Puzzle games seem to have been undergoing something of a renaissance lately. Beginning with Valve’s gravity-hopping classic Portal back in 2007, we’ve seen games such as Braid, The Talos Principle and most recently, The Witness become overnight sensations thanks to the water-cooler chatter these brain-busters usually gather over social media. A breath of fresh air from bravado and bombast of action and adventure games, nothing quite beats the rush of smug satisfaction that comes with cracking the code these head-scratchers have to offer.
Developed by one-man indie studio TACS games, Factotum 90 is an Xbox One remaster of a Wii U puzzler released last year. Set on board the rusty industrial confines of a spaceship, you become the unlikely saviour after an unknown entity collides with your vessel in the far reaches of deep space. Operating out of a security room, you must guide two spider-like cuboid robots called Walkers through each one of the ship’s thirty floors in order to save the crew and find out what exactly has caused the impact. With some limited guidance from a chirpy associate on the other end of the comms, you’ll have to rely on your brains if you’re to navigate the mazes and traps that stand in your way.
The game UI is made up primarily of split-screens giving you a third person perspective on each one of the Walkers. You’ll have to control both robots in turn and guide them to a cargo lift on the other end of each level if you’re to make it down to the bowels of the ship and bring it back online. Blocking your path are a series of intricate puzzles that make it difficult for one Walker to get to the end, never mind two. It’s a daunting task at first, but once you get to grips with the duality of the gameplay, it’s a challenge that sucks you in almost immediately and ultimately can be very rewarding.
The puzzles elements themselves are introduced in turn, becoming increasingly difficult and complex the further you get through the ship. Initially, your main obstacle will be deciphering the correct combination of trip switches and platforms that need to be activated in order to get both robots across or around higher ground, deadly plasma spillages and explosive containers. Later on, you’ll be introduced to laser-activated mechanisms, time-sensitive bridges made of light, cloning devices, and even portals that make each puzzle even more challenging than the last. And while the solution may appear simple at first, getting both robots through the perils and roadblocks makes thing doubly-difficult.
While the security camera interface might have been ideal for the tablet style gamepad of the WiiU, the controls overall are a little trickier to get to grips with on Xbox one. The left analogue stick moves a selected walker around the area in a clunky, stiff manner.while the right stick offers some limited camera movement, but not enough sometimes to oversee if all the pieces of the puzzle are synchronously fitting into place. In saying that, it somehow fits in with the overall ramshackle aesthetics that the game has to offer and the rest of the controls, such as switching between Walkers and using their magnetic grip to carry objects is all relatively simple to understand.
The jump to Xbox One has also treated the main game visuals to a splash of technicolor, with the security feeds no longer resigned to the green-scale grid like interface seen on the Wii U. The picture and sound will crackle and pop like a fading VHS tape, all helping to create a very unique atmosphere of desolation and ruin in a not-so-certain futuristic setting. However, while the improvements to the graphics make it a little more accessible for newcomers, for anyone who has mastered these puzzles on the Nintendo, the jump to Xbox One will provide little in the way of extra sustenance.
Thirty levels roughly adds up to a couple of hours worth gameplay, all of which can be completed in a few sittings, depending on how patient you are with your puzzle games. What it lacks in a difficulty curve, Factotum 90 certainly makes up for with atmosphere, artistic direction and value. The limited exposition and the subdued musical score keeps the tone at soothing levels, creating a pleasant and rewarding experience overall.
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