I’ve had a lot of doctor visits as of late. If you’ve been following my Twitter feed you might have noticed me lamenting my poor dietary decisions over the last 30 years. Suffice it to say, when bills start piling up, you kind of have to put game purchases on the back burner. At least until you catch up. What does this have to do with today’s game review? Well if you’re in a state of “I can’t spend any money on non-essential things right now” it can suck. Especially if it means spending your little bit of free time bored.
Fistful Of Frags
PROS: It’s free! Really, really free! A western setting! Fun.
CONS: It really isn’t much to look at. Too similar to TF2. Minor bugs.
HOLY HALF-LIFE 2 BATMAN: Yes it’s another indie game that started out as a Source mod.
Freeware used to be a thing. In today’s climate when someone says “Free.” many of us instantly think about pay walls, and timers. Sometimes a game will start out as a paid game, and then become free. Team Fortress 2 is the most famous example of that. Its only post download purchases are the purely cosmetic hats people buy. But 30 years ago, there were many free games if you were playing on a computer. Often times computer magazines had entire sections devoted to free games, and other programs. All you had to do, was take the time to type in the 15 pages of code, and remember to save.
By the time MS-DOS was king, and about to be usurped by Windows 95 Free games were all over the place. Hobbyists made them. Even some companies made them. Sometimes even companies unaffiliated with gaming somehow gave away a free game. Chex Quest anyone? But of course over the years that became less, and less common. Eventually freeware games were replaced with shareware games. Where you had the first 30% of a game for free, and then bought the full game if you really enjoyed it. This proved to be a very successful model for companies like Apogee, and iD who would give us Wolfenstein, Rise Of The Triad, Doom, Duke Nukem, and Quake. Eventually however, we even saw those days disappear.
Rather than follow the path of micro-transactions forged by smart phone games, Fistful Of Frags opts to be freeware. True freeware. There are no add-ons to buy. No cosmetic items. Nothing. You have the complete experience for no charge whatsoever. But even a free game isn’t free from scrutiny. After all, it still has to be fun enough for you to want to download it in the first place. Fortunately Fistful Of Frags is fun enough for a download.
The game pretty much clones the experiences of Team Fortress 2, and Half-Life 2’s Death Match mode. You have your classic push cart mode. In it, you’ll have to move a mine cart from one side of the map to the next within a time limit. The opposing side will attempt to stop you. There is also the point capture mode, where you have to hold a position for so many seconds. In this game you also have to have the area clear or the timer will stop until you take out the enemy team. If you can keep them at bay, you’ll capture the point, and move onto the next. These modes also take a page from Counter Strike by having a shop at the start of each round for your load outs. Don’t worry though, the currency is not based on actual money. Rather, your round performance as a team will determine how much you’ll be able to spend. Suffice it to say, you’ll want to do well enough to have your favorite tools available.
Then you have the standard Death Match mode. Kill more opponents than anybody else within the time limit to be the victor. The game does add a few of its own provisions to the rule set though. First off, you won’t have access to everything right away. You’ll be allowed to choose a starter weapon, and favored hand. But many times you’ll begin with your fists, and have to find a weapon in the field. There is a variant of Death Match called Break Bad, where each kill gets you money, that you can use toward your load out on your following life.
Each of the Death Match modes can be played in teams, or in free for all settings. If you play in teams, there are four factions: Desperadoes, Vigilantes, Bandits, and Rangers. All of the factions are functionally the same. The only change is the player model you’ll be using. In team games, you can even play four team variants. So this allows all four factions to be in a game at the same time.
The game does attempt to differentiate itself from other modern shooters. One of the ways it does this is with its melee fighting system, and with its emphasis on dexterity. When you are completely unarmed, you can still have a chance at survival. It has a left punch, and right punch mechanic using the left, and right mouse buttons. You can also kick people back to get some distance. The game doesn’t go as deep as it could however. You don’t really get to steer your swings the way you do in something like Chivalry. But the fact you can mix things up is encouraging. The game could have easily gone with the fist as a pointless button 1 jamming affair. Instead it went with a system akin to a boxing game. Moreover, when brandishing firearms, or melee weapons you can choose which hand to use. Each hand setup has advantages or disadvantages. You can have a right-handed, a left-handed, or ambidextrous position. When using two weapons the left button is the left gun, and the right button is the right gun. Some of the alternate firing modes are a lot of fun too. Like the Clint Eastwood inspired rapid-firing of a revolver. There is even a focus on counting the number of times you’ve fired a weapon as it has a western theme.
That old west theme also works in the game’s favor. There aren’t a lot of western themed games compared with other settings. So Fistful Of Frags stands out. It also has some fast, arcade movement, mixed with some realism. At least in the fact that picking up too many items will actually slow you down. This is one game where hoarding weapons can actually be a detrimental thing. Plus the game has some pretty great level design. Maps flow for their game modes really well. Weapons are mostly pretty good, with many of the weapons having some pretty good effectiveness. You’ll also stumble upon colored crates in maps. These have different weapons in them, and certain colors yield better ones. Of course the better crates are often in places near choke points, or places that leave you vulnerable. So going for them can be a pretty big risk.
Fistful Of Frags is one of many Source games that started out as a Half-Life mod, and it shows. It puts its wild west theme to good use. It has some great stages. But it isn’t going to win any beauty awards. The game looks very much like a 2004 release, and there weren’t many visual upgrades added to the engine. Where other games that started as mods have had overhauls, this has not. There aren’t a lot of lighting effects, or other visual add-ons to hide the limits either. The game even launches with a Half-Life 2 icon on your taskbar. It does nothing to disguise the fact that it runs as a stand alone mod. There are also some technical hitches that hold it back a bit. Sometimes I found myself stuck on objects. Some of the maps have areas you can go beyond, where you shouldn’t be able to. Sure you’ll die, but falling into a barren wasteland, and clipping through objects is something to be avoided. Then there is the minor nitpick in that there are only four player models. One for each team. Character variety could certainly add some more personality to the game. The main drawback however, is the lack of modes. With what you’re given, you might opt to play Team Fortress 2 with its added classes, and constant updates. Or you might opt to play something like Quake Live if you’re just itching for some Death Match action.
Be that as it may, I can say the game is FUN. Even if you only play it in short bursts, or the occasional night with friends. It controls well, the maps are interesting, and again, there haven’t been many western themed games compared with other settings. And because we’re talking about freeware here, you aren’t out anything if you end up disliking it. Hopefully though, the developers can take what they’ve learned, and apply it to a more fleshed out, deeper experience. There is certainly enough to build upon. As it stands, Fistful Of Frags is definitely worth checking out. Even if it is fairly average.
Final Score: 6 out of 10