Pixel-art games are at their peak, a revival of a vibrant graphic style that suits a world of quirkiness such as that of Full Bore‘s. Open-explorative digging games aren’t unfamiliar in the slightest, yet Full Bore varies thanks to its focus on a brilliantly designed selection of puzzles that keeps the mind occupied, addicted and frustrated all in one. Whole Hog Games have gone to town showing off the depth of Full Bore through the scope of the environments as well as the unsettling backstory slowly unveiled by a little boar or sow.
• Developer: Whole Hog Games
• Publisher: Whole Hog Games
• Reviewed on: PC
• Also Available On: Linux
• Release Date: 6th May 2014
Frederick or Hildie, depending on your preference, find themselves the victim of fraudulent behaviour and are charged with the job of restoring Full Bore Mining Co.’s vault with blue gems. These are located deep below ground, into hard earth; and ‘The First Dig’ is where we begin. Our fellow Boarkind immediately seem significant to the story through helpful, varied dialogue that helps scratch the surface of this game’s promised intricate backstory. The unselected playable character will pop up in-game and challenge you to a scurrying race of digging and sliding your way down to the end of his cavernous hiding place laced with obstacles and blocks. My friend Frederick had personality. He seemed a little lonely – he even invited me back in case I fancied a re-run. And there’s plenty of other boar-shaped oddities to be found in this strange underground universe. These characters help to wrap the world of Full Bore into a bubble of intrigue, with many more half-hints and strange phenomena creating a hundred more questions.
That’s not to say an eagerness to unriddle a hazy, dark backstory comes straight away. There are so many paths to take that you can genuinely feel lost in this game, and whilst that’s a strong thumbs up to the world’s design and immersiveness, it does leave you scrambling a bit in the first few hours. There’s a sense of some linearity, in the important, lore-based discoveries you make about the history of the world your boar inhabits, but it’s combined with countless paths to take that can leave you feeling a bit misguided and lost. Once you grow accustomed, and even revel in the open-endedness of this game’s progression, the variety of puzzles can get overwhelming. The excitement of discovering a tunnel entrance beneath a chunk of shifting gravel can be dampened by a puzzle on the other side that feels incomplete. Your repertoire doesn’t expand – all your boar’s abilities are available to discover for yourself from the outset, which does feel more rewarding when your digging and stomping skills are key to solving a puzzle, but perhaps leaves you ever more adrift in a wandering game. The team at Whole Hog Games do encourage you not to be discouraged, and to leave behind a puzzle you cannot solve in favour of a new path – and it’s a great feeling knowing you can retrace your steps and make new, more informed discoveries in locations you only glanced over. Unfortunately, for any completionists this unconventional, looser style of play might be irksome.
On the upside, a good puzzle-adventure game has the effect of simultaneously challenging, infuriating and pleasing you, and Full Bore pulls this off well. The level design is outstanding; each new discovery really is that, aided by the sense it is entirely you that gains the rewarding outcome without any guidance. When solving a puzzle it often feels there is enough unspoken help in the manner of its layout and design, yet challenges are ripe – even the most simple puzzle interactions can involve an hour of fiddling. There is a range of interactions in each environment, all to familiarise with – stone bricks to dig out, yet that cannot defy gravity; sand and gravel, easy to shake loose yet with often unpredictable outcomes; explosive blocks, lasers, rusty scaffolds and many more innovative components that make up great design that never goes lacking.
Attentive design is found everywhere. The colourful pixel-graphics aren’t masterful, and don’t surpass anything seen before – yet they are a worthy ingredient in the mixture used to create wonderful ambience. The soundtrack is notably unusual – a choice of soft rock, bluesy, digital tunes that are fittingly unusual yet can juxtapose with some of the more unsettling moments in the game. Levels with an absence of this spirited background music are too noticeable, and give way to a great board of sound effects that create a haunting atmosphere – the echo of hoofsteps, the whistling of a lonely wind or the pitter patter of an underground waterfall.
It’s also worth mentioning the gorgeous use of lighting that breathes life into these settings whilst distinguishing them well from one another. The electric lamp lighting of The Dig Site area provides a dull, clinical glow to the surroundings; other more uninhabited areas rely on no light but that from gemstones hidden inside rocks. A sense of isolation and discovery of long-forgotten places is constantly present in Full Bore, helped by the vastness of the game’s map.
And it certainly is huge. There are five separate zones, each linked to one another by multiple doorways that are uncovered alongside a cryptic story that takes you to unexpected places. There’s a ton of content to keep you skipping backwards and forwards, such as hidden routes, blue gems to fill up the vault, lore and more. The map view attempts to encourage you to do so; everything is marked in percentage of completion, and 100% always feels good. This exploration is driven by natural curiosity, which for many players would be enough. However, hours spent puzzling your way to retrieving a blue gem, or to reading that hard-to-reach computer screen could be more pulling if its purpose was less ambiguous.
Full Bore provides an overwhelming amount of hints and intrigue towards an apocalyptic-like backstory. This game is addictive – it’s that base instinct to uncover secrets, and Full Bore is so stuffed full that this hybrid explorative puzzler really shines. The initial befuddlement becomes absorbing – yet unfortunately the eagerness to seek answers isn’t met with a huge deal of satisfaction, which can revert you back to slower movement through the game’s countless levels. The player is encumbered with piles of lore through emails, history books and mysterious references by NPC’s that reveals a rich backstory, yet one that’s very difficult to unscramble. The gameplay and design are superbly executed, yet exist in an intense and meaningful world that has less impact than it intends when its meaning is decreasingly compelling.
Tags: Full Bore, indie, pixel game, puzzle game, Steam, Steam Greenlight, Whole Hog Games