Technobabylon is the newly released cyberpunk adventure by Technocrat Games (James Dearden, who we interviewed yesterday) and published by Wadjet Eye Games. Originally developed by Technocrat as a freeware, it was picked up by Wadjet Eye Games and converted into a full commercial release with voice acting, improved art, and a more complete story. Technobabylon is a classically-styled cyberpunk point and click adventure game with many things that adventure fans will love, to complement some interesting storytelling.
While its gameplay is classic point and click, Technobabylon’s writing, characters, and story are presented with a 21st century focus. The cyberpunk city of Newton is well-fleshed out and does an excellent job of providing coloration even on the parts you don’t see. There are some relatively unique ideas, as well as some good implementations that help make it stand out in different ways.
A lot of this is through realizing various ideas in the setting and expanding upon them, such as if people had the ability to do genetic manipulation at a large level, what types of things would we see? Well, most diseases would be wiped out but perhaps some would intentionally want to ‘experience’ them in a controlled environment. Perhaps as an expansion of that and terrorism, you end up with people genetically modified to have explosive compounds in their bones (and that is not healthy).
Another key part of the setting is the Trance. One of the tropes of cyberpunk is having a digital world, and Technobabylon is no exception with The Trance serving as its cyber world space that people connect to and travel in. Placed at a time roughly 20-30 years after the large release of wetwear (the organic gelatinous cyber thing that is used to help allow a person to connect to a particular terminal with their implants), and ease of usage it provides, Newton shows a city that has highly adopted and made use of the ability to interface with technology. This does make for ease of communication in parts and helps explain away some of the cinematic style hacking that happens in the game, as you are directly interfaced with and interacting with programs.
The Trance also shows up in many of Latha’s sections as a key element, and in the setting you see things like Trancing dens, or locations particularly set up to avoid trance usage. Logical conclusions taken from the shape and suppositions made of the world help give it a great degree of verisimilitude that many settings lack.
This is important because a lot of the story deals with issues that arise from it, as do many of the solutions. Almost all the problems that arise throughout Technobabylon are from people reacting or acting on feelings about how the world has progressed – just like in our world. That makes immersing yourself in the setting important to get the most out of it, and Technocrat games provided a wonderful setting there to work with.
Technobabylon has a lot of story arcs going on throughout it, with plenty of mystery and intrigue right from the get go. However, in the end it is the stories of Latha and Regis that are at the core of what Technobabylon is telling. While Lao is important when she has the screen, it is often to find something out about Regis or helping him.
The story starts off with a bang, quite literally with an explosion going off, and then you are taken back just a little bit. Once there, you are given a quick tutorial on some point and click rules and some of the interactions that can happen due to wetware and some of the world elements. For a small room, Latha’s apartment (visible in the demo) provides a wealth of information in her commentary and the puzzles there to be solved. As you get out, the bang goes off, and you are sent back 22 hours more to catch up with our other two leads, Regis and Lao.
There are going to be some mild spoilers here, but we’re keeping it light, as with a game that relies on its story telling I don’t want to spoil it; and it’s a great journey. Technobabylon does a great job of drawing you in to the story with the beginning, and as you work out some bits, another layer is revealed drawing you and the characters in further, and further.
Latha’s tale is following her as she is forced to leave her comfort zone – The Trance. There she is a master, one of the most skilled computer users around and basically addicted to it. Events, however, quickly conspire to force her out of her comfort zone and put her into a stream of events that she doesn't really understand. There are definite elements of the classic hero’s tale here in her journey from being one of many unemployed people on social assistance, where towards the ending she is part of a choice that determines the future of the city and possibly far more.
As a character, Regis is in many ways defined by his regrets – he regrets his wife’s death, he regrets some of his prior work, he regrets … a lot of things - and they have come to define much of who he is. That, along with a refusal to adopt the newest technologies, has him in many cases appear to be living in the past – something that is hinted at throughout (and that Lao teases him over). It is no surprise with such a character the story tends to take advantage of it, bringing many of those regrets to the forefront in different ways and some of them being used against him and having the chance to right some.
