Fat City Review
Posted by Adam Ducker
Not enough meat on its bones
Before setting off, let's get one thing clear: Fat City is not out there fat shaming anyone. It's a reference to the rich affluence of New Orleans' "Fat City" neighbourhood, as well as talking about all the fat wads of banknotes the game's main protagonist Chris Knox is banking as you play through this simple, yet at times challenging, puzzle game. Chris is new to the city of New York and has quickly got himself in with the wrong crowd; it's your job to help guide him through a set of increasingly complicated bank heists. There is more at stake than just the size of your wallet, with Chris being held at ransom, risking the deaths of those he loves. The story is presented as a simple wall of text at the beginning of the game and aside from some details about Chris' past and his expert contacts, there is little else to a fairly simplistic plot.
Fat City is, at its heart, a path-finding puzzle-based game in which you start each level by planning your route. Once Chris (represented by a round token with his picture) sets off, he will complete his route no matter what. Your first objective is usually to rob a bank, which means being planted in one spot as cash is being stolen and bagged up. Following on from this, there are bonus diamonds to be collected before making your way to a safe house. Each level effectively has two stages: a planning stage where you plot out your route and select power-ups to take into the heist, and a real-time rendition of those events playing out. Whilst you can't interfere with the route you've set out, there are still opportunities to ensure success via hitting buttons at crucial times to start stealing money and activate power-ups.
As the game goes on, it becomes increasingly complicated. Not only do the maps get larger (thus spreading out the objectives), but more elements are added to throw you off. One way at which the game truly excels is how it introduces you to the game's mechanics. Right off the bat, you are expected to know how to dodge cops and learn their routes and time your heists to avoid capture. The cops eventually become wise to your ways and introduce alarm systems, so you're given a second character to control who is a hacker. And just when you thought you had it all figured out, the cops start barricading vital roads you need to access, so then you'll have an explosives expert join your ranks. Each of these characters need their own route plan prior to the heist starting, as well as hitting button prompts in time to activate their relevant skill.
Tying in to this is the game's visual style, which is very minimalistic. Each character is represented with a bright round token, whilst police cars are rudimentary looking cars with sirens blaring. The world is a high angled, isometric blue wire-frame city. Remember in The Dark Knight when Batman shows off his sonar device to locate The Joker? It's kind of like that. This graphical style really works in heavily indicating the rules of the game, such as having to stick to the roads, but some of the routes displayed aren't actually usable. Those which are able to be used to map out your path are indicated by dots, with the sirens of the police plus their indicated route helping to show you to not go that way. There are a fair few clever little hints displayed that won't be abundantly clear unless you've spent a bit more time with the game, so there's a level of replayability to be had here. The music, whilst repetitive, is actually a pretty good fit, particularly when you find yourself willing Chris to bag that cash as quickly as possible in time to the beat of the song.
The only gripe is that it would have been nice for a bit more variety, at least. Where Fat City really falls apart is in its use of power-ups. They are good ideas in theory but don't quite work in practice, which makes for a disjointed experience. The power-ups are genuinely interesting and picked up during regular play. You will get to use such gadgets like an identity scrambler, which helps completely bamboozle the cops searching for you. Completing heists will see you starting to stock pile all the money you earn, which means that it becomes all too easy to load up on each character's best options and use them liberally. Where this causes an issues is that it removes a lot of the challenge, given that getting the maximum score of three stars for each level is still achievable no matter what your loadout. Levels are only graded in terms of finishing the level, collecting the extra diamond, and completion time, so it is all too easy to equip Chris with endless identity scramblers, sprints, and sneak abilities, thus rendering the cops completely useless.
This unfortunately completely negates any of the momentum the game's introduction gives. As it ramps up the difficulty, you can simply blast your way through it. Whilst this may work well for more casual players, there could have been better ways to manage this such as "expert" versions of each mission. There is almost a sense that Fat City's game design would be better suited as a free-to-play game (and perhaps was at one point) with those power-ups dripped out slowly to those not willing to indulge in micro-transactions. Instead you have a $20 game with little to no challenge, unless you start placing your own caveats and rules on how to play.
Fat City isn't a bad game at all; it's serviceable and has some genuinely fun and clever moment-to-moment mechanics. Whilst the simple graphics certainly have a charm to them, the lack of variety between each area is disappointing. The in-game economy is broken, effectively crumbling Fat City's difficulty by simply allowing you to load up on power-ups. And finally, price is unfortunately an issue; $20 for a game that offers little challenge is hard to justify. There is, however, a good game in there so perhaps it is one to keep an eye out on when it becomes cheaper.