Freddy Pharkas, Frontier Pharmacist

1993 Sierra On-Line
Designed by Josh Mandel, Al Lowe
Reviewed 2000 September 14

Rating -2 Linearity straight, segmented
Reasonability reasonable Connectivity minimal
Difficulty pedestrian Relevance strong
Interface 3rd paned simple Real-time occasional

You play Freddy, an ex-gunfighter who quit and took up pharmacology when your ear was blown off in a gunfight. You set up shop in the frontier town of Coarsegold. Strange things start happening, and the sheriff seems unconcerned. It's up to you to save the town and uncover the conspiracy that seems determined to drive everybody away from Coarsegold.

Along with the sheriff, there's a suspicious-acting banker, a cathouse Madame, a real Indian, the new schoolmarm (your girlfriend), and sundry other inhabitants of Coarsegold. None of the characters are deep, but they fill their rôles appropriately and bring a chuckle or two.

The story is good fun, and continuously droll. The silly machinations of the conspirators were funny, and I especially liked the narrator's comments,

The downfall of the game lies in its challenges. Most of the first act (of four) and some of the second are concerned with nothing more than mixing ingredients to fill prescriptions, i.e., satisfy the copy protection. The last act is largely arcade and other timed sequences. There's very little problem solving involved.

You can set the difficulty levels for the arcade sequences individually, and I think you can bypass them entirely (I had no problem playing through the easiest setting so I didn't try the bypass). There are also several timed sequences wherein you have a few seconds to make the apropriate click. Furthermore, several of the more traditional adventure challenges must be completed within a window of some minutes, so you must save frequently.

The challenges are almost all relevant -- one gunfight is played out like a midway arcade. They're mostly fair, too: although there are a couple of questionable solutions, they arguably fit within the farcical nature of the story.

Unlike most games, the dialogues are all cut-scenes, not allowing any player guidance. Since games rarely give your dialogue choices any real effect, just ask everything and move on, I didn't miss the illusion of control. I found the VGA graphics muddled, occasionally making it difficult to interpret to scenes. They tried for a grittier look than the resolution permits; a more cartoony style would have been clearer yet still appropriate to the intended atmosphere.

Freddy Pharkas spins a good, fun yarn, but the gameplay is weak. It's a bit too raunchy for kids (the whorehouse Madame plays a significant rôle), and the arcade bits would probably turn off most neophite adults, and the challenges are too weak for adventurers of any level. While the production values are good, I get the feeling this was a rushed, or neglected, project.

Beware! Here are some spoiler-ridden notes on the game. They're only recommended for people who have played the game and want to see some of my rationale for my evaluations.
David Tanguay's Game Reviews
Here's a description of all the gobbledygook in these reviews. It's also a bit of an essay on the nature of adventure games.