When we were asked if we would be interested in an early release copy of Wadjet Eye Games’ Technobabylon we did a little jig on the spot as this game had blipped up on our radar a little while ago and the early word was very positive. For the uninitiated Wadjet Eye Games have been putting out some very good point and click adventure games in the vein of Police Story and Beneath a Steel Sky for a few years and Technobabylon is their latest, and possibly greatest.
So we eagerly agreed and were soon getting settled into the game world which had a feel very much like the world of Blade Runner, but with issues that were more salient in this day and age, namely terrorism, genetics and state control. The game opens with a young woman (Latha) alone in an apartment building. Her surroundings are humble, and through information garnered from exploration we get an idea about how the society she inhabits treats it’s poor. After all what would a Utopian society be without the downtrodden poor, the ‘thralls’ as the game refers? We are introduced to the interfaces, and the idea of ‘Trancing’, which is effectively the internet, but with whole body avatars. So like Avatar, only not setting out to protect a tree, even if there may be a very important tree in Technobabylon. Latha is agoraphobic, and the game suggests an element of Autism in the character that is never categorically emphasised or exploited, which was refreshing. The game spends just enough time exploring the bigger picture – the game is set in a city called Newton that is controlled by ‘Central’ an omnipresent A.I. that regulates systems, while also pre-empting crimes by analysing behaviour, something that would be familiar to fans of Person of Interest or Minority Report. In fact the similarities to Minority Report and Blade Runner set up a series of events that would not seem out of place in a P. K. Dick novel. To skip too many spoilers Latha discovers that she has been trapped inside a room that she never really wanted to leave, and as the first collection of puzzles we have to aid her escape, which occurs just as the building explodes. Thus begins a convoluted but intriguing conspiracy tale involving synthetics, genetics and murder.
Soon enough we are introduced to CEL agents Regis and Lau who are on the hunt for an international serial killer, nicknamed The Mindripper, who seems to be picking people at random and literally ripping their minds for some unknown purpose, to some unknown end.
At this point it starts to become difficult to describe the game too much as spoilers would destroy much of the enjoyment of the game, as the story is the obvious highlight. The use of Adventure Game Studio in making this – and their other games – certainly limits the visual splendour of the title, but at the same time it imbues the whole experience with a familiar vibe. Some look at retro point and click adventure games with a degree of cynicism, after all many were pretty formulaic and relied on luck, a guide or a mind like Sherlock Holmes to navigate, often providing an unfulfilled experience. Those that stick in the minds of folk, namely Monkey Island, Sam and Max and Day of the Tentacle tend to be remembered because of their anarchic storylines and characters more than their puzzles. Sure we all have a fond memory of whacking fish onto a mini golf course that has been infested by alligators, but it was more an amusing diversion than great plot exposition. With Technobabylon this simplicity has been expanded with multiple playable characters, behavioural control over machinery, use of the Trance to manipulate environments and a semi-branching storyline that allows an element of player choice, albeit without changing the story’s progression too much.
The fact that we are being asked to investigate ‘crimes’ by morally dubious sources and the fact that the story deals with the ethics of cloning, science and control make this a far more mature title than I was expecting, and it is all the better for it. By the end of my four hour playthrough of the game I was satisfied with the conclusions, and left hoping we will soon hear that a sequel is on the way, or at the very least some game expanding DLC.
Sure it may look retro, but the game has every much the storyline of a BioShock title. Yes the voice acting may occasionally go off par, but then look at any of the Final Fantasy games. Technobabylon is far greater than the sum of its parts and I am certainly a fan.
Technobabylon PC download is out now from http://technobabylon-game.com (DRM free), Steam, and GOG.
There is a free demo also available and I heartily encourage anyone who enjoys a good point and click adventure/story based experience to give it a while.
Played on PC (The Falcon) running a pre-release press build provided by the developer.