Some games wear their inspirations on their sleeve. This isn’t necessarily a problem — the Middle Earth series, Vermintide and its sequel, and a whole rash of so-called GTA clones belong to a proud tradition of mechanical apery. The most successful examples of these take elements of other games and provide a new spin or distinct flavor to the table. Sadly, there are also the examples that fall short of the games that inspire them, trying and failing to imitate their style and design. And despite some compelling moments and interesting moral dilemmas, Femida falls squarely into the latter category.
- What is Femida? It’s a text-based point-and-click judge simulator. Leave your family behind and travel to the Metropolis, site of the Revolution, and the disappearance of your father. Here, you must administer justice as you see fit while conducting your own private investigation.
- Reviewed On: PC
- Price: $9.99
- Developer: Art Interactive
- Publisher: Roman Loznevoy
- Release Date: February 25, 2020
“He’s not Judge Judy and Executioner!”
Papers, Please is a dystopian document thriller released in 2013. One remarkable thing the game managed to do was convey the stress and uncertainty of life in a Soviet-esque state almost entirely through its mechanics. This was especially remarkable, given that your job was not that of some spy or soldier or politician, but of a customs official at the border, screening immigrants and refugees seeking to cross. Femida, seemingly heavily inspired by Papers, Please, further demonstrates the difficulty of making that sort of feeling come across in a game. It requires clarity in terms of conveying gameplay concepts, fine-tuning each element so that it contributes to a larger emotional experience, and doing both of these things while maintaining a consistent, compelling atmosphere. Femida trips over each of these hurdles.
There are certainly some good ideas behind particular mechanics at play here. The idea that the sort of questions asked in a court have an inherent effect on those present, regardless of the answers, is a cool concept that holds some water. However, the consequences for your actions throughout the game are vague and ill-defined. This wouldn’t be a problem if going back to see what your other options entailed was very fun. But the mechanics simply don’t mesh well with each other to create a pervading feeling or any significant fun factor.
The Tension meter especially feels tacked on and silly, with the game essentially telling you that you should feel tense right now as you bang a virtual gavel to restore order. What’s more, even when the writing manages to break through the general monotony to hit a dark chord, the atmosphere is immediately undermined by translation issues in the text or odd, stilted humor in direct messages and instructions from the developer. Overall, the game seems to throw at you scenarios you’d find in an introductory law class; then, it lists facts about these case scenarios with dry, uninspired writing.
Silver Linings and a Suggestion
Now, Femida isn’t an unmitigated disaster. Later cases start to pick up in terms of complexity and intrigue, and to its credit, the game delivers on a couple of compelling moral dilemmas. And the soundtrack, while repetitive, is probably the most successful way in which Femida delivers on its post-WWII aesthetic. Thematically, the game touches on interesting issues like media framing by encouraging you to note descriptions of the same event by three different, uniquely skewed news publications. That said, the distinctions between these newspapers are so clear-cut and obvious, it feels much more like a writer’s attempt to portray ideological slants in media than it feels like the complex blend of word choice, focus, and omission that tends to indicate bias on the part of a journalist. This dynamic illustrates a fundamental aspect of Femida’s shortcomings: an intriguing and salient idea whose execution is half-baked and overly simplistic.
That point brings me to a suggestion: Femida should certainly have seen an Early Access release well before it was sold as a full game. Translation issues render some of the pivotal scenes for your character utterly hilarious, gutting them of their emotional potential. The store page on Steam points out that some of the endings included in the game aren’t even complete. The game literally includes a note that says your game will get buggy if you use the manual save system. Early Access would have been a good way to garner interest for the game while ironing these issues out. Rushing a full release like this was exceedingly ill-advised. The game needs a process of feedback and fine-tuning, with considerable attention paid to fleshing out the mechanics and deriving emotional value from them. As it stands, Femida’s release is, to put it bluntly, a failure. Play Papers, Please instead.
Zoom Out: Verdict
Aesthetics - 5/10
Dialogue and Storytelling - 4/10
Courtroom and Investigation Mechanics - 4/10
Structure and Polish - 3/10
Femida is a point-and-click judge simulator with clear inspirations and some interesting ideas. Sadly, its rushed execution, mechanical shortcomings, and tonal inconsistencies contribute to an overall experience that feels underdeveloped and monotonous.
- Interesting ideas
- Some effective moments
- Certain aesthetic choices
- Subpar dialogue
- Boring mechanics
- Rushed, unfinished state