The Residents are the biggest band that no one has ever heard of. Despite a gigantic labyrinthine maze of literally hundreds of releases of everything from 45' singles to laser discs you'll be hard pressed to find anything in an average record store, music magazine, or website, yet the Residents have been in business for 40 years and are still going strong. This is the band that defines "underground."
The Residents have always been at the cutting edge of technology and new media. They pioneered the music video, uses of synthesizers and sampling, and in the early 90s experimented with multimedia on CD-Rom. Hence the Residents: Freakshow, a delightfully weird adventure game companion to the album of the same name.
Freakshow is a sort of interactive movie, where you explore around a traveling freakshow, speak to the various attractions, and delve into their personal histories. Each member of the sideshow menagerie is modeled from a track from the album - Herman the human mole, Harry the Head, Benny the Bump, Wanda the worm woman, etc. Each has a bizarre (and often tragic) story to tell.
This is not a game in the traditional sense. There are no "lives" and no score, you cannot die (which is near blasphemy for a genre known to distribute horrible death at a moments notice - see Sierra's adventure games.) There also doesn't seem to be an "end," the point of the game seems to be to explore around and find the hidden music videos.
There is an awful lot of content in the game - little videos for each character, narrative stories for a few of them, additional resident's videos, lots of little animations and hidden areas to explore, etc. There is also a room that has a jukebox type interface, where one can review the history of nearly a hundred real life freaks (with photo and accompanying voice over.) The sheer amount of content is pretty impressive for a game from this time. Don't expect to find everything there is to do in one setting.
Sadly all is not right in Residents land. The main gripe I have is the "window" of the screen is rather small, maybe a quarter of the screen area (this was 1995 after all.) The full rendered graphics are somewhat dated, and have that Playstation 1, gourad shaded-type look where joints are clearly visible. The FMV videos are small and somewhat grainy, due to the hardware limitations of the time. By contrast when static content is used (like say the panels of Harry the Heads' story told in comic book style) then larger portions of the screen will be used.
On the plus side the graphics animate well. The somewhat primitive look actually ads to the evil cartoonish environment, and everything sounds great. The interface is minimal but functional, and actually ads to the puzzle solving aspect of the game.
I really can't see anyone who are not fans of the band enjoying this. The Residents are very "unique," and are definitely not for everyone. If you enjoy that typical unimaginative mainstream repetitive crap out there called "music," then stay the hell away from the Residents, as you won't understand them. If however you care to partake of a little weirdness in your life then step right up to the Freakshow.
Graphics: Rendered cinematics were great for the time but really dated now. Characters have visible joints in them, but it doesn't detract too bad from the cartoonish look. Too small of a interactive area on the screen.
Sound: Excellent, high quality voice and effects. A very spooky ambient circus soundtrack ads to the atmosphere. Assorted hidden music videos sound great.
Gameplay: Not so much of a game than rather an "interactive movie," although there are some minor RPG and puzzle solving elements. It is rather fun to explore around and see what you can find.