After months of hype, Bengaluru-based nCore Games’ much-anticipated poster child for “patriotic” mobile games, FAU-G, has finally arrived.
Announced in the immediate aftermath of the PUBG ban in India (along with a host of other Chinese apps, including TikTok), FAU-G was soon being spoken of as India’s answer to the popular battle royale juggernaut—a symbol of the new wave of made-in-India apps that would fill the void left behind by their banned Chinese counterparts. It is, weirdly enough, “mentored” by Bollywood superstar Akshay Kumar and has been portrayed as a symbol of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-sufficient India) drive. Adding to the nationalistic—or some might say, jingoistic—fervour that revolves the game, the launch took place on India’s Republic Day, January 26. The buzz around the game was real: It recorded the highest number of pre-registrations on the Play Store in India in the first 24 hours (1.06 million in 24 hours; 5 million overall), and recorded over 2 million downloads in just three hours of going live.
But is this the homegrown PUBG killer we’ve all been waiting for?
Right off the bat, FAU-G isn’t a PUBG substitute. It’s a single player third-person brawler with no guns, just fisticuffs and an assortment of clubs, axes and swords—mirroring the surreal 2020 clash between India and China at the Himalayan border, where soldiers fought without firing a single bullet.
So, players trying to get their battle royale fix in a post-PUBG world need to look elsewhere. To be fair, nCore games never directly claimed anything of the sort, but the timing of the announcement and the title itself (Fearless and United Guards for FAU-G is perfect for the acronym-loving patriots among us, of which there seem to be so many), are obvious attempts to cash in on PUBG’s considerable Indian fan base. Perhaps nCore will introduce their promised multiplayer modes soon, and we’ll be able to brawl with other players, but for now, FAU-G will disappoint the players who were expecting a battle royale game.
But never mind that. Is FAU-G a good game on its own merits? Does it offer a viable and enjoyable single player experience?
To put it simply, FAU-G is a simplistic, dull and repetitive game. It features dated game design (there were more polished mobile action games ten years ago), no real features to keep you engaged, and no real reward for player skill. The combat is boring, the enemy AI is laughable, and the level design is uninspired and by-the-numbers. To put it simply, there’s no reason to play this game other than to check it out for curiosity’s sake.
It begins decently enough, though. The protagonist, Lt. Singh, looks pretty handsome and tough in the title screen. The comic book-style cut-scenes look good and do a fair job of setting the tone and the story. The music sounds suitably dramatic and thrilling. And the game itself, while it won’t win any awards for visual design, looks decent enough. Set in the Galwan Valley on the Indo-China border, (where the violent clashes occurred as well), FAU-G does a good job of delivering visual atmosphere. As Singh runs around in the valley looking for his scattered teammates, you’ll see snowy mountains, inviting campfires, abandoned tents and military installations—all making for a setting that looks cool enough for further exploration.
Even the combat itself, at its core, is not horrible. Landing blows feels satisfying and crunchy. Singh has a set of punches and kicks that feel fun to perform and cool to watch. It could’ve been a competent enough brawler, with a little more thoughtful design. However, the combat is let down by two fatal flaws: lack of nuance, and atrocious enemy AI.
While Singh has a few different moves with each weapon, you don’t control them in any way. There’s only one attack button, which you press repeatedly and hope for the best. That’s it. Which means that combat simply degenerates into frantic button mashing as increasingly larger numbers of enemies crowd around you. There’s no skill involved, no strategy, no satisfaction of having pulled off a difficult encounter. Run forward. See enemy. Press attack button repeatedly until enemy dies. Move on.
Whatever fun is to be had in the game is ironic enjoyment caused by the enemy AI. The enemy soldiers in FAU-G behave like thugs from 80s Bollywood movies, waiting politely for their turn like villains fighting Amitabh Bacchan (or Dharmendra) would. And while their reluctance to use firearms is readily explained by a no-guns agreement between India and China in the Galwan Valley, they must be pretty damn decent to continue honouring that pact while Singh cheerfully incapacitates hundreds of their men within their own territory.
In fact, the enemies in FAU-G don’t even have to be killed. You can simply back away from them after they lock on and keep running away. They might all follow you in a row for a while, but after a while, they lose interest and walk off after you cross the next checkpoint. These guys are so incompetent, I’m surprised the Chinese army hasn’t complained that the game hurts their sentiments, or denigrates them, or something such.
Mobile game development in India has come a long way, and there are plenty of studios putting out enjoyable and fun titles in different genres. Which is why, it’s all the more disappointing that a high-profile release like FAU-G is so underwhelming. If FAU-G had been even a passably enjoyable and polished game, it could’ve given a huge boost to the game development scene in the country. As it stands, it feels like an unfinished cash-grab that was rushed to release to capitalise on the PUBG ban.
It’s not unknown for games that are poor on release to get better over time and grow into compelling and enjoyable games; Warframe, For Honor and No Man’s Sky come to mind. Perhaps nCore will add multiplayer. Perhaps they’ll fix the AI and add some features. Perhaps they’ll add more interesting levels and arenas.
If that happens, there will be a reason for us all to play FAU-G. Until then, don’t bother.
Follow Anand on Twitter.