From Skynet to Cybermen, fiction is full of tales of technology run amok. But what happens after? That is one of the central themes in Whispers of a Machine, the newest endeavor from industry veterans Clifftop Games and Faravid. Taking place after the Collapse, the game follows detective Vera Englund as she solves a string of murders in a remote settlement.
Diving into my preview, I didn’t know too much about Whispers of a Machine except that it was made by the developers of Kathy Rain (which I loved) and The Samaritan Paradox (which I didn’t). The immediate post-apocalyptic vibe at the start is interesting. It’s not specifically laid out for you that this is after the fall of AI and society. The press release touches upon that, but I neglected to read it. In any case, Vera has cybernetic augments, which clashes with the noticeable aversion to technology that all the other characters have.
Vera is an interesting character, and the complexity of the world building partially revolves around her. An elite detective from the Bureau’s Violent Crimes division, her nanotech, cybernetic enhancements seem to break the rules of the setting. With just the push of a button, she can scan the environment for DNA and footprints. Or, if needed, she can break a metal door with brute force. She’s lightyears ahead of any other technology on display in the plot thus far, which basically amounts to a broken elevator. Not much about her backstory reveals itself yet, but she’s a likable protagonist.
Your choices partially determine her personality. You can choose to amplify her assertive, empathic or analytic sides based on your responses to questions and with how you proceed in your investigation. Given the three locked bioaugmentation slots, it’s clear that each side of her personality unlocks a new augmentation. However, I didn’t have a chance to reach that part of the Whispers of a Machine yet. It's an interesting mechanic, following the recent trend of choice-specific story paths in adventure games.
The other characters that Vera encounters so far fill their roles adequately. The quirkiest one by far is Valter, the owner of the local robotics shop. While there, he tinkers with scrap and pretends to put on a ventriloquist act with small robot Nisse. It’s pretty obvious to players that Nisse is an illegal AI disguised as a ventriloquist prop, which is quite cute. Weirdest character runner up is Dr. Persson, the doctor, coroner, and dead body enthusiast. He’s unstable enough that his assistant asks you to finish the case post-haste. He just wants to go back to working with living people because he’s weirding her out.
Most of the puzzles are fairly logical, but the pathway to solving them verges on convoluted. It’s not always obvious which clues belong to which puzzles, and the absence of a hint button is occasionally frustrating. Most puzzles use the bio-augmentations, though there are a few inventory-based puzzles to contend with. Puzzle placement feels natural. There are no awkward instances of “Solve this puzzle on this piece of paper before I let you past this door!”
Whispers of a Machine is definitely an interesting experience so far. The world-building is solid, and the basis for what could be some really intriguing stories played out in the rest of the game. With a likable protagonist, a fun system of bio-augmentations and cohesive puzzles, I’m excited to dive back in and find out what exactly this machine is whispering.
TechRaptor previewed Whispers of a Machine on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developer. The game will fully release on April 17th.