They weren’t kidding when they said “read only”.
Platforms: Microsoft Windows (reviewed), MacOS, Linux
Available on: Steam
I’m torn on this one. I really want to like the game for a number of reasons, but there are so many flaws present here that I really can’t recommend the title.
I like the central idea of the narrative to a certain extent. The artwork and the music are – for the most part – also enjoyable, though there are a few rough spots on both accounts. And I like a lot of the characters and their writing definitely reflects their unique personalities and I respect that the developers tried to be inclusive by also giving room to homosexual and transgender people.
But that last bit already spells out a major crux of the game where I really started having problems. Of the cast of characters, a majority belongs to what in the real world would be considered a minority. That’s not really a big deal, but the game itself makes a big deal out of it by needlessly dwelling upon it with numerous characters. This is already pretty apparent when you can choose your preferred pronouns at the start of the game and aren’t just limited to the biologically accurate representations of sexual dimorphism but also all that nonsense in between and that’s where my personal acceptance of this whole thing stops.
Without wanting to go too deep into gender politics, the rest of the game falls flat for a host of different reasons outside of that. For one, the point-and-click aspect isn’t all that interesting. At the start of the game, I tried to click on every interactable thing and get to know this world, but the game treats this as an opportunity for either an exposition dump or a tired reference to our current time, given that it’s set in the year 2064. So you’ll either get to read a wall of text about something entirely inconsequential – plants tend to come up at an alarming frequency – similar to how games like Snatcher and Policenauts did it, or they’ll throw in a quip about retro gaming and even reference a few other indie games like Duck Game or CrossCode, which really breaks my immersion. It’s like the game is nudging you with its elbow and winking at you, trying to say “see how cool my devs are, how much they’re into retro-inspired stuff like you are for playing this game?” and that’s an attitude I can’t stomach. I already don’t see eye-to-eye with a lot of people who are enthusiastic about the same things I like exactly because of this type of self-congratulatory behavior, I don’t need it out of my entertainment as well.
This all comes at the expense of actual puzzles you get to solve. In all reality, it’s more of a visual novel than a point-and-click and I would’ve preferred if the game could make a definite choice on that matter, because the hybrid solution they went with isn’t satisfactory. I have too little experience with visual novels to give a definite recommendation based on that fact, but I can say that I found that the game was way too wordy for my taste. This is only really a problem because you’re forced to click every single time you want to progress a line in the script. I can understand that for a game that only features written text – as this game originally also did – but they patched in voice-acting after the fact, so just read off the entire conversation without having me wear out my mouse button just to get through your wall of text. It just breaks the flow of the conversation if it constantly pauses even just for a split-second. Especially since the game has a tendency of not reacting to input even though the arrow indicating that you’re permitted to continue has already flashed on the screen.
The voice-acting overall is ok, given that most of what you’ll get to hear comes from Melissa Hutchinson, who also did Clementine in The Walking Dead. But there’s also some voice-acting in there that’s not so spotless and can come off as annoying at times. As much as I like Jim Sterling, developers should just avoid putting him in games. He’s not a voice actor, and it shows. It rips me out of the experience, since he’s not acting and he also just uses his natural voice, so the game just sounds like a Jimquisition episode for a few minutes.
The game also claims to be a cyberpunk adventure but I honestly don’t feel it. It always claims that life in this world is shit for so many people but we never actually get to see it. There’s just not a lot of personality in the setting of this game. The game for instance claims that the genetically engineered furries in this game along with other augmented people get treated like shit, but we never see it and even a protest outside of a gene clinic, mirroring real protests outside of abortion clinics, is given way more nuance to the point where a lot of this supposed conflict that the narrative pushes never ends up on screen. What I’m saying is that for a dystopic cyberpunk future where private corporations rule everything, way too much of this world is too clean and the people are too happy. And when they’re not happy, they’re pissed off for no real reason at all.
The main conceit of the game that it deals with the technological singularity and tries to also draw parallels to other things. How we should treat sapient machines and what this potential future conflict can do to inform our current treatment of LGBT people. You know, it’s funny. When Deus Ex: Mankind Divided coined the term “mechanical apartheid”, people got up in arms, bitching about how you can’t use that term to highlight the divide between people who want humanity to stay pure and those who embrace augmentation, but when a game specifically made by people involved in the LGBT community us the exact same reasoning as a source of conflict – in this case augmentation as well as gene-splicing – it’s totally ok. Not to mention that the pro-humanity group in this game is literally called the Human Revolution as a not so subtle wink towards that game.
A lot of the nomenclature in this game tends to fall short of achieving a more fleshed out world than there is. For one, a ton of cities just have the prefix “neo” tacked on. The game takes place in Neo San Francisco, but Neo Tokyo and Neo Chicago also get namedropped. That they didn’t include a Neo New York borders on a miracle. Similarly, they chose to use tons of modified names of real-world objects for copyright reasons, so you’ll get a ton of spoonerisms in there as well and it all really just doesn’t want to gel with me. Just call it an NES, Nintendo ain’t gonna sue you. You don’t have to call it a Familink. And yeah, I’ve seen the Polybius arcade cabinet at the bar, you’re so clever.
As you can see, a lot of what bothers me about this game outside of the lackluster gameplay experience has to do with the typical too cool for school retro gamer attitude, which I really can’t stand. If you can stomach it and the heavy-handed inclusion of gender politics, maybe you’ll enjoy the game more than I did, but I got bored a couple of hours in and couldn’t wait for the game to end. Especially because it has a tendency of throwing in another layer of fetch-quest just as the main trail starts picking up, so you’ll end up doing something unrelated for a bit before you’re allowed to finally continue.