Review: Fragments of Him

fragments-of-him-titleA tragic accident one morning takes a young man’s life. Though he is dead, he is not entirely gone, living on in the people he has left behind.

This is the set up for Fragments of Him, a walking simulator by indy developer Sassybot. It’s a title that is more narrative experience than true game, taking the player through the life of Will, the eponymous Him. As it does so, the game explores the true nature of love and grief, as well as tackling topics such as polyamory and homophobia.

The narrative follows the three people who loved Will most: first Mary, his grandmother who raised him, then Sarah his ex-girlfriend who stepped aside allowing Will to find true love with Harry, whose grief over losing his partner is shown in the final act. Throughout this, we see Will as he prepares for the what will ultimately be his last day, thinking of the past and looking forward to the future.

Certain aspects of this story line were expertly done. Hearing Will’s voice over as he plans a future the player knows he will never have does a fantastic job of reaching right into the chest, grabbing the heartstrings and yanking.  It’s a cheap trick, but an effective one.

I also enjoyed Mary’s story. She does not react well to learning of her son’s male lover, and getting a view inside her head as she tries to justify her reaction was a very interesting take on homophobia I haven’t seen before.

However, Sarah and Harry’s stories were less compelling. The game repeatedly tells you how in love Will is with the pair, but never really shows it. The end result is I never felt connected with either character. There was an interesting story buried in there somewhere, but it was somewhat lost in the telling.

Fragments of Him gameplay

The graphics of Fragments of Him features simplified, largely grey scale graphics, relying on voice over to provide emotion. Credit: Sassybot

The gameplay was also disconnected from the story for the most part, just requiring you to move around and click on different objects. There was no real choices to be made, no grand vistas to explore, just you plodding through the story. This made things drag in some places, particularly when you had to spend a minute searching for one thing you missed to click on.

There were a few places however that this play style was used very effectively. During Harry’s mourning, you have to go through the house clearing out everything, really hammering home the sense of complete loss.

The graphics were very minimalist, clean lines all shaded in a sort of off-white grey scale. Bleaching all colour out of the world really helped to add to the sense of desolation, echoing the sense of mourning once again.

The characters were portrayed as blank mannequins, instead relying on voice overs to convey emotion. Thankfully, the voice acting was spot on and a few other clever tricks helped bring the characters to life, though not enough to compensate for the flaws in scripting.

When I finished playing Fragments of Him, I walked away thinking: about life, love and loss. I think this was the game maker’s plan, so well done. Purpose very much achieved.

Summary: An intriguing, but flawed story about loosing a loved one that doesn’t quite measure up to its promise, but a worthwhile play none the less.

Review: The Martian

The Martian still

Mark Watney sits on the surface of Mars. Credit: 20th Century Fox

Alone on a planet where the air will kill you, the ground is barren, and it’s so cold you’ll freeze to death; you wake up and realise no one even knows you’re alive. This is the situation that Mark Watney (Matt Damon) finds himself in the latest blockbuster, The Martian. After a disaster on his mission to the red planet, Watney is left behind 140 million miles from aid, with no way to contact Earth. The only man on Mars has nothing but his wits to survive.

Luckily, it’s not long before NASA realises they’ve left a man behind and begin to mount the most ambitious rescue mission in history. For every step closer Watney takes to coming home, another thing breaks, explodes or tries to kill him. While the whole world is looking to Mars in support of Watney, there are many times when the only person he can rely on is himself.

The action flicks back between Mars, those on Earth and the vessel carrying the five other crew mates back and forth between the two. The reminder of all the people that were working to bring one man home helped to give heart to what could so easily have been a dry story of one man growing potatoes and fixing things. However, while this served to highlight the triumphs of every obstacle overcome, it seemed to do the opposite for every set back that occurred on Mars. Major accidents that could easily have killed Watney were easily fixed with a roll of duct tape in a few minutes, making it seem that surviving on Mars was relatively easy when in truth it is anything but.

The bigger challenge was the constant struggle with loneliness, and it was here that the film shone. Though thousands at NASA work tirelessly, ultimately Watney is alone. Fantastically played by Damon, he has nothing but is intellect and smarm to fend off not only the inhospitable Martian terrain, but the psychological horror of being the only living soul on an entire planet.
Nowhere is this conflict more apparent than in the depiction of the planet itself. Mars is shown in its full majestic beauty, at once showing the incredible wonder that inspires and draws people to it while simultaneously emphasising its barrenness and emptiness. This is a world that humans cannot survive on, and yet Watney does.

For those of you that have read Andy Weir’s book on which the film is based, there are several changes. Where the book deals with how to survive on Mars, the film concentrates much more on the rescue. Much of the hardcore science nerdery is mentioned, but passed over quickly and several of Watney’s major disasters are by skipped completely, but the spirit and humour of the book very much remains. If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend giving it a read. Bring a calculator.

The Martian is a tribute to human determination and exploration and I highly recommend it.

The Martian will be showing in cinemas around the UK from 1 October.