Publisher: Wadjet Eye Games
Developer: Technocrat Games
Platform: Windows, iOS
I’ve always been cautious to play games that take place in cyberspace after my brutal first experience with Ripper. While it’s still generally not my cup of tea, I am happy to report that Technobabylon won me over despite (and in sometimes because of) it’s tech immersion.
The game begins in media res, playing as jobless agoraphobe Latha Sesame inside what’s known here as the Trance, a metaverse that is much more welcoming than the real world, especially given the squall of public housing she lives in. She also has access in her apartment to free (and bland) synthesized food, eliminating the need for her ever to interact with the real world. The game immediately and gently introduces the player to how the Trance works, but before Latha is ready the power cuts out, necessitating an abrupt return to what she calls meatspace. The game then gently guides the player through how to interact with the regular world to help Latha leave her apartment. And that’s when she barely escapes an assassination attempt.
The player then takes over the role of Charlie Regis, an agent of the city’s secret police, that is guided by an omnipresent AI named Central that also powers the city. He quickly finds himself blackmailed by an unknown assailant over the lives of his unborn children, forcing him to choose between his career or his legacy. His partner is Max Lao (whom you will also play as occasionally), a relative newbie in the service who naturally is a polar opposite that loves the Trance and making fun of Charlie.
Playing as multiple characters who all have different agendas can be very tricky. Gemini Rue tackled this by having none of them actually meet until the very end. Technobabylon does them one better, as the three not infrequently cross paths. This would be obnoxious except that each character has their own relatable set of ethics; hence, it never feels like you’re fighting with yourself as you switch between them. As one would guess, there are conspiracies happening that all three are trying to uncover, all in their own way.
The interface, like all Wadjet Eye Games, is intuitive and becomes second nature quickly. Most puzzles are standard point’n’click, though rarely do you find yourself doing banal things like fetching quests or random puzzles just for their own sake. Each puzzle feels like it fits within the game world and is logical for each player to be solving at that moment, and a few even have multiple solutions. An absolute joy are the puzzles that involve swapping out computer chips in various androids to alter their skills and personalities to fit your needs at the moment. That kind of puzzle is what I was hoping messing with Joey in Beneath a Steel Sky would be. My only concern is that there weren’t more of these puzzles here!
There is always a large variety of puzzles to keep things interesting, including looking through a security camera while remotely controlling a drone and using thermal goggles to find your way through a dark room. Rarely does the game feel stale and every new chapter felt like something new was coming. My only significant critiques are a couple cases of pixel-hunting madness and a couple of needlessly complicated solutions to puzzles. And the plot itself, while engaging, has no major surprises or unexpected turns. There are two endings depending on actions you take in the endgame; one is clearly the “good” ending, though the alternate ending is interesting in its own right.
The graphics are low-res pixel art, which generally are gorgeous with the occasional what-the-fuck-am-I-looking at moments. The music is a great combination of classical and New Wave. The voice acting, unfortunately, is uneven. For the most part I felt connected to Latha and Max, but Charlie’s emotional range is limited and most of his lines sound like they’re being delivered by someone who doesn’t know what they’re responding to. Some of the ancillary characters are delightful, including most of the droids and computer program personalities that were given an excess amount of snark.
You may need a walkthrough handy on rare occasions, but not so often as to rob you of the experience. And it’s quite the experience. Technobabylon is a competently told sci-fi story that is pleasing to the senses and has some of the most consistently fun puzzles I’ve seen in an adventure game.