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The best thing about cyberpunk is probably the worst thing about it as well. Instead of healthy, productive environment, the genre often illustrates the worst that humanity has to offer; dystopian futures, blatant machinations of the weak, melodrama, a chronic dependence on technology and so forth. At the same time, I guess that's what made it so effective. It was something we could relate to. It's easy to see how addiction happens. It's easy to empathize with the characters even as they turn into cogs in the machine, forgotten except for their contributions to society. It's also really good at making code-nerds like yours truly feel all kinds of cool. Granted, it could occasionally be blatantly silly but sometimes, people would get it right. TechnoBabylon, needless to say, definitely got it right.

Absurdly long review after the break.

Not too long ago, we posted the third installment into the franchise. However, like a few commentators have mentioned before, the first two games represented the best of the series. However, to be more precise, the best of TechnoBabylon is the world that the creator had laid out. In the first TechnoBabylon game, we are introduced to Latha, a Trance-addict who spends a majority of her time ensconced in the game's idea of the Internet. She cultivates 'wetware' in her bathroom, has no job but defiantly claims the outside world an unnecessary evil. When her connection is abruptly terminated, Latha finds herself trapped within her shoebox of an apartment.

The entirety of the first game is spent within that finite area. Nothing elaborate jumps out at you, there are no sudden twists. What you're confronted with is mundane and almost a little sad. Though dressed up in the trappings of a sci-fi universe, Latha's room can look eerily familiar - we all have a friend who spends more time in cyberspace than the real world, don't we? Latha isn't really a heroine as much as she is a bit character who had the spotlight unintentionally pointed at her. She isn't so much likable as she is understandable. Defiance, self-delusion, a mercenary streak - can we see those traits aren't present in us? What makes TechnoBabylon: The Prisoner of Fate shine, however, is the script. It's snappy, well-written prose, something that is often in short supply. Technocrat did a remarkable job at bringing his virtual universe alive and making you wonder what else exists outside of Latha's grubby little apartment.

Of course, it also helps that the puzzles actually made sense. There's nothing as obtuse as utilizing a rubber chicken as a travel mechanism. (Hello, Monkey Island, you who I both love and loathe all at once!)

All things said and done, however, I personally think that the first game had nothing on the sequel. Darker, deeper and longer by far, Technobabylon: Part II also benefits from having a better lead. Doctor Regis, unlike Latha, has valid problems. A dead wife, a blackmailer, a job that puts him into contact with suicide bombers - those are things no normal person should have to deal with.

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From attending to an attempted suicide to investigating a murder later in the game, Doctor Regis is often called upon to engage in difficult situations, something that dialogue showcases remarkably well. I'm also personally enamored of what Technocrat did here. While most titles give us a choice of lines, TechnoBabylon: Part II smacks us instead with broader categories and words like 'deceive' and 'threaten' and 'plead' and so forth. It's a small touch but it does a marvelous job of truly making me wonder about the consequences of my actions. Given that this is an adventure game, I'm not really sure as to whether my choices had any bearing on the endings but it did make me care anyway and worry as I came to crossroads in my interactions. A quarter into the game, though, is where this unusual mode of delivery truly made itself known. I found myself physically wincing from the consequences of my conversation, a verbal exchange that would later leave me thinking of the roads not taken weeks after I had played the game. To be haunted by five minutes of a game is a rare thing but that segment somehow left me shaken and slightly guilt-stricken.

But what really made the sequel for me wasn't even that. It was the way Doctor Regis suffered and the very human decisions he ends up making. On one hand, it's easy to call it a devolution of character. On the other, it's hard to deny we would probably do the same thing in his place. As the story reaches its climax, it's difficult to not to be both horrified and sympathetic and just a little bit sickened all at the same time as the seemingly disjointed chapters in the franchise divulge their connection.

As was the case in the original game, the puzzles here were almost exquisitely well-done. Neither easy enough to be negligible nor difficult enough to warrant cursing, Technobabylon is one of the few adventure games out there capable of toeing that fine line. Granted, it can take a little bit of adjustment first, something I realized after a few days of obligatory confusion. You really do need to think like an inhabitant of that cruel near-future portrayed in the games which is, well, exactly what you should be doing - play a game without losing that sense of immersion.

The TechnoBabylon franchise is also the perfect example of how graphics do not make the game. While pleasingly retro to some, there's no refuting the fact that the character models can, at times, look outright silly. Doctor Regis's blatantly female-looking partner made me snicker the first time I encountered her. That said, in spite of how rudimentary the visuals might seem, they did do a surprisingly good job of conveying both the mood and feel. Technocrat's depiction of the Trance reminded me of cyberpunk movies from the past as opposed to the kind of slick, information-clogged universe presented by the Matrix.

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With the standards that had been built up over the last two games, the question is whether TechnoBabylon: Part III has lived up to its predecessors? I'm not sure. Technocrat took a completely different approach when it came to the presentation of the story; a comic book-like sequence fill the initial few minutes. Doctor Regis feels more like a lost soul here rather than a normal human being trying to make sense of terrible situation and Latha seems surprisingly calm for someone who had nearly been blown to bits. The puzzles too are not quite as self-evident, as far as I can tell. Then again, I'm still stuck so I might just be having a case of sour grapes here.

Free to play, elegantly designed and filled with some of the best writing I've seen, there really is no reason you shouldn't pick up all the games in the series. In fact, I'm not sure why the franchise hasn't made a splash across the Interwebs just yet. If you like adventure games, grew up with Shadowrun or just plain enjoy good games, I recommend you go play this now.

To download Part I, go here.

To download Part II, go here.

To download Part III, go here.