Video Game Review: Family Man

The title of this game alone might remind you of the famous series including a baby that started out having a death wish against his own mother. You are likely to have seen it if you follow the YouTuber, CallMeKevin. In the first video where he played it, he showed that the team sent him a free code saying it was right up his alley since he could be a jerk as part of the fun.

I have played my share of stress-relief games that tout that idea as the main selling point: the GTA franchise comes to mind. Any number of games where you kill zombies or interact with a population of people that recognize your “good and bad” deeds tends to attract those that need an outlet to be the bad person they aren’t in real life.

I’ve even enjoyed my fair share of those games, but this game was deeply frustrating and disappointing, in my opinion. I won’t put that on Kevin, the only reason I knew this game existed, as he can make anything seem fun. Even through his frustrations, he laughs it off as part of the content.

So what was my problem with it? I’m glad you asked! Today we’re talking about where some indie devs drop the ball when it comes to providing a fun experience while acknowledging that my sense of what is fun is not the same as everyone else. If you look at Steam, you’ll see that it has mostly positive reviews, which can be misleading for many gamers. I always look to see what the negative reviews have to say before purchasing, except for this time. I saw the gameplay and thought I’d support the developers. Unfortunately, for the price tag, I felt taken advantage of.

Just as a heads-up, this review will contain spoilers.

 

Main Story

Since this is a story-driven game, let’s start with that. It tells you up-front that it has multiple endings, 4 to be exact at the time of writing this, and that your choices will have an effect on the town you play in and the ending you get. I believed this at the beginning until I started to see the nature of the choices and how hollow they were. There were several times I felt railroaded into a choice or an action. But let’s start with what the story is about:

The premise is that you play a man named Joe Hawthorn (no, you can’t rename him or make a custom character). You start with a conversation in a bar with your friend, Bobby. The gist is that you need to pick your partner for life, and you have a small selection of people. I didn’t try all the options so I don’t know how many of the people in the bar can actually be chosen, but I picked a girl in a flannel sitting at a booth alone. You know, like I would in the real world.

We had a short conversation with a few options for dialogue on my part, and then I went to the bathroom, which transported me to our wedding in the future, which led to our child’s birth, etc. The main story really begins when Bobby talks you into a scheme that involves risking your job. You don’t get a choice in whether or not you do this, of course, and so you go through with it as part of the tutorial/prologue.

Turns out, Bobby was in with the town mafia, which you learn too late. After the scheme is completed, you’re caught and fired, and on your way out you see that Bobby still has his job. He invites you to a gun range that night, of course being appropriate for someone who just lost their job of 10 years, and you have no choice but to go.

My problem with the writing begins before this but this was the first real frustration I had with this game. What happens next seems telegraphed like writing in a kid’s game. You go that night and find a man named Bruce. Bruce tells you that Bobby is on a phone call. Instead of saying, “I’ll just wait, then.” Bruce encourages you to take a few shots at the target with a shotgun, of all things. I don’t know about you, but that immediately raised alarms and told me that there was something wrong. Knowing what was about to happen, I wasted all six shots by missing the target blatantly. Instead of a reloading animation or an explanation or any kind of dialogue, the gun just reloads infinitely until you are forced to hit the target.

Of course, Bruce takes you behind the target and you see Bobby blindfolded and strapped to a chair, dead. This was not the surprise it was supposed to be and left me shaking my head and rolling my eyes with an exasperated sigh. What follows is a contrived conversation where Bruce insists that the police will find me responsible for the murder if they get involved since my fingerprints are on the gun. Note that there are cameras in the range, and anyone watching should be able to see the setup on video.

What would have made more sense to me, as a writer, would be something like the mafia simply holding him hostage or saying that he would be freed if you did what they said, even if they had already killed him off-screen. There isn’t even internal dialogue to justify this, but instead a half-hearted dialogue with Bruce where he explains that you are now owned by the mafia. Apparently all they want is for you to pay off a debt over 20 days with an increasing payment necessary every day except for Fridays and weekends.

A picture showing your wife and child, depending on who you pick for your partner, in your very average house.

Mechanics & Gameplay

On your first day of actually playing and interacting with the town, you learn that you can do “morally questionable” jobs for Bruce like being a hitman or a…delivery guy. I understand the idea that delivering drugs, etc. is illegal, but it affects the karma score that represents the state of the town. With low karma, muggers spawn more often and you see graffiti popping up on buildings with stuff like “420”. In that context, this being effected by you taking a package across town doesn’t make much sense. That package, in the real world, would be delivered with or without your help, meaning the result should be the same.

On this note, the “police” are actually just one Sheriff who doesn’t move from his position on the bridge, expressing his gluttony for food and asking that you do whatever it takes to get him the food he wants. More on this later, but a big frustration I had was that there is no response to the muggers attacking you from anyone, much less the police who are meant to protect you. At the same time, if you commit a crime within range of the Sheriff, you face jail time.

The other NPCs that have quests are similar. They have very obvious flaws and your character seems to realize this. The issue is, doing their quests doesn’t pay that much more than the stuff you can do on your own, like working the local burger joint or collecting junk to sell to the local junker. This leaves no incentive to contribute to their causes outside of completing what basically feels like side missions when all you need to do to make it to the end is to make enough money each day.

