Faux Amis (v1.02)
Faux Amis is weird, creative, delightful, and thoughtfully designed. It has a tight sense of scale, reusing locations economically, but man, does it pull out the surprises in spite of - or because of - that. There are puzzles here I've never seen in a ZZT game, and some that I've never seen outside of a ZZT game, either.
What is most impressive about Faux Amis isn't that it stretches ZZT's limits - many games do - but that every programming trick exists for a good reason. Sometimes, that reason is just to create an atmospheric scene of shifting shadows, or to reveal a puzzle gradually to players for the sake of pacing. Others exist to reset puzzles when a lesser game would have just asked you to save and restore.
Many games show off their programmer's prowess, but this game does not need to. It just does what it has to do, with an unprecedented level of attention to detail and player-friendliness, and does it well. There may be games that stick with me more, or hit me harder emotionally, but this is the most confidently made, well-crafted ZZT game I've ever played.
Faux Amis is a noteworthy puzzle game that proves it's still possible to come up with fresh ideas using limited 30-year-old software. In Faux Amis, Rabbit Boots creates a beautiful and mysterious world full of intriguing puzzles and secrets. The game begins when the player's ship sinks near a small island (the animation of the sinking ship is excellent, by the way). The player is left to figure out how to get off the island and explore the strange surroundings.
The tone of Faux Amis is both humorous and creepy. The dialogue is often goofy and several moments had me laughing out loud. At the same time, the game never allows the player to feel completely at ease. In part this is achieved by giving the player a tall task and a tight deadline. A cleverly designed grandfather clock (complete with a swinging pendulum!) never lets the player forget that time is running out. The unsettling feeling of the island is paired with a feeling that the player's exploration constitutes an invasion of privacy. If the player is an "explorer," it is with all the negative connotations of the word. While playing I wondered, "what kind of consequences are my actions going to reap?" Rabbit Boots allows this tension to build until a surprising denouement.
The graphics are impressive and showcase Rabbit Boots' creativity. The village houses, which in ZZT are often reduced to uninspiring blocks, here are rendered in different shapes and sizes, with pitched roofs and post and lintel doorways. Unlike typical ZZT houses which are as a rule 1000% larger on the inside, the houses in Faux Amis are as large as they appear outside. The small spaces, combined with a "dimming" of the outside areas and bizarre character interactions, convey a sense of foreboding. Can the player rifle through drawers undetected? If anything went south, could the player escape? Rabbit Boots creates similar effects in narrow, dark hallways, rendered more suffocating by using invisible torches that reduce the perceived range of the player's light.
The puzzles range from straightforward and simple to devishly difficult. They are creative and surprising and display Rabbit Boots' command over ZZT OOP. They are well-programmed and come across as very professional. Despite some very complicated mechanics, none of the puzzles can be soft-locked, demonstrating Rabbit Boots' careful attention to detail. Faux Amis is bursting with ideas, and anyone who likes a good puzzle game should definitely pick it up.
My only complaint is that I think the game is too stingy with its revelations, or at least does not quite get the pacing right. The beginning of the game, where most of the dialogue takes place, raises many questions and makes the player thirsty for answers. However, after this first act, the bulk of the game consists of running around in tunnels and solving puzzles that have only a tenuous connection to the most pressing mysteries. While this is still a fun challenge, I found myself wanting to learn more about the world while I was doing this. The final act gives the player a whirlwind of disorienting information. It's a thrilling, shocking, conclusion, yet also somewhat unsatisfying.
With Faux Amis, Rabbit Boots reveals himself as a talented game designer with that rare combination of artistic ability, coding skill, and innovative ideas. I look forward to seeing what he makes in the future.
Reviewed: Apr 2, 2023
Rating: out of 5.0 This user has opted out of providing a numeric rating