A charming student effort--an intriguing way to point and click through an hour or so. Contains minor plot spoilers.

User Rating: 6.5 | Fate By Numbers PC
I found Fate by Numbers to be a charming student effort. It of course didn't have the budget and therefore the polish of a big studio game, but I think, frankly, the cartoonish effects added to the atmosphere. At first I thought the story was a little weak in spots, but then discovered some trails were red herrings tossed in; it is a mystery, after all! Alice Sanger, PI, is our protagonist, and her story unfolds throughout the game, to include a corrupt government, estranged father, and missing husband. Alice has a wry sense of humor and a jaded, world-weary outlook befitting a private investigator. Her fedora and trenchcoat are, of course, prerequisites, but even they have style and flair beyond what you'd expect, rather like this delightfully unpretentious game.

Alice is hired by a mysterious stranger, whose identity and motivation we never learn, to retrieve a briefcase from a meeting in a train station. The meeting goes horribly awry, Alice is shot after encountering a dead man, and upon her recovery, she sets out to find out who shot her and why, what was in that briefcase, and where the hell her 'dead' husband has been all these years. There are a couple of weak points in the plot--like why would Alice go charging in with a gun, if she's a PI and not a mercenary. I would like to have learned more about how the tiered, class-based city came to be in this game's universe, what the government and society are like, a little deeper than the few glimpses we get, and who's behind the shooting. I think it would have been similarly helpful to learn earlier in the game than we do the origins of the scanner and the security companies. But these are minor points, and I suppose the couple sketchy bits your brain can fill in for you on your own, since we've seen paranoid, government-controlled, Orwellian universes in movies, books, and games before. Maybe I'm dense, but I never figured out what the "numbers" in the title referred to, either, though it is catchy.

The gameplay is relatively easy, requiring practically no learning curve because if you can point and click with a mouse, you've got it. Figuring out where to click is equally simple--when you can interact with an item, the arrow cursor turns red. The only minor hitch I encountered was with Alice's computer watch, which has a distinctive cursor--I didn't realize it was there until I finally gave in and hit the "Hint" button at the top (the Menu and Hide buttons are auto-hidden until you mouse over, so as not to distract the viewer). But really,the game mechanics are simple so you can concentrate on the plot and figure out what to do next. Moving around in the world isn't entirely linear, and goes at your pace and discretion, but don't worry: if you go down a rabbit hole, just try a different one until you get it right. If you overlooked something, you can go back and retrace your own steps until you uncover clues that lead you to where you need to go next.

FbN is an interactive movie (technically an "interactive, live-action video adventure"), so while you do have a part to play, your actions often and usually lead to a prefilmed sequence, during which you occasionally get clickable dialogue options, and during all of which you learn vital information to help you progress. You can also interact with Alice's computer (really cool), visit various locations and talk to important characters throughout the city, and use items to...well, you'll figure it out. The live actors are superimposed on a cartoon-like, black and white noir world. The setting is Orwellian futuristic as envisioned in the 50s. Their flying hovercars had fins, so I was happy. The actors clearly have thrown themselves into their roles; some, of course, are better than others, but since they're also acting in a language not their first, I give them extra credit for trying to emote in a foreign language.

Another minor character was the soundtrack. I really liked the music, an original, electric guitar-led rock/blues composition. It was mysterious, nicely complementary to the mood and environment of this noir world, setting the stage and providing ambiance without being intrusive or jarring. For a free download, the value can't be beat. I think the student developers of FbN show great promise, especially considering they did this with no real budget, no marketing or studio resources, and turned out a game that's more appealing than some bigger budget, more ambitious point-and-click adventures. It's free, so you have nothing to lose, and it's an entertaining way to pass an hour or so. The mystery will suck you in so that you want to discover what's in the briefcase, and piece together Alice's life to figure out where she fits in. It's a short play, but again, it's a project for a programming course, and the hour or so it took me was much better spent than on a TV movie. For a first venture, I think the classmates did a great job. If you like adventures, if you like mysteries, give Fate by Numbers a go.