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Technobabylon review: Do androids dream of point-and-click adventure games?

Hayden Dingman | June 11, 2015
It's 2087. You get off work--if you're lucky enough to be employed--and melt back into the dark, dingy city you call home. If you're younger, maybe you head to your one-room apartment and slip into Trance--a virtual reality world where anything is possible. If you're older (and a Luddite), maybe you retreat to a rooftop garden--one miserable, genetically engineered speck of green amidst grey urban sprawl.

It's in the grey areas though — the subjects where Technobabylon's script debates itself — that the game's at its best. Is the escapism provided by Trance a blessing in a world gone to hell, or is it merely enabling people to give up on the real world? Where do we draw the line on genetic engineering? How much control are we willing to cede to a centralized intelligence?

These are not new questions for cyberpunk, of course. Anyone who's read Neuromancer or Snow Crash or seen Blade Runner will recognize quite a bit that's familiar. But rarely do we get to see the same ideas through different perspectives within a single story, and that's where I think Technobabylon has a lot to offer.

Latha's attitude towards Trance, for instance, is one of optimism and embracing opportunities. In Trance she can be what she wants, she can do what she wants, she can build. Regis just considers her a junkie.

It translates to the puzzle side of things, too. Take an early puzzle involving a locked door. You've got a few options here. You could, of course, have Regis simply bust the lock with a stun gun. Or you could take a more subtle approach and have Lao hack the lock open. Or you could "play by the book" and have Central give you the apartment's access code.

Not every puzzle has the same wealth of approaches, but in general things adhere to each character's skills — low-fi investigation from Regis, high-tech hacking from Latha, and a bit of both from Lao. It's a clever conceit that helps make each character feel functionally distinct even within the limited mechanics of a point-and-click adventure game.

That being said, this is definitely a point-and-click adventure game. What do I mean by that? Well, if you've read any of my other point-and-click reviews you've seen me harp on puzzle design before.

Technobabylon is exceedingly retro, and I don't just mean in terms of its gorgeous pixel art. Don't be surprised if you find yourself scratching your head at three in the morning, debating whether it's time to consult a walkthrough. While most puzzles follow some sort of logic, there are a few interactions I think are poorly explained, and more than a few hotspots that could've been better highlighted in the artwork.

The final chapter is particularly overwrought in its design, but it's only the most egregious example of a persistent issue. And don't get me started on the game's few "action sequences." They weren't good in Gemini Rue and they're still not any good here.

One last complaint: Trance is underutilized. We get glimpses of Trance's potential, especially in a chapter where Latha is constantly swapping between the virtual and physical worlds to solve puzzles. But in general the game doesn't do enough with a world that has literally zero rules. This seems to be a recurring issue for cyberpunk games, considering Shadowrun Returns had the same issue.

 

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