (but without the gore and “wet” sounds). The problem is that Farscape is wildly unbalanced. Area affect weapons don’t harm allies, and most enemies try to kill you with melee attacks, and so you can pretty much just load up your crew with rocket launchers and blow everything away. The only real challenge is making sure you don’t run out of ammunition before the end of each mission.
An easy action game isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I just would have liked to see more variety. There aren’t very many types of enemies to fight, or terrains to see, and, other than the weapons, there isn’t any equipment of interest (there isn’t any armor at all, and the medical supplies aren’t needed because combat is so straightforward). The developers tried to mix things up a little by including a couple “stealth” missions, but in both cases the enemies to avoid are stationary, and so really the missions are nothing more than mazes, and not especially interesting mazes at that. The developers also tried to put in keys and locked doors and things like that to add interest to the missions, but then they also included -- get this -- a purple arrow on the minimap that always tells you exactly where you need to go. So if you need to find a key, it points the way. If you then need to figure out which door to unlock, or lever to push, it points the way again. Well, gee, let me figure out some things on my own.
Farscape has other problems as well. Its 3D engine doesn’t look good, and I suspect the only reason you can tell the Farscape characters apart is because they’re so distinctive to start with (one of them is blue, for example, and another is a frog-like muppet that rides a floating throne). The interface also doesn’t work especially well. Enemies have resistances to different types of damage, but the game doesn’t provide a convenient way for your party to switch between weapons. Also, you can’t configure the hotkeys, and the default mapping is just weird. For example, to access a character’s inventory, you have to use the left shift key, while the “i” and “tab” keys aren’t used for anything. Lastly, Farscape is a little short. It comes with a prologue plus five acts, but each section only takes an hour or two, and so you can finish the game in a day if you want. And since there isn’t a multiplayer mode or any real reason to play through the game a second time, about ten hours is all you’re going to get out of it.
One semi-surprisingly nice thing about Farscape is the voice acting. The developers actually got the cast from Farscape to do their voices for the game, and, except for Crichton occasionally mumbling and Chiana talking way too fast, they did a nice job, as did the actors doing the secondary characters. Plus, there are even subtitles to help out.
Overall, Farscape isn’t a very good game. It doesn’t look good, and it’s not balanced, but it’s short and easy and has the Farscape characters in it, so there are worse ways to spend your time. Just avoid the game until the price drops.