The Fabulous Fear Machine is a unique and visual treat | Hands-on preview

by on August 30, 2023

When it comes to strategy games, seldom titles have been as unique as The Fabulous Fear Machine. From its pulp horror style to its smart approach to gameplay, I was enamoured by its eerie charm the moment I began playing. Despite only playing a demo version of it, I was drawn into its simple yet layered approach, and artistically, it’s one of the best looking titles I’ve seen all year. If you want something different that tries to mix a handful ideas with tense and challenging concepts, this is something you’re going to want to look into.

The concept of The Fabulous Fear Machine is to spread fear across the world with the help of Agents that get sent to various locations in the world, and from that, use Legends to increase the fear in these regions. Agents have the ability to explore a variety of locations, such as Glasgow, Dublin, and Manchester (which featured in one of the first missions I played), extract specific resources needed to upgrade Legends, and gather Oleum, a currency that is used for a multitude of things. You can implant Oleum pumps in a particular region to gain more of the resource, too.

Legends are used to drive fear in each location and help you to spread the message that ultimately ‘finishes’ a particular area. These can feature a whole range of characters like Sharpy the Clown or the Tooth Fairy, and are cards that can be placed in areas as long as an Agent has been assigned to them. Resources like Blood or Vision help to level up Legends, and your Agents are responsible for extracting them. There’s a lot to get your head around, but the core idea is to use Legends to spread fear and ultimately send out a main message to assert your dominance in a region.

Everything in the game takes place over a cycle of 30 days, and each task given to an Agent takes a set amount of time within the cycle. You can pause or fast-forward time to give you some breathing space or progress quicker, but there’re a whole manner of decisions you’ll need to make if you want to succeed, and certain rivals will try and halt your progress. Agents can be sent to infiltrate these Rivals, and learn about potential opportunities to assist in their downfall. As long as you have enough Oleum and objective-specific resources, you can attempt to take them down, but with everything requiring so many days to do, it’s a race against time.

There’re culturally specific stories and backgrounds to the countries you find yourself in, and the writing is really impressive. Whether through radio messages that pop up, description from your Agents as they explore new areas, or the Legends themselves, I loved how the game’s story is presented. The art style is phenomenal, with old pulp comics a huge inspiration. Although only seeing a small amount of the Legends, backdrops to each mission, and seldom cutscenes, I was left excited to see just how much is involved come full release.

Despite having a lot to take in, the tutorial gives you a clear idea of the important mechanics needed to complete missions. There’s plenty of nuanced gameplay that expands what you’re capable of in The Fabulous Fear Machine, and having such an impressive array of Legends to do your bidding, complete with superb narration and writing, it’s a game that I’m so excited to play. The demo has whet my appetite like you wouldn’t believe, and I can’t wait to see what else I’ll encounter. The level of strategy was surprising, and the loop is pleasantly satisfying, always leaving you with something else to consider as you attempt to spread fear across the world.

The Fabulous Fear Machine is coming on October 4th, to PC.