Review: Full Bore

I hate to admit, but Full Bore wasn’t a game I took particularly seriously when I first heard about it. It might have something to do with the game’s Steam page, the first line of which reads “Deep underground lies a reminder of Boarkind’s darkest hours” which just sounds too weird to be an actual thing. Gripping narratives and games featuring pigs are not things that tend to be closely linked and the Venn diagram of these two things are actually two separate circles, on completely separate sheets of paper in different rooms and one of them is actually a pig. Also, indie puzzlers like this are a dime a dozen, and I didn’t anticipate Full Bore being anything more than a drop of water in an already overflowing pool of options. As so often happens, however, I was completely and utterly wrong and Full Bore is an excellent little puzzle game with enough emphasis on exploration and being a pig to make it really stand out in a saturated genre.

At first glance, this looks like a very simple game. You can only move left or right, stomp, or hit enter to talk to characters. You can’t jump, and the only way to progress upwards is by climbing up a block immediately next to you. You can rewind time, but this isn’t as much of a gameplay mechanic as it is an “oops you messed up” button, allowing you to rewind to the start of a puzzle if you botched things in some irreversible way. However, it was a mechanic I was extremely thankful for when the difficulty starts ramping up, because with the rewind mechanic I never felt like I was really losing progress as I could just restart the puzzle and try again. It keeps the game flowing nicely and allows you to rewind to certain points if you didn’t completely screw up the puzzle from the beginning. Overall, the controls are quite simple, which is why it is even more amazing when the puzzles start really taking off.

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Almost all of the puzzles here revolve around block puzzles in some way, and while this has been done plenty of times before Full Bore does a great job integrating the very simple mechanics into some really interesting puzzles. Certain blocks can be pushed around, others can be dug through, and others collapse after you move off them. There are some slightly more complicated blocks, like ones that move down a square when you stomp on them and lasers that activate when you push a battery block next to them, but there really aren’t a ton of different tools you need to learn about. Still, even with this limited complexity the game does a great job building some really clever puzzles and there were a lot in this game I had to actually sit and look at for a bit before the solution became apparent. There is a nice mix of challenging puzzles here, with each area adding some new idea to keep the puzzles from stagnating.

What makes the game stand out is that in addition to being a puzzle game, Full Bore also offers an open world experience and I’m not sure I could even list a handful of other games that utilize this same combo. There are a total of five areas to explore, and you can complete as many or as few puzzles as you want on your way to the ending. There are gems to dig up, hidden doors to find, and lots of lore just lying around waiting to be read, but you really don’t have to do any of this stuff if you want to just breeze through the game. You’ll miss out on all the fun and you’re boring and everyone secretly hates you, but you don’t need to do any of this. There is a ton of stuff to seek out and find if you are interested in it, and the layout of the game lets you skip puzzles at anytime if you get stuck and just move on and come back to them later with absolutely no penalty.

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This open world puzzle exploration works out well and provides many moments that a more linear experience would fail to. In my first go through the game, there was a puzzle where you need to move floating blocks around to get to a gem encased in some dirt. There was, however, a lone box that seemed to high up to be of any use and I remember thinking, “What a dumb place to put a box.” Well, turns out I’m the dumb one as when I was wrapping up things in the end game and looking for the secrets I had missed, I realized I needed to use that box to get to a ledge I hadn’t even thought about going to before, and up on that ledge was a hidden door I had completely missed. The layout of the game is just incredibly clever, and there were many rooms that had puzzles that I didn’t even realize were puzzles at first glance. The game isn’t big on giving out big obvious hints, and that moment you realize what you thought was a seemingly random box is in fact the key to getting to a previous inaccessible area is a satisfying one.

While I do like the whole emphasis on exploration and the game just letting you do your own thing, there were times I would have liked just a bit more direction. I became legitimately lost a couple of times, having to go through the map and backtrack to find exactly where I had taken a wrong turn. The map is nice and stops you from getting hopelessly stuck, but as the game provides no marker or real hint as to where to go next, there were several times when I was making progress by chance and not by any real intent on my part. The game also fails to provide any real explanation on some of the mechanics of the game, making the puzzles more rewarding when you do solve them but possibly causing undue frustration to someone who doesn’t have a clue how things work.

Perhaps my problem is best exemplified by a series of puzzles in the game where the solution is all essentially the same that I completely skipped until after the ending because I had no idea what to do. Strange alters are everywhere, and I thought that I needed some sort of gem or special item to activate them, but it turns out the solution was a bit more obvious than I anticipated. I don’t want to give the solution away, but I could’ve solved the first one I came across at the start of the game and not had to backtrack through all the previous rooms if I had been given some sort of hint that was what I was supposed to do. I only figured it out because one of these puzzles at the end of the game gives you the slightest of clues that you’ve done something right, and while it was a pretty big “aha!” moment for me I probably would’ve preferred it if the game had coughed or something the first time I tried a similar solution to let me know I was on the right track. Instead, I could almost hear Full Bore laughing at me, shaking its head and wondering how I had taken so long to figure the thing out.

What was perhaps most surprising to me wasn’t just that Full Bore was a legitimately good game, but that I became interested in the story as well. Sure, it starts out silly and you find yourself surrounded by talking boars for no reason and accused of stealing a bunch of gems and forced to mine for more, but there is an interesting story here if you take your time and dig out all the lore. There are various computer terminals and books lying around with all the information you need to piece together what happened and why the world is the way it is. It is a very subtle story and you can miss out on what is happening entirely if you don’t actively search for it, but the game packs a surprisingly complex tale filled with themes I wasn’t expecting when I first looked at the game.

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Closing Comments:

As far as games featuring bores working as gem miners go, this is by far the best one I’ve played. And even without that strict qualifier, Full Bore is a very entertaining puzzle game worth your time if you don’t mind a more cerebral experience. There are a lot of well designed puzzles to solve and the emphasis on exploration and non-linearity helps the game distinguish itself from so many of its indie brethren. Combined with well polished visuals, a strong soundtrack, and a solid story that you can either sink your teeth in or ignore completely, Full Bore is a game that you can really dig into.
score4
Platform: PC