Review: Fistful of Frags

A great western shooter that has a very careful attention to all the little details.  Very fun with tight mechanics, and given its free, worth at least taking a look at.
Review: Fistful of Frags
Date published: May 14, 2014
2 / 3 stars

Normally I don't really review a free game.  The purpose of a review, or at least one of their purposes, is to tell people if I think that a game has value to you as a consumer, and that's a difficult proposition to dance around when a game is free.  There are free games that aren't worth one's time even then, one supposes, but it somehow loses it's punch as something to be concerned about when the only thing lost is time.  Nonetheless, here is a game I feel is worthwhile to take a look at in review and for that matter just in general.

Fistful of Frags was originally a Western-themed mod for Half-Life 2 which has recently been released as a free standalone game based on the Source Engine.  This comes with all you might expect from the source engine: the graphics are dated, the physics remain janky but still some of the better in the industry, and the sound assets and rendering are done quite well.

The game is quite authentic to the period

In fact, the sound production in this mod is one of the ways it really stands out.  The many authentic weapons that are included all have really great- and authentic-sounding recordings used for them.  There's a lot of attention to those small details that make it feel very much like an old spaghetti-western-style movie, including gun smoke, fanning shots, and a "Gentleman" mode that rewards players for honourable kills, as defined in the sort of honour seen in that time.

Mechanics are realistic without sacrificing fun

The gameplay itself is mechanically-sound, and does a masterful job of straddling the line between a fun shooter and period-realistic shooting.  Recoil, leading targets, and bullet clustering/spray are all real considerations, but a careful balance has been made between rendering those things accurately, and keeping gameplay fun and action-packed.  The most notable of these features is the reloading: old western pistols and rifles took some time to reload, and most - but not all - of the firearms necessitate either just tossing them away and picking a loaded gun off an enemy, or hiding away for a lengthy reload time.  The couple of firearms with quicker reload mechanisms are hid away in chests you have to find in a level, encouraging exploration of the levels.  It makes firefights much more tactical than most shooters, since you have to be carefully aware of how much ammunition you have.  Fanning allows you to fire rapidly, but at a great cost of accuracy.  It's generally much more favourable to find a second pistol and shooting while dual wielding was pretty much the way of getting rapid fire in those times.

The gun play is pretty engaging but would be for naught if not for interesting and well-developed maps.  This is both a strength and a failing of Fistful of Frags since it has some very thematic and well-designed maps, but only a handful -or fistful, if you will- so the map selection is small but includes good maps.  My personal favourite was a map with a docked paddlewheel steamer, but there's also a western town sort of map, a bank raid, a winter-themed fort, and a few others.  They are all pretty thought out and include plenty of ways about the map and side rooms to hide in for ambushes or reloading, and I never found myself feeling like there were bottlenecks or particularly more appealing positions.  While there is some danger of camping around the chest locations, since the game includes plenty of ways of indirect fire including arcing arrows or throwing dynamite, along with the fact that you tend to plummet on the scoreboard if you do, camping wasn't much of a problem.

The standalone version has its issues

I have two major complaints about the game.  First of all: there are several interesting game modes and maps which have not yet been ported from the mod version to the standalone, such as a bank heist map or a train robbery, both of which would be absolutely stellar to have in the standalone and Im not sure why they aren't there given they were in the mod version.  Secondly I've only ever seen two player models, and there doesn't seem to be any convention to add any in.  So everyone looks the same, and that's a shame.  There's small touches based on the weapon you have available, such as dynamite having the player wearing a bandanna, but at least being able to choose between a gentleman or lady gunslinger would have been much better than having just one.  Having three or four probably would have been fine, given that they would need to have a handful of iterations each.  I've seen other player models in the screenshots on their website which I didn't see in the standalone, so that's another thing I presume that hasnt yet made it into the standalone version.  Here's hoping that they do.

The Final Word: Recommended: Despite some missing features and the like, Fistful of Frags offers a very well-themed western game with an authentic gunplay and solid levels. It sets out to do one thing: create a fun multiplayer western game. And it manages that one thing quite well indeed.