Words About Video Games

41 Games: Technobabylon

Cyberpunk dystopian futures rarely have as much humanity as Technobabylon's. And when it comes to the recent point-and-click revival, only Resonance and the Blackwell series are better.

The primary protagonist, Regis, is in fact one of the most nuanced video game grumps ever. He's the kind of character that's normally an NPC--the skeptic, who you're certain will probably betray you--but his blend of willing ignorance and skepticism makes him a great protagonist--and a refreshing change of pace from the standard quippy mid-twenties woman. His skepticism is comes not from aloofness but from painful experience.

Each of the other co-protagonists is interesting in their own way, but unlike many adventure games, you can't switch freely between them.

This lends clarity to puzzles and objectives: you rarely find yourself poking around trying to figure out the right character to use to get what you want, and you can't start puzzle threads prematurely. Each section is tightly designed, but occasionally the game offers a little more player freedom by providing multiple ways to solve the same problem.

There are points where the storytelling falters. The game withholds critical information from the player a bit too often--particularly pertaining to the characters' motivations. This sometimes creates the feeling that the player isn't playing as these characters, so much as solving puzzles to unlock the next scene in a drama.

It's also a shame that as it goes on, the plot becomes more convoluted, muddying the final choice in a way that confuses more than it raises the stakes. Most of this convolution has to do with flashback sections which you don't so much play as view, and which introduce an entire secondary cast of characters that stretches an otherwise tightly-focussed game to its narrative limits. These sections are essential to understanding the characters and their motivations, but they mete out the information too slowly to truly be helpful until very late in the game.