If what you’re looking for from Football Game is Madden or FIFA in point-and-click form, then it’s unlikely to score well with you. You won’t be playing any football here. What you can expect instead is a short but well-crafted, creepy tale brought to us by indie studio Cloak and Dagger Games, inspired by David Lynch and served up in a fairly simple classic adventure game format.
It’s clear from even the menu screen that something here is off, as the lonely looking protagonist gazes into the mirror, the picture periodically flickering into something else so quickly you can’t quite tell what you’re seeing, while the original soundtrack kicks in with an emotional but somehow twisted love song. This is where we first meet the main character Tommy Taylor, MVP superstar of the Purchase County Turbines (Go Turbines!) and seemingly stereotypical high school jock who has it all.
It’s 1987, and all Tommy wants right now is to get out of his parents’ house, get to the Turbines game and find his sweetheart Suzy, who’s waiting for him there. A little exploration emphasises how single-minded he is in his mission, and triggers a wistful flashback to a night at the lake with his love. Standing in his way tonight though is his clearly stressed mother, who can tell he’s knocked back a few beers and angrily informs him he’s going nowhere.
With a little cunning and some puzzle-solving from you, Tommy makes it to the grounds, where there are groups of teens ready for the game; chatting, smoking, snogging. But just where is Suzy and why is everyone acting so strangely?
The puzzles are satisfyingly logical and don’t pose too much of a challenge for anyone familiar with the genre, consisting primarily of exploration and inventory-based problems. I don’t believe it’s possible to die or “fail” and I didn’t find myself getting stuck as the solutions are well-signposted. The game experience intuitively carries you along with it in an unashamedly linear fashion. That said, there are plenty of spots to interact with along the way. The interface is a simple setup too: left-click to interact and right-click to look, with an easily accessed inventory. There’s little in the way of settings and no hotspot highlighter, but it’s honestly not needed; there’s no frustrating pixel hunting to be found here. The one setting that does exist is a brightness slider, which is actually fairly useful as this is an exceedingly dark game, and not just in tone. It’s worth noting that there seemed to be a minor issue with the overlay on the Steam version of the game at the time of review – I wasn’t able to click on anything on the overlay whilst in-game. Other than that, I didn’t encounter any bugs in my playthrough.
Though the puzzles are straightforward, atmosphere is really the main draw here, being built up via soft, deep tones interspersed with chirping crickets and other background sounds, whilst exploring a series of backdrops. On a few occasions you’re also pulled suddenly into flashbacks, each of which adds a small piece to the story jigsaw. This is juxtaposed with mundane flavour text that adds to the feeling of wrongness . . . something doesn’t add up here, but what is it? The dialogue is just as everyday as the item descriptions for the most part, and solidly written. At one point our protagonist comments that “you can never have enough rope.” (So true, in an adventure game at least. My own home now feels surprisingly lacking in the rope department.) You can also expect a smattering of ’80s references, from Mötley Crüe to Stretch Armstrong to decade-appropriate lingo (I confess I’d forgotten ‘gnarly’ was ever a word).
The graphics are adequate and also have a retro jaggedy pixel art feel but are not particularly impressive; the backgrounds do the job yet aren’t very crisp or detailed. As the vast majority of the game takes place in the house and at the sports grounds, there aren’t too many locations to look at. However, for the length and scope of the game (roughly a one- to two-hour experience) it feels varied enough. And it’s certainly not a static experience: characters fidget, the glow of the TV flickers, and the main character’s animation works well enough. In contrast to the lack of any facial features in-game, perhaps the most jarring elements are the giant floating animated heads used for dialogue. They’re strangely distorted – perhaps intentionally, but it’s not exactly a treat to look at. Some faces in particular are more concave than a face has any right to be. The bulbous heads aren’t accompanied by any voice acting, which given their odd appearance might be a blessing.
There are a handful of brief cutscenes that are animated quite smoothly and certainly add to the overall creeping oddness. There’s even a smidgen of FMV on the TV in the house thrown in for good measure, which is a great touch: a kid excitedly scoffs a burger, a snippet from a black-and-white cartoon plays, and extremely ’80s-style ladies flick their heads towards the camera, pouting seductively. Another (animated) scene really brings the dark undertones to the forefront, lingering on a cheerleader swinging her hips for an uncomfortably long time with Tommy silently watching.
Driving scenes provide a decent segue from one scene to the next, kicking things up a notch by switching from the relatively muted background ambience to vocal tracks with a beat. Despite the excellent soundtrack from East London-based duo JUPITER-C, it feels a little underused here, with the striking vocals being mainly confined to a couple of the aforementioned cutscenes, the start screen, and right towards the end. That said, their sparse use does make them stand out all the more, and they certainly fit the tone of the game perfectly with their haunting vocals and an insidious feel that’s drum-driven, part electronica, part rock.
That tone, along with the slow-burning narrative, is crafted cleverly from start to finish, culminating in an ending that lingers with you after playing, far longer than the game itself. It’s the sort of finale that manages to both satisfy and leave enough open questions to prompt speculation and discussion. To say more would risk spoiling the tale, and it’s better played knowing little about what’s to come. The story seems fairly linear so there’s not a lot of replay value here, save for wanting to relive the experience to retrospectively see what clues you may have missed the first time around. A longer game would have allowed some of its elements to be explored more fully, but ultimately this is really more of a short and twisted story than a novel.
Overall, Football Game may be brief but it’s also dark, interesting and worth experiencing. It’s no looker, for sure, and there’s no real challenge to the puzzles, but it makes up for that with atmosphere in spades, a well-told story and a fitting soundtrack. If you’re looking for a short indie point-and-click that delivers its disturbing narrative with aplomb, this should take you to the end zone. Go Turbines!