Welcome once again to PCGamesN’s Spotlight on Greenlight, our regular Saturday feature where we look at the best and the most interesting Greenlight games that are hoping to make their way onto Steam. We’ve already looked at dozens of other titles in weeks past, so do take a look at our back catalogue.
Games that put you in the shoes of a ten-year-old girl tend not to begin with the brutal dismemberment of your parents. Nor do they have her plagued by vivid, bloody hallucinations at every turn. Fran Bow, a pitch black point’n’click game, covers both of these within the first minute. By the end of the first hour you’ll have indulged the mental delusions of a nine-year-old for your own profit and drugged an abusive security guard.
Fran Bow is not your average game.
A five chapter point’n’click game, Fran Bow has you try to escape the mental institution you’ve been held in since the night of your parents’ murder; find your cat Mr. Midnight, which was left in the woods where you collapsed following the ordeal or seeing your mother and father’s cut up bodies; and try to survive the assault of a creature which has been stalking you since that horrible night.
Mechanically, we’re in familiar territory: click on the scenery to examine it; pick up items; collect, combine, and use things in your inventory. One area in which Fran Bow differs is Fran’s pill addiction. It’s not referred to as an addiction in any parts of the game I’ve played but I had her popping pills on every screen. This isn’t because I’m a cruel sadist, when Fran takes a pill she hallucinates. The scene changes before your eyes from a cold, dark room in the institute to a blood-spattered room. Previously empty rocking chairs now seat a deer corpse. Depressed children appear to have their eyes and mouth sewn up while a shady creature is sucking the life from them. Often there are clues to puzzles hidden amongst the gore – hence the purpose of the pill popping.
We’ve seen a spate of dark, bloody games which touch on mental illness recently – Lone Survivor and Hotline Miami come to mind. But few games have it at the centre, having a protagonist afflicted with sometimes crippling hallucinations. Certainly, none have a child as that protagonist.
I’ve only had the chance to play through Fran Bow’s first chapter – it’s been released as a demo for part of the game’s Indiegogo campaign – which introduces you to the game’s tone, art style, and mechanics but it’s too short a chunk to know how well the elements sown in this opening will develop later in Fran Bow. I want to have the issues like drug addiction, mental trauma, and Fran’s age to all inform the game’s events, otherwise developer Kill Monday would be wasting some potent themes.
Hopefully, also, the later chapters of the game will ramp up in difficulty. There are few puzzles in the demo which will have you scratching your head for long and many of the clues hidden about the institute are too explicit, giving away too much of the answer to the puzzles. At the moment it’s the story and look of the game which is holding my attention more than the meat of the game itself.
The developers could also take notes from Double Fine’s Psychonauts and have the hallucination form of characters around you reflect something about them. In Psychonauts, each character’s mind you entered would be a manifestation of that character’s dominant traits – the drill instructor’s mind is like a warzone, for example. I didn’t get anything of that from Fran Bow. For instance, while a child with a sewn up face is a grim image, that’s all it is. There’s little meaning to it. But, if the child was in the institute because he’d cracked after his father killed his mother, a result of the child seeing his mother have an affair, which he told his father about, it would make sense that the guilt-wracked child would want their eyes and mouth sewn shut – they’d wish not to have seen the affair or blabbed about it. It would make the scene more potent.
There’s a lot about Fran Bow to recommend it, and, if you’re at all intrigued, you should check out the demo. If you like it then give the game and its developers a helping hand by upvoting it on Greenlight, if you want to do more then you can donate to the game’s campaign on Indiegogo.