You Can Be a Big Pig Too
Full Bore comes out of the gate looking like just another retro-platformer, and within the first few minutes of play I was already cooking up various “fully boring” puns to use in this review. But then I noticed that an hour had flown by, and then another, and I realized I’d been pulled into the mystery of its strange underground world – and that there’s a lot more to this game than first meets the eye.
You play Full Bore as either Hildi or Frederick, slightly high-strung boars enjoying a dreamy nap on a warm summer’s day. But fate has decided that this day will be more interesting than most, and before you know it you’re cast into the bowels of a bizarre, subterranean realm, where you’re accused of stealing a hoard of gems belonging to what is apparently a great boar mining magnate. Irritated by your impertinence, he sets you to work in his mine, digging up gems to replace the ones he (mistakenly) believes you’ve stolen.
It all sounds very mundane, and the relatively immobility of the boars – they can only climb scaffolds or minor inclines, and cannot jump at all – seemed both counter-intuitive and dull. I collected a couple of gems and talked to some boar workers who expressed sympathy with my plight but nothing of actual interest, and to be honest I hoped that the whole thing would be over quickly.
Yet as I poked around, here and there amongst the rock I discovered rooms of gleaming steel, packed with high-tech equipment, including still-functioning computer terminals displaying cryptic messages and references to some long-ago event. Some of my fellow boars hinted at mysteries held deeper in the Earth than they dared travel; I stumbled across strange artifacts of unknown purpose, and even found odd statues that transported me away to fantastical places beyond the borders of the map.
That’s the magic of Full Bore: The initial setup is just an excuse to throw you into its world, and in very short order it can be all but forgotten in favor of open-ended exploration, discovery and puzzle-solving, much of it strongly reminiscent of the early-80s crate-pushing classic Sokoban. Blocks of various sorts – rocks, crates, batteries, lasers, anti-gravity elevators and more – must be maneuvered and combined to open passages and unlock secrets, a process complicated by sand floors, crumbling scaffolds and other such obstacles. It gets tricky in a hurry, but because it’s an open world, you can simply move on if your find yourself stuck and then return later with a fresh perspective. In fact, the odds are good that you’re going to run into many areas during your travels that you’d previously bypassed or overlooked, simply because there’s so much to dig into. (“Dig into.” Get it?)
Botching a puzzle isn’t a concern thanks to a “rewind” mechanic that allows you to travel backwards in time, effectively undoing any mistakes you’ve made. Furthermore, most areas reset to their original state (minus a few irreversible details, like mined gems) when you leave, so there’s no need to worry about permanently locking yourself out of an area or secret because of a bad move. There is one timed puzzle involving a race against a runaway drill that can be intensely frustrating because the margin for error is very slight, especially if you fall behind at the start; the rewind function doesn’t take you back all the way back to the beginning, so you may find yourself effectively trapped without enough time to get everything done. Exiting the game and restarting will reset the challenge completely, and with the knowledge of what’s coming it’s actually fairly easy to beat, but the failure to spell that out, or to provide any kind of obvious exit, feels really out of step with the rest of the game.
The annoyance (or infuriation, depending on how you handle these things) of that segment is compounded by the slushiness of the controls. Full Bore supports keyboard and controllers, but neither is terribly precise, so it’s not uncommon to climb over a block rather than onto it or drill a little further than you intended, especially when Hildi (or Frederick) is going “full bore” – they pick up speed as they dig, which is great for tunneling through lengthy passages but not so hot when you need to stop on a dime. It’s not really problematic for the vast majority of the game, but it’s a little too easy to trip up when you’re trying to get things done in a hurry.
There’s an odd glitch that resets the controls to their default settings every time game starts, so you’ll have to remap the keys each time you play if you use a customized setup. It also suffers for lack of a proper save function: Hildi and Frederick can’t actually be hurt – the game automatically kicks into rewind mode if they happen to fall into mortal misfortune – but save points are only indicated by an image of an old-time diskette that appears at the bottom of the screen when the game is saving, and it’s too easy to lose progress by exiting between checkpoints. The saves come frequently enough that you’re never going to drop more than a few minutes, but there’s no excuse for letting players drop out of the action without telling them where they’ll be when they restart.
And while it’s not really a complaint, the sheer size of the thing can work against it. The first half of Full Bore actually came out last year and the Steam release finally completes it; the net result is a big game, but with no real direction to follow there’s a certain lack of impetus to it. Most games aren’t shy about telling players where to go and what to do, but this one just opens the door and turns you loose. The boars don’t gain levels or abilities, and your score is measured simply by the number of gems you dig up, which is for all intents and purposes an optional exercise. This is very much a “because it’s there” kind of game.
It’s an unusual approach, but one that I find refreshing and exciting. I can go where I want, do what I want and play at my own pace, and while I’m not collecting experience or growing a skill tree, the trail of crumbs and clues hinting at the underlying mystery have me very much wanting to know what happened to the world that came before this one. I have a lot of hours left to play before I reach that point, and you better believe I’m looking forward to them.