The story does have multiple endings depending on player choice at key moments that help guide it. From there, it is generally followed up by a bit of an epilogue that helps give closure on some elements of the story, while leaving others open to new avenues of exploration.
There is also some understated social commentary in Technobabylon. One of the main characters is transgender, and it comes up in an optional conversation after sharing confidences with another. It’s not treated as anything weird or out of sorts, just a private detail like many of us have that we don’t go shouting about.
Another is something the game calls no attention to at all – the fact that the couple Regis and Lao investigate the deaths of at one point are gay. It’s there, and it is accepted – a very good hope for the future of tolerance, and an example of how you can show that type of hope without pulling out a megaphone.
Like many classic adventure games, there are lots of flavor dialogues throughout Technobabylon. Regis and Lao have the most, with Lao often having thoughts to share with Regis if he talks with her. Additionally, there are items you can examine that have no effect on the game, but just help flesh out the world characters.
One unique touch I found was that the phone book had a lot of optional numbers of people who weren’t in any way connected to the plot. These were fans who had recorded short voice mail boxes that added to the ambience and realism of the setting by making it seem less like a game world and more a place where people live.
The voice acting in general is very good and helps bring the characters even more to life. They get across the character and moods well in most cases and give the different characters a distinct feel. It’s good that they are as well, because while the general aesthetic of Technobabylon is a wonderful match, some of the pixel work makes the writing difficult to read at times. That is an issue with a game that relies so much on the written word, but the voice acting helps mask that to some degree.
I’ve taken my time getting to gameplay because there isn't a ton to talk about here. It is mostly traditional point and click adventure game play with some time sensitive events (not traditional QTEs as you can just wait and try again for the right pattern spot). The puzzles in Technobabylon are a breath of fresh air. They are challenging at times but logical in almost all instances. There were one or two that had me feeling it stretched logic some, but by and large the puzzles in this game were of very good design, logically proceeding from the story and fitting into it, rather than puzzles for puzzles sake, or puzzles that make no sense. A lot of the puzzles even have multiple solutions to them, which also helps mitigate a traditional adventure puzzle flaw where if you aren't thinking exactly the same way as the developer, you can’t solve it.
The inventory interface is clean and works well, and in more modern traditions it gets rid of items that you won’t need for future puzzles. That makes it easier to know what your options are, which means that even if you get stuck, you can probably eventually brute force your way through the situation. The game wouldn’t hurt with a bit more feedback at times during puzzles, but it does pretty well most of the time with the world around you having hints on occasion.
If you fail in a section, or die – as can happen in some of the later segments - it restarts you back at the last room transition. This limits the loss of progress that can happen if you’re having trouble and does help alleviate the ancient ‘million saves’ that you would get in 90s adventures.
When it comes together, Technobablyon is a very nice adventure game with only a few flaws – the graphics sometimes don’t quite work, the puzzles on a few occasions get away from logic, and the story has only a few points that make you frown on minor bits. However, it bears the trappings of its genre in many ways and that makes it a difficult game to score because if you aren’t interested in adventure games, if you don’t have patience, and you don’t want to experience a well-written narrative where you solve puzzles on the go, it isn't something that will interest you.
Where does that leave the score in the end? Well I spent a lot of time debating that – I actually talked with my editor some on it as well before settling down. I will say though, if you like Adventure games, this is something you definitely want to check out!
Technobabylon is out now on Steam, GOG.com, and Wadjet Eye Games now for $15, with a free demo covering the first 30 minutes. We had an interview with the developer yesterday discussing the game more in many areas!
Disclosure: I was given a key by the publisher to review. Oh and I had an interview with the developer we posted yesterday you might have heard.
Technobabylon is definitely worth your time if you are into adventure games, or cyberpunk