There's something very pleasing about hitting heavy buttons on a filthy old control panel in Factotum. The rusted controls and green screens give the game this sense that the technology fueling starships doesn't look much different from that which you'd find in your local auto shop. Luckily, repairing a space ship isn't as complicated as fixing a car, only requiring the use of a couple of robots who can hit buttons and guide laser beams. Well, not as complicated at first, but by the end of your work day Factotum's puzzles will be pretty devious and complex.
Presentation works wonders for Factotum. The GamePad's screen fills with a rusted control panel as you play, looking like something you'd find in an old factory. It gives the tech a sense of weight and age, as if you're manipulating old, heavy machinery. Flicking switches and buttons has some of the same great feeling you get from messing with the giant controller that came with Steel Battalion, too. Sure, it can be easier to do everything using the control stick and face buttons, but there's something special about being able to do everything on this simulated control pad. It's more immersive, feeling like it's a machine within the game's world.
Still, unless you love green to your core, you may get sick of its emerald screens. All of the gameplay plays on twin green screens that follow your two robots. Much of what you see will be platforms, buttons, and lasers presented in varying shades of green, and while it works great with the game's old technology visual theme, it does get a little hard on the eyes. It may remind some players of the old screens their computers had years and years ago, but it may also remind them of how much it burned to look at those screens back then, too.
It's a drag that your eyes hurt after a while, as Factotum's puzzles will have players staring at their screens for some time. You're given two robots to guide through a series of platforms and corridors, and have to lead them to an elevator that leads to the exit while repairing various ship functions along the way. The robots are identical, both able to pick up boxes, manipulate switches and use other features of the ship. Only one can be running at any given time, though, with the other sitting and waiting for your command. For each puzzle, you'll need to use both of them to help the other to escape.
This starts off pretty easy, and doesn't seem like it will be able to get more complicated. The robots can't jump, but some buttons in the environment will raise or lower platforms. So, park one robot on the button and the other on the platform. Then, typically, there's a button on the other side that will help the other robot across. Sometimes these buttons were a little out of sight, but overall it didn't seem to be much more complicated than that. For the first handful of stages, things didn't seem like they were going to get much more difficult.
Factotum steadily gets harder, though. It seemed like there would only be so many ways to use the robots' limited control schemes to challenge the player, but more abilities kept increasing the challenge. Lasers stream down from the ceiling that can be guided by putting a robot down under them, activating switches and clearing debris. Teleporters create new paths to take. Energy clones can be made that follow your every move, no matter how suicidal. Despite its simple control interface, Factotum slowly makes the player juggle several new abilities to create some difficult puzzles.
Not all of the game's complexities come from knowing which button to push or what object to manipulate. You can see through a third person viewpoint for each robot at the same time, so sometimes it helps to position one robot in a way that it can watch a platform you raise with the other. Knowing where to position the robot you aren't using can be just as important as what you're doing. This is especially important when dropping boxes off of platforms onto lower switches, as otherwise you're flying blind. Factotum does let you make permanent, unfixable mistakes with those boxes, so unless you want to reset the entire puzzle, you'll want to use the viewpoints of both robots to check on things.
The pace of these robots can get a little tiring, though; they're not in a big hurry to do anything. While this cuts down on rushing and making dumb mistakes, and the areas you're working on are rarely all that large, it can still be frustrating to do everything so slowly. When you know what to do it still takes a little too long to walk to any given place, especially when waiting on rising and lowering platforms. This pace feels more suited to this kind of robot design and works thematically, but for the person holding the GamePad it can be a little frustrating at times.
Players may find themselves getting a little attached to the two robots. Despite being two boxes with mechanical spider legs, there's something cute about them, although you may not pick up on that until they pass close to each other. They emit a series of friendly little beeps and boops when they move in proximity to each other, an adorable little touch that humanizes them just a little bit. The game feels much more differently when you notice that they're friends and not just a couple of repair drones, something that provides more motivation to fix the ship without accidentally breaking the poor little guys. Sure, the narration and story are good and make you want to solve the puzzles, but it's the cute robots you're really doing it for.
While the narration may be sound, the rest of the audio isn't overly impressive. The buttons click in a satisfying way, and the robot movement clunks along, given the machines this sense of weight, but there isn't much else to listen to. When the narrator isn't talking, all you can hear is the steady clank of the machines with no other sound, and that gets old. A couple of the game's other sounds can also glitch out infrequently, causing speakers to howl. This only occurred once during the review playthrough, but once was more than enough given the awful sound that suddenly filled the living room.
Factotum's cute, easily-controllable robot pair and complicated puzzles will endear it to its players. Despite some issues with pokey movement and the nasty effects of staring at green screens for hours, it's a solid puzzle game with a great visual theme. Even though you may never really care for the people onboard the ship, after watching two boxy little robots chatter at each other you'll want to see this game through to its end. You don't want to leave these two buddies lingering on a broken ship in space, do you?