On Kickstarter the folks behind the long-running web-comic Cyanide & Happiness managed to raise $575,000 for this three episode point and click adventure project over 3-years ago, proving in the process that people will gladly pay good money for dick jokes. “The game will be a new approach to point-and-click adventures, filled with dark comedy, drama, weirdness, and an apocalypse in the suburbs.” That’s some big, bold claims about a genre that’s been around since time began, so does does Cyanide & Happiness: Freakpocalypse manage to live up these promises? Eh, not really.
The star of the show is Cooper, a young lad who seemingly everyone hates with a passion despite his only crime being…well, being Cooper. He’s bullied at school by a trio of assholes, constantly picked on by the teachers and only has one friend, although even she seems iffy about the whole relationship. Exactly why Cooper is the butt of every joke and disliked by everyone is a mystery. He’s only guilty of being utterly vanilla. He’s as exciting as a tuna sandwich on white bread. Of course, this also means that as a protagonist Cooper is… there. He exists. That’s about it.
Cyanide & Happiness is a series of web comics and animated shorts on Youtube focusing on dark humour, making it perfect for people like me for whom comedy is a shield against the bleak, endless void of life within an uncaring universe where we are as important as a speck of dust upon the hoodie of history. *sobs.*
Carrying that dark humour over to something longer, though, can’t have been easy. It shows in the writing – the comedy is very hit or miss, occasionally landing with the same snort-inducing strength of the best of Cyanide & Happiness, and other times it falling flatter than a whale that got pushed off a cliff. There were a couple of jokes that made me genuinely laugh, like having to combine a USB stick with a printer three times before it would actually slot into place did drag a chuckle from me. But there were also a lot that got no reaction or made me grimace. Too many of the jokes are just punny names or crappy dad jokes. I’d even argue that the jokes are too tame by the standards of Cyanide & Happiness. Even the dick jokes are limper than a wet noodle. Look, I adore low-brow, crude comedy, but contrary to popular belief the key to a good fart joke is actually smart writing.
Freakpocalypse follows the usual point and click formula, by which I mean you’re going to spend a lot of time trying to combine objects with other objects in the vague hopes that something will work. To the game’s credit it manages to avoid most of the more…er, jumbled logic that point and click veterans are so deeply familiar with. Nothing in here is going to leave you as bemused, confused and downright angry as the pigeon eggs in Grim Fandango, for example. Most of the solutions make sense, or just enough sense.
Unfortunately, Cyanide & Happiness: Freakpocalypse doesn’t have any memorable or interesting puzzles, either. The stuff you’ll be doing is about as basic as it comes, and as challenging as befuddling a chicken that’s just woken up from anaesthetic. Perhaps it’s simply because I was raised on Monkey Island, Discworld, Day of the Tentacle and a disturbing amount of 18+ rated movies featuring horrific gore, but I went through the whole game on auto-pilot. None of the puzzles standout as being interesting, inventive or ingenious. You’ll solve them with barely a thought fluttering through your pretty little brain.
I can’t find much to fault with the visuals, though. The distinctive Cyanide & Happiness art style has been perfectly replicated, making the whole game feel like an extra-long episode. The audio isn’t quite as good, mostly due to the music which never seems to fit. But the voice acting is solid throughout, including a special appearance from Jim Sterling.
Performance is perfectly fine. I never ran into any issues, bugs or crashes. Although, the game only supports 1920×1080 on PC with no options for anything higher. This might be due to the limited development budget. It’s still annoying, though.
Pacing is an issue, probably the biggest one of the entire game. I got through the whole adventure in about 2-hours and the titular Freakpocalypse doesn’t even occur until the final moments, and then the whole thing just abruptly ends. There’s another two parts to come, but the Steam page doesn’t make it clear that this is actually more like a 3-episode TV series. (The Steam page has now been updated to properly reflect that this is just part 1.) Even taking that into account, though, the pacing is terrible. It’s like a filler episode of TV where nothing of note happens before it wraps up in a cliff-hanger. For entirety of the very slow feeling two hours I was waiting for something to happen. Anything, really. And it never did.
However, there is some value to be had in clicking absolutely everything. The screen is littered with objects and stuff that reference Cyanide & Happiness or that yields unique dialogue and examined. It’s actually impressive how much effort was clearly poured into stacking the environments with stuff. In fact, it’s almost a problem, making it tricky to find a clear area to click on so you can move Cooper around. For some folk the sheer barrage of things to click on might be one of the game’s strongest assets.
You can stretch the content out by another few hours if you fancy completing side-quests. Your efforts are typically rewarded with new customization options for Cooper, so that’s quite cool. However, these basic quests aren’t very exciting, and considering the two hours it takes to complete the story already drags, I quickly got tired of going out of my way to do anything else.
What have the developers being doing for over 3-years? That’s the question that keeps floating to the surface of my very shallow brain-puddle while playing Freakpocalypse. Presumably they’ve been building all three parts at the same time, but this first piece of the supposed trilogy just doesn’t feel like the product of three years. In fact, it feels much more like the developers needed to get something out to show for their efforts, and in the process hopefully recoup some of the money they’ve already sunk into the project. Or planned out the story and realised too late that they hadn’t give the first part a proper arc of its own.
As a game that stands on its own, I find Cyanide & Happiness: Freakpocalypse to be disappointing and a little dull. Yeah, it did tease a few laughs out of me, but nothing to the same degree as the animated shorts available on Youtube or the web comics. And the gameplay doesn’t stand out, either. There are numerous excellent point and click titles out there that are both hilarious and that feature challenging, well designed puzzles that tickle the grey matter in a most delightful way. Compared to these, Cyanide & Happiness: Freakpocalypse is like Cooper himself: kinda boring.