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Factotum 90 / 12th of February 2016

Originally released as Factotum on the Wii U, TACS Games’ split screen puzzler makes its way to the Xbox One with a few upgrades to both its audio and visuals to supplement its already healthy thirty levels of brain teasing conundrums. It’s a game that is certainly not without its faults though, but generally these can be brushed aside in the face of its core gameplay, which has just enough about it to see it through, particularly when you take into consideration its rather low price point and lengthy completion time.

Factotum 90 is set in deep space, with the action commencing after an object has collided with a spaceship, shutting down the power, and with it, the vessel’s primary systems, including life support. With only two small robots at their disposal, and an unidentified guide to help them, it is up to the player to work their way through thirty levels of ever increasing complexity to save the ship and everyone aboard it. I must point out that the definition of the word “factotum” is “An employee who does all kinds of work”, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, which is probably why this unknown guide has got these two little ‘bots running around doing all the work – whatever it may be!

This latest version of the game, after making the transition from the Wii U, has undergone some major refinements in terms of both its audio and visuals, including physically based shading, higher resolution textures, improved lighting and more, which all adds up to a smoother and faster experience. Don’t expect too much from Factotum 90 here though, it’s still far from pretty, particularly in the face of far more attractive indie releases, such as the Unreal Engine 4 powered Pnuema: Breath of Life. Additionally, though, this Xbox One version also features an entirely new soundtrack and, quite obviously, a completely different control scheme.

Despite having its controls remapped around the Xbox One pad, they never really took full advantage of it, for instance, camera controls are mapped to the right stick (as always), yet Factotum 90 severely limits the scope with which you can survey your surroundings, effectively rendering this particular facet useless. It’s actually far easier, and more effective to simply move the robot in the direction that you wish it to go, though it would nice to have a proper look around each area, it would mean that less time would be wasted wandering about in the hopes of noticing what it is that that the level demands of you. As Factotum was originally as Wii U release, I imagine that it was built from the ground up to operate around the console’s game pad, which is presumably what the issue here is. Of course, it never takes too long to suss out what’s going on anyway, so ultimately, this is a fairly trivial complaint, but it’s not the only one.

There may very well be a disembodied voice providing some assistance and feedback throughout the many levels, yet it’s never really of much use – well, I never thought so anyway, particularly at the beginning of the game. Here, it asks you to perform certain actions, and yet, for the most part, it never actually relays how the player can do what is being asked of them, this is left entirely to trial and error, the player forced to randomly hit every button until the correct action is performed. There’s not even a configuration option, making it impossible to see a button layout either, so imagine my surprise when – several levels in – I accidentally press “B” and sent my poor little robot straight back to the start of a level, which effectively forced me to do the whole thing again from scratch. Thankfully, functions are quite limited, so it doesn’t exactly take very long to get a handle on everything, but it certainly would have been nice to have had this corrected.

I know several people who, for some reason, struggled with Starbreeze’s Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, finding the controls rather disorientating, I didn’t, and yet coming into this, I found it almost impossible to tell which robot I was in charge of at any given time, which meant I would invariably look at the wrong portion of the screen when attempting to move one. After a brief amount of time though, this disorientation passed and I soon found myself quite at home with it, and in truth, using a split screen option actually makes the experience fairly intuitive. Each of the two robots, as you might expect, has a section of the screen devoted exclusively to them, this proves invaluable as the areas become more complex and buttons interact with sections far beyond the scope of but one robot. This allows the second one to follow the first’s line of sight to track down the affected area, creating an almost tit-for-tat style of gameplay, as each character allows the other to make progress. It feels an awful lot like Southend Interactive’s Ilo Milo, at least to a certain extent, though the goal here is not to reunite the two protagonists, but rather bring them both to the end of the level in one piece.

The game’s myriad puzzles never really deviate too much from Factotum 90’s standard formula; typically, this involves placing an object (or robot) atop a pressure pad to raise or lower a section of the map, or activate an energy beam to remove obstacles or start up moving platforms. Naturally, at the beginning of the game these are all rather straightforward, but as the levels are passed one by one, the difficulty comes on leaps and bounds as new elements, such as teleporters, are thrown into the mix, leaving players scratching their heads as they stare in incomprehension at the spiralling complexity of the challenges on offer - then again, that may just be me. The level curve is suitably kind to ease players in, yet later challenges offer plenty of scope for sheer puzzlement, yet without ever becoming too frustrating, it’s simply well designed and executed, so kudos goes out to TACS Games for that.

Factotum 90 was never going to be everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s certainly not without some merit, with tighter controls and an improved tutorial it would be impossible to not recommend, but then as it was developed by just one man and comes in at a bargain price, it still is really. The few faults that it has are but minor ones, leaving this puzzle based adventure game as a slow paced, methodical experience that will surely delight those in search of a more cerebral gaming experience.

James Paton
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