After becoming fed up with this, I decided to do my own thing. I found out quickly that selling junk was far more profitable each day, especially since you could exploit the game by going in and out of buildings to respawn junk to break and sell. That brings me to my next point: your only real interaction with items that you can’t push buttons on is punching like you’re in Minecraft. On that same note, everything has a level like most RPGs. The difference here is that even flotsam and old crates have levels, and an old crate is harder to break than a literal ore vein, which you also use your hands on.

These are oversights, in my opinion, if not just bad decisions. Further, the economy doesn’t make any sense. Apples and Oranges sell for over $20 apiece. A slab of meat is $50-60. Instead of buying meat, you can hunt animals for it. You’re free to buy a gun to make this easier, but most of the time you can just spam-punch the deer by the beach and it will explode into meat and hides. The hides sell for good money as junk, otherwise unusable, and further skew the view of the economy.

A plank of wood with nails in it? Sells for $10 at the junk shop. Animal hides can go from $10-20. Even seaweed and nails sell for $3. The beach is littered with flotsam that breaks into nails, seaweed, and planks and it all respawns as you go in and out of buildings, as mentioned above, so you have an infinite supply of money. The only reason for doing jobs outside of money is for the XP that they offer which you use to buy perks from the paltry selection of perks in the menu.

The perks range from things that increase your profits from illegal and legal jobs or selling junk to making you run faster or making time tick down slower.

The main missions of the game happen on Fridays, where you advance the story and unlock new areas that I didn’t care to visit. According to another review, the hospital area has better junk to sell, but I never found the need to look outside of the beach to beat the game. All of this leads me to frustration regarding the writing and the premise of the game. The idea reads like a decent game: You have to complete a story by making enough money while juggling your family’s needs each day. The execution? Terrible.

That said, the game was made by a team of 3 developers and published by a team of 6. This sounds like a fair number for the quality of the game except for the part where you learn that this game took them 5 years. I’m not going to make any assumptions about what the development roadmap looked like, but I’m thinking that many opportunities were missed by refusing to upgrade to a better engine that would serve this game better. Performance-wise, the optimization is not good. You don’t get any quality options and your only chance at reducing the impact of poor framerates is to disable the shadows which didn’t make much difference anyway.

I might have an all-in-one hand-me-down but it runs other games that are optimized properly fine. This one was frustrating when it came to walking around that it was nearly unplayable. I should have asked for a refund through Steam after realizing this, but I stubbornly held on in hopes that the game would get better.

Ending

The ending, allegedly one of four, was more than disappointing. You walk into the cave bunker out of town to meet with a man named Delroy. You never see him, but when you push the button on the diorama of Riverport that you find on the first floor, the intercom speaker shows his dialogue. It all becomes reminiscent of a bad take on a Saw movie. I never cared for that franchise myself, agreeing with critics that called it contrived for the sake of making a gory horror show with weak attempts at allegories and metaphors.

This does something similar. The 4 NPCs I interacted with the most were revealed to be plants by the mafia, apparently. They were all representative of various deadly sins like envy, gluttony, etc. You are required to deal them their hands of fate and leave them to rot before continuing down the stairs. What you find is your partner in a coffin, dead. The dialogue tells you that all of this is your fault: The town being miserable, the people dying, your wife dying. The floor then ignites in flames and you burn to death before getting a recap of all that just happened.

It makes no sense.

It was infuriating to me that this seemingly fun game tried so hard to mean something without connecting any of its own dots. You could have just as easily been a random person on the street and this psychopath would still say, “This is all your fault, now die.” To say that I was disappointed is a massive understatement. I felt taken advantage of, betrayed, and like Kevin was used for marketing that worked too well for a game that is so unpolished and incomplete feeling that it should have been scrapped and reworked rather than released.

It certainly isn’t worth the price of $20, and I’d hesitate to say that it is even worth $5. The final score this game receives is an abysmal

4/10

I struggle with giving games low scores like this because I’m sure they put a lot of effort into it and thought it was good. Many people agree with them. I don’t. To be clear, I never brought up the graphics because they aren’t the focus of this game. They are serviceable if lacking, but not what brought the score down for me. This is all based on the game’s premise and execution. The writing is bad all-around, the story is contrived, it feels too unpolished, it’s full of exploits, and the ending is insulting.

Watch the gameplay before buying, and if you still think you’ll enjoy it, then go ahead. I would recommend waiting for them to update it more before it is actually worth the price tag they have on it, though. That said, I doubt they’ll address any of the glaring issues mentioned in this review, meaning I have to say that it will likely never be worth the money. It’s especially insulting because they thought it was good enough to market to players, making it feel a bit like a cash-grab.

I hope you take this review as a warning to consider the negative reviews in a game that is seen in a mostly positive light by the average audience. Nothing against the average audience, they just aren’t as critical or perhaps haven’t been gaming long enough to see that this game feels like a cheap copy of other games that deliver similar experiences in a better way.

About BaileyQG

Bailey started gaming under the wing of her grandmother who played RPG games on the Sega Genesis. Her first actual console was the N64, where she played games like Smash and Donkey Kong, but she really got into gaming with the rise of the PS1 and Dreamcast consoles alongside her trusty GameGirl that was always running Pokemon Blue (the first game she ever beat). Since then, she's played through 3 Xbox 360s, several Gameboys of different gens, a PS2, and a few PCs! Now mostly on PC and Switch, she spends her time at home when not at work, taking care of her disabled wife and their precious cat-baby, Tart.

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