With a likeable loser anti-hero, colourful high school hallways full of misfit teens and teachers to meet, and a snide remark at the ready for almost every interaction, Cyanide & Happiness – Freakpocalypse has all the ingredients to bring the caustic comedy of its comic strip origins to life in videogame form. But while this adults-only point-and-click adventure initially resembles South Park: The Stick of Truth minus the turn-based fighting system, the combat isn’t the only thing that it’s lacking.
For starters, its story is somewhat poorly structured, with the ‘Freakpocalypse’ event in question relegated to a cutscene in the cliffhanger ending. It’s seemingly there purely as a device to set up the two sequels that are apparently planned for a later date. I was pretty surprised to see the closing credits roll just as I thought Freakpocalypse’s story had finally begun to get out of first gear, and I couldn’t help but feel that – as a standalone game – Freakpocalypse comes across as noticeably unfinished, like abandoning a comic after reading the first panel in a three-panel strip.
Happiness is a Warm Pun
For the vast majority of its brisk four-hour runtime, Freakpocalypse’s plot centers around social outcast Cooper ‘Coop’ McCarthy and his quest to avoid bullies, woo his crush, and perform odd jobs for his grandma, whose raging libido is played for cheap laughs. That’s not to say Freakpocalpyse isn’t genuinely funny at times, and certainly I got a kick out of the mixed metaphor-riddled pep talks from Principal McNally and the freestyled song lyrics of the guitar-strumming Warren Wonderwall lurking outside of the school. It’s also endearing that desperately asking a character to be Coop’s prom date is an option in just about every dialogue tree.
But elsewhere, the humour is mostly either presented in the form of corny dad joke puns — with the kid getting a drink in the hallway being named ‘Walter Fountain’ or another in the locker room showers named ‘Hayden Shoulders’ — or it’s just toilet stall graffiti-style smut. When Coop eventually leaves the school and heads to Rod’s Pizzeria, there’s a jar on the counter labelled ‘Just the Tip’… and if that’s too subtle for you, there’s also a picture on the wall of a towering sausage with two vegetables at its base. I appreciate low-brow humour as much as the next childish idiot, but the dick jokes here are a bit too, well, limp.
So too are the puzzles, which are far too basic to even tease your brain let alone wrestle it into a headlock and give it a rigorous noogie. When the school janitor’s closet is locked, you go and speak to the janitor who tells you the keys are in the boiler room, and sure enough… they are. That’s it. Puzzle solved. Some of these fetch quests do get slightly more convoluted later on, but at no point did they stop me in my tracks or make me ever contemplate the use of the built-in hint system. It’s initially cute the way that Freakpocalypse self-deprecatingly refers to its story and side objectives as ‘chores’, but less so when they very quickly start to feel a bit too much like brainless busywork.
Not only are Freakpocalypse’s puzzles overly basic and lacking in variety, but there’s also a slight clumsiness to how you progress through them at times. Early on I’d already stumbled upon a rope and pulley and combined them to lift up a desk in the woodshop classroom to uncover a missing library book, before I’d even encountered the librarian who tasks you with finding it. This meant that when I eventually did visit the library and open an initial dialogue with her, she sent me to search for a book that I was able to return it to her instantly, which came across as an unintentionally comedic exchange.
There are some moments that cleverly play with the conventions of the point-and-click genre. When you try and drag a USB thumb drive from Coop’s backpack to the printer in the principal’s office, for example, it doesn’t fit at first and returns to his inventory upside down for you to try and use again, because that’s literally the experience of inserting any USB device into any USB port ever. But such inspired instances are rare, and despite there being an abundance of objects to interact with in every corner of Freakpocalypse’s vibrant small town setting, the general lack of surprise means it’s mostly all click and no point.