Defeat enemy gunslingers and prove yourself the fastest gun in the Wild West.
PC Release: May 9, 2014
By Ian Coppock
If games like Fistful of Frags have anything to teach, it’s that contemporary notions of the Wild West are heavily romanticized. Indeed, there’s probably no other period of history in America or anywhere else that’s looked back upon (by pop culture, at least) with so much affection and unrealistic exaltation as the U.S.’s westward expansion. The reality’s somewhat different, but that’s lost on a lot of people—even though the first hint is in the name “Wild West.” In truth, the West was a lawless place rife with profiteering, robbery, and murder. How much profiteering, robbery, and murder? Ask Fistful of Frags.
Fistful of Frags is a multiplayer cowboy disagreement simulator created by (brace yourself) the Fistful of Frags Team. The game is a Source multiplayer mod built to use the same interface and in-depth options menu as a lot of Valve’s most popular multiplayer titles, but with a few tricks of its own. Rather than focusing on World War II or hunting terrorists, Fistful of Frags takes players back to the Wild West, pitting dozens of gunslingers against each other in beautiful maps. Just make sure the six shooter is full and the whiskey is topped off first.
Players start out each round by picking a primary weapon, a secondary weapon, and which hand their character uses for shooting. Primary weapons usually consist of revolvers and shotguns, but players can also pick more specialized killing tools like a Native American longbow. Secondary weapons comprise throwing knives and more compact guns (like a Derringer), but players can also use their secondary weapon slot to pick a combat perk. Boots, for example, make the player’s kicking attack score more damage.
The most common game mode in Fistful of Frags is a good ol’ fashioned hoedown. And of course, in this context, “hoedown” means “every-man-for-himself deathmatch.” Battles in Fistful of Frags are 10-minute bouts of pure chaos, as players move up, down, and all around a diverse palette of maps shooting varmints and taking names. Being a good gunslinger in Fistful of Frags is all about accuracy; fast-moving players aren’t likely to hit much, so they have to slow down and carefully take aim while shooting. It takes a while to get used to, but a good rule of thumb is simply to move quickly while hunting foes and then slow down near cover when the enemy is within range.
The other combat modes in Fistful of Frags make for standard Source multiplayer fare; the game sports an Elimination mode, a Versus mode, and a Dino D-Day-style Objective mode in which players have to complete specific tasks. Fistful of Frags also features a homemade mode called Break Bad, where players start out as unarmed targets who can’t be shot at without incurring a penalty, but who can also gradually acquire weapons over time. It’s kind of like a Call of Duty Gun Game match where the acquisition of weapons is determined by time instead of kills. A bit clumsy, but not without entertainment value.
Fistful of Frags has maps with diversity to match its game modes. The game’s grand total of maps at the moment is 13, which, while not a ton, is an alright middling number for a Source mod. Each map succeeds in looking distinct from its fellows; players can battle it out anywhere from an old lumber mill to a snowy mountain town. Desert depots, steamboats, and labyrinthine mines round out the game’s impressive environmental variety. By setting each map in a distinct location, Fistful of Frags insures good gameplay variety and avoids falling into the samey environment trap that snared Day of Defeat: Source.
To top all of that off, Fistful of Frags is a beautiful game. The FoF Team has put the Source engine to gorgeous use creating a gritty western world replete with bright colors and object detail. Though it does look a bit aged by contemporary standards, the textures are pretty sharp and the lighting is beautiful. Players can explore brightly lit copses of trees or try their luck in a saloon decked out with pianos and card tables. The attention to detail is excellent and helps catch the eye whenever players aren’t too busy attempting to catch Jesse James. The environmental sound design, from waterfalls to speeding trains, is similarly intricate.
Fistful of Frags also has some of the most varied level design of any Source mod available today. Each map has a lot of vertical space for players to explore; this means that it can be easy for players to get the jump on each other as they angle for the perfect shot. Each map in Fistful of Frags has at least three levels of elevation and some have even more than that. These typically range from constrictive, dimly lit cellars on up to saloon rooftops. Thus, running around these maps looking for enemies to murder is made even more chaotic… and fun.
This elevation is what binds Fistful of Frags‘ disparate group of maps together. Even though the maps may vary from a desert adobe town to a wooded village, players who master the rhythm of moving quickly between floors will find success in all of them. Like a lot of the Source mods out there, Fistful of Frags‘ maps also feature a lot of hidden alcoves and out-of-the-way rooms for players to catch a break. Just be careful when making sure someone’s not already hiding in there.
Fistful of Frags tries to do a bit more than just be a shooter set in the Wild West, and it’s at this point that some of the game’s more questionable design choices come out to play. One particularly weird little quirk is that the respawn button changes every time the player dies. Sometimes it’s CTRL, other times it’s S, other times it’s something else. The funny thing is that this button gets a prompt on the screen, so it’s not a programming error. It’s an actual feature. Why it’s an actual feature is anyone’s guess, but it’s jarring to see such a thing when players are trying to quickly respawn and jump back into the action.
Additionally, the game has no tutorial or indicators for most of its other gameplay mechanics. Players can buy new weapons between deaths (kind of like CS:GO) but the game doesn’t indicate where the buy zone is for new guns except when telling the player that they’re not standing in the buy zone. The game also omits mentioning that drinking whiskey restores health, which is ironic considering that the game’s “Pass the Whiskey!” catchphrase is plastered all over the place. Drinking whiskey is a great way to restore players’ vitality, but it also causes characters to stumble around, so drink responsibly.
Apart from these small issues, Fistful of Frags has a lot going for it. Its community is thriving, so players can always expect to find a few matches going on at any given time. The FoF Team puts out near-daily tweaks and patches to address issues and is very proactive about interacting with the community and fielding questions and concerns.
The FoF Team is also currently working to add single-player tutorials and challenges to the game, including tutorials on how to use certain weapons and general gameplay guides. Though that part of the game remains unfinished, the team releases regular updates on their progress and the multiplayer core makes for a sturdy, fun experience. Plus, Fistful of Frags is currently free, so there’s literally no harm in downloading it and giving it a go.
So, once again, what does Fistful of Frags have to teach us? Not just that contemporary notions of the Wild West are incorrect, but that a Source mod set in that time period makes for a lot of fun. It’s free, it runs well, and it has the Source multiplayer options menu so that anyone experiencing performance problems can quickly adjust them as needed. Pick up a copy today and jump into a visceral Wild West world of shootouts and whiskey. But mostly shootouts. And whiskey.
You can buy Fistful of Frags here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.