May 21, 2015 10:10 AM | John Bridgman
Cyberpunk is a genre that has gone through many iterations and evolutions through the decades, as we as a society continued to outpace our wildest notions of the technological marvels that the future may hold. No longer is the thought of having a handheld terminal to access information almost immediately so foreign as it was at one time, and the very idea of having jacks installed in our bodies to access the internet seems absurd in our world of smartphones and wearable tech. Our adaptations of future technology have had to evolve over time, and yet the themes of dystopia, of slums and crushing corporate power remain constant throughout. Wadjet Eye has turned their gaze to cyberpunk in their newest point and click adventure title, Technobabylon. Does it do the constantly evolving dystopian genre justice?
To put it simply, absolutely. Technobabylon is a breathtakingly beautiful and intriguing look into the cyberpunk future that, thanks to our modern world of constant surveillance and technological dependency, may not be as implausible as it sounds on the surface. The game is masterfully written as it follows the protagonists through their lives in the city of Newton, as CEL agents (essentially detectives aided and directed by a large central city organizing AI) investigate a series of mindjackings - crimes that involve accessing and removing data directly from the victim's brain and causing severe, and often fatal damage. Along the way, their paths cross with a young woman who only wants to stay in her room and trance on the internet. She has no idea what is in store for her as she gets drawn into the larger story.
This classic point and click adventure game includes graphics that are simply top-notch, as everything from the backgrounds to the sprites to the way the interface looks mixes beautifully to create a consistent cyberpunk aesthetic. The sprites are large, impressively drawn and look excellent in motion. Characters you encounter will incidentally move about within the area you're in, adding an extra sense of life to a genre that sometimes carries itself as being quite static. You explore a large variety of locations in Newton as you play through, from apartments to train depots, and even a quiet memorial garden wherein you first hear the signs of deeper conspiracy at play.
Musically the game is just as outstanding, with a score that runs the gamut from intense and dramatic to more sombre and muted tracks as appropriate to the events in game. A great deal of care was put into trying to make sure this game sounds like a thrilling cyberpunk adventure, and it succeeds without question. Adding to the audio brilliance are electronic and neon humming noises in the backgrounds, the whirring sounds of janitorial bots, and all the various incidental noises that bring the city to life. This combines also with some high-quality voice acting that helps deliver the story in the way it deserves. The whole game is a visual and aural treat, and one that I believe anyone would be satisfied with.
The characters all have very distinct personalities, and they have a charm about them will grow on you. Whether it's luddite CEL agent Regis, or the agoraphobic net addict Latha, they are believable, likable, and identifiable. With their own wit, fears, and secrets about them, discovering more about the characters as you play through the game is just as engaging, if not more so, than the story itself, and it's honestly a delight to see little things like Latha get irritated with the personifications of objects she interacts with when she's trancing on the internet, or Regis' partner Max teasing him in a friendly way about his old-fashioned detective ways.
The cyberpunk future presented tackles the usual themes of corporate influence and police state surveillance, as well as embracing genetic engineering as the technology that gets too far out of hand. Instead of jacking in to terminals, you establish connections with a slathering of a biomechanical gel-like substance. It's a peculiar but unique take on the ever-popular nanomachines, and it manages to make the universe more unsettling despite being so appealing to look at. Food is processed and printed automatically from basic proteins, and even things like utensils are immediately recycled in-home rather than cleaned. Of course, these particular things make for a couple interesting puzzles as well as some fun world-building.
And the world in Technobabylon is definitely well-built. Interactable objects' flavour text is worth reading, and through the various ways you access the internet in game you'll find news reports such as international agreements or sport scores that serve only to make the world feel bigger than it is. It all works together and makes the world feel like a living entity. When the game world starts to feel like this, the oppressiveness of the heavily policed, constantly surveyed city really sinks in, and what is appealing and vibrant starts to become intimidating. It's at that point that the game really sinks its hooks in, letting its plot take hold of you and carry you the rest of the way on its incredible ride.
Wadjet Eye has an outstanding reputation among adventure game fans, and Technobabylon is another feather in their cap. I'm sure anybody who likes the genre will without a doubt adore this game. More than just that, however, any fans of narrative-driven games should look into Technobabylon as soon as possible. Its story and presentation are phenomenal, and I think it is without question one of the best games of this year.