FREDDY PHARKAS : FRONTIER PHARMACIST / Sierra / PC
Freddy Pharkas is a great-looking, great-sounding, frequently very funny adventure game dragged down by some goofy design choices and poorly plotted-out puzzles.
Freddy is a former gunfighter turned pharmacist who has opened up a store of his own in little Coarsegold. But the town has fallen on hard times and it seems that the local businesses are folding up and moving out in droves due to a string of suspicious mishaps. The game basically consists of one major disaster after another threatening to overwhelm Coarsegold, and it's up to Freddy to figure out how to head them all off.
Usually, it's fairly obvious (and in one case literally spelled out for you) as to what it is you need to do to save the city. The difficulty is in finding the items necessary, which are often hidden on screens behind other objects or as a tiny patch of blurred color amidst a field of similar color. Most of the sequences are timed, giving you about 5 to 10 minutes of real time to figure out how to head off the disaster before it ruins the town and ends your game. So basically much of the game becomes a pixel hunt with the only real challenge being the stringent time limits, which is frustrating and comes across as cheap design. I strongly suspect the designers either couldn't or didn't want to come up with complex and engaging puzzles, so they settled for this as a halfassed means of generating some kind of difficulty and challenge instead.
I was going to list specific examples of how each puzzle pissed me off and was sloppily designed, but the list wound up being too long and would have made the review cumbersome, so I put it on a separate page entitled Freddy Pharkas : Running Rant if you're curious and don't mind spoiling the game for yourself. I'll just say here that constantly running back to the pharmacy to mix stuff was more annoying than fun (couldn't more have been done with this than just following simple instructions?), and one major part of the game's problem is that the whole of the game world is only about twelve screens.
The game is basically intended as a joke fest with really pretty graphics and a nice soundtrack (by Aubrey Hodges, Sierra vet who scored Quest For Glory 4 among others, and he even makes the usually janky Sound Blaster/Adlib setting sound tolerable here). It gives you great visual and aural pleasure (?!) as well as a number of good laughs, but it seems like the actual game portion of it was an afterthought to the jokes. That said, I think it's still worth one romp to see the fun bits (especially now that it's de facto freeware), but there's almost no reason at all to replay it, and purely as an adventure game I can't really say it's any better than the Meh level.
As far as running on a modern PC - the game itself seemed to run fine on its own through Windows, but refused to initialize the sound card under any settings. Running it with DOSBox cleared up the sound issues, and it's probably better to go that route anyway as modern processors might screw up the timed segments of the game. There's a CD-ROM version of the game that adds voice acting, but apparently cuts a lot of the jokes as they didn't want to be bothered recording them ... I'd like to check it out though as apparently good ol' Cam Clarke plays the role of Freddy ("I LIVE ON! THROUGH THIS ... EAR!")
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