Fragments of Him Review
Fragments of Him Review
I don't think it's a terrible game, and I admire it for being experimental in an industry that can be risk-averse.
Posted: 07/03/16 | Category: Review | Developer: Sassybot | Publisher: Sassybot | Platform: Xbox one, Windows, Playstation 4

Genre: Narrative Game/Walking Simulator
Release date: May 3, 2016
Review platform: PC and Xbox One

Death is simultaneously one of the easiest and one of the hardest subjects to write about in fiction. It’s easy because death happens to everyone and is therefore something we can all relate to. It's also often so intense that audiences can quickly feel a twinge of sympathy when, for instance, cities or planets are annihilated in blockbuster movies, even though they're fully aware their emotions are being manipulated. Devoting the entirety or a large portion of a book, movie, or especially video game to the death of a single, well-developed person, as well as how it affects other characters, is tricky. When it works, it can really stick with the audience; if not, then not only is the attempted manipulation seen through, but all the impact that the story could have had is completely deflated.

Sassybot, the developers of Fragments of Him, should be commended for pushing the boundaries of the way video games portray death sans any kind of combat by tackling this issue head-on. In fact, the developers have chosen to forgo challenge completely, or almost any kind of gameplay other than pointing-and-clicking from a first-person perspective (with a few twists to attempt to keep the gameplay interesting, which I will discuss later). If you're an adventure gamer whose enjoyment of the genre comes from shaping the outcome of a game’s story or solving clever puzzles, Fragments of Him is not for you. It describes itself as “more akin to a play than traditional game”, and so, as with other “walking simulators” such as Dear Esther or Gone Home, it relies almost entirely on its story and presentation.

However, the presentation runs into a lot of technical problems. On PC, Fragments of Him has pretty beefy system requirements, detailed at the bottom of this review. It wasn’t unplayable, per se, on my laptop due to the nature of the gameplay, but I did suffer constant stuttering. The film-inspired but distracting horizontal bars, as well as the vertical bars I had to put on either side to get the game to run at all also created a “letterbox” effect (evident in the first two screenshots). I respect the game’s style, but don’t think that the sepia-toned visuals with simplistic character models (all of them without any eyes looking, as a result, like very creepy mannequins) are detailed enough to warrant the performance issues on PC, which ended up pulling me out of the experience. In order to finish this game I bought it for my Xbox One, where it ran much more smoothly yet didn’t look substantially better, aside from losing the bars on the left and right sides.

All those caveats aside, the story really is the game’s strong suit, especially if you like indie films that focus more on emotion than plot. You play for around three hours or so through the memories of Will, the main character, on his last morning alive before he's killed in a car crash, and then alternate between the perspectives of his grandmother Mary, ex-girlfriend Sarah, and current boyfriend Harry.

(My interpretation is that “you” are someone who is listening to their memories at the funeral and piecing the whole thing together in your head.) In order to progress, you find a glowing object that is relevant to the current scene, which can be hard to see if it’s very small. Then you watch a short animation and/or listen to some dialogue delivered by the excellent voice acting for all four characters, then continue this until the chapter ends.

There are a few occasions in which you set up a scene by clicking to materialize or delete objects before the scene occurs, and exactly two dialogue choices are presented that don’t change the story. This jars against the possible idea of your being an observer, and doesn’t push the possibilities of interactivity enough. In normal gameplay it’s also very odd to have the flow of the narration interrupted by the fact that you have to click to continue it, and simultaneously wait around to do anything until people stop talking. The closest analogy I can use, especially with the lack of character movement, is an audio guide at a museum that waits until you approach the appropriate exhibit to inform you about it.

However, despite the stiff animations, practically nonexistent gameplay, incredibly predictable story and technical problems, I was tearing up by the end. Through all the rough edges, Will is likable and the supporting characters shine through and feel like real people whose heartbreak at Will’s death is palpable, something even films of this type can struggle to elicit. Since that clearly is the game’s focus, they pull that aspect off with aplomb. Bravo.

It’s been several weeks since I completed the entire story, then loaded up a couple of chapters to get all the incredibly easy achievements. In all that time, I honestly have struggled to come up with a proper conclusion. This game exists in a very unique but strange space that makes it hard to pin down.

Fragments of Him seems as though it had ambitions to be a Sundance film yet had to settle for being a point-and-click video game for budgetary reasons, as it leans so heavily on its style and story. If one sets aside that extra element of involvement that comes from freely observing and interacting with the characters and world, and judges it as a film, it has a strong cast that performs well but doesn’t have anything really new to offer aside from melodrama and LGBT themes. It clearly is catering to people who primarily value story, yet its technical shortcomings mean that only beefy PCs and Xbox Ones (with a PS4 version coming soon) can run the game acceptably. Casual gamers are less likely to own one of those machines, and the lack of content and replay value will turn off many hardcore gamers who do.

I don’t think this is a terrible game. I enjoyed my time with Fragments of Him even with all the rough edges, and I admire it for being experimental in an industry that can be risk-averse. However, that’s not really enough to recommend it for the majority of people. I will say that if you have someone new to gaming in the family such as a spouse (or in my case, fiancée), you could do worse for $10; or better yet, wait for a sale. Then you can cry together as that person either watches or plays the game.

Grade: C
 
Excellent voice acting from the entire cast
+ Easy achievements for achievement hunters
+ Emotional rollercoaster
 
- Preditable story and themes
- Tedious gameplay with no replay value
 Logo 
 
Trailer:
 

 

System Requirements
 
MINIMUM PC:
OS: Windows 7
Processor: Intel Core i3 2.10 GHz or AMD equivalent
Memory: 6 GB RAM
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 560 or better
DirectX: Version 11
Hard Drive: 12 GB available space
Sound Card: Definitely!
 
Specials from Digital Download
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