Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Wild 'n' Free

The full title of this game is Wild 'n' Free - A True Story, though I have the niggling feeling that this is much like how Fargo was a "true story," because if the events of Wild 'n' Free actually happened (or ever do happen, for that matter) I'll be amazed.

I'll no doubt be left very confused, too. There is no plot or even an attempt at a plot. There isn't even a Start button. The title screen pops up, fades out and you are immediately thrust into the thick of it, the only concession to instructions being four arrows. So at least we know that the arrow keys move our character. Now, if only we could determine what exactly the character is.

At first I thought it must be a swordfish, what with the long straight nose. But why is it pink, and why is it apparently wearing a swimming cap?

Also, why is it so small? The sea dominates the entire screen, leaving us to control a tiny, strange-looking... thing. There isn't really any reason why the fish mutant we're calling the hero couldn't have been a little bigger.

Fish monster thing can zip through the water with great ease, no doubt aided by its swimming cap, and is able to leap high into the air. Its ability to jump seems to be the only thing going for it, and the player can't turn or pivot in the air, so it sort of loses its lustre after a while.

Fish mutant is also some kind of Pied Piper type, attracting any fish it comes across. This is actually kind of cool to watch, as the shoal of fish gets ever larger and starts to number in the dozens. But I still had no idea what the object of the game was, or how I was supposed to go about achieving it. I figured I had to go about collecting "shipping materials", but what the hell did that mean?

The answer came in these boats, trundling along on the surface of the water, releasing an oily, smoky substance that caused no end of physical discomfort to our deformed hero.

And it was here that I finally realised Wild 'n' Free is an environmental game, designed to show the terrible damage being brought upon marine life at the hands of man. Our hero must be some kind of sea nymph, attracting the creatures of the ocean and leading them in the fight back against the wasteful humans. But what could they do?

How about blowing up the boats?

You know, I've seen a lot since I started reviewing crappy online games, but this gets serious points for originality. The little sea nymph mutant creature leads his army of kamikaze exploding fish against the forces of man. Give it more points for irony, since wouldn't sacrificing dozens of fish and sinking boats that are spewing waste into the sea sort of defeat the purpose of their mission - that is, saving marine life?

I'm just sayin', is all.

The longer you play, the more varied the boats become, among them these yachts that fire off sonar waves, which our hero also doesn't like. I work with children who are sensitive to sound. Most of them just cover their ears and cry; they don't strap TNT to a bunch of fish and then go around blowing up everything in sight.

All in all, Wild 'n' Free is by no means the worst game I've ever played, but then I've said that about a lot of games that I've reviewed and they've all pretty much sucked. This one is actually quite intriguing for the first five minutes. Of course, this is partly because you have no idea what the hell's going on, but still, it kept my attention. However, actually trying to destroy the boats can be difficult and stressful at times. You lose health so quickly that you have to constantly swim down to the ocean floor and chew on some plants to regain your energy, which is also a pain in the ass.

I suppose if you want to play a game that says something about the environment, you could do worse than Wild 'n' Free (though if I were you, I'd play Decorrupt the Deforesters, which allows you to beat the shit out of loggers.) While the controls are simple and responsive, and the animation (that I could make out) well-drawn, Wild 'n' Free just doesn't have enough going for it to keep me coming back for more.

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