Whilst perusing the Wadjeteye Games website a few weeks ago, I noticed they had a new game scheduled to be released in a matter of weeks, and Wadjeteye’s specialty is my favourite genre, so I knew I had to get it. Just as I had forgotten about that purchase, I received an email saying the game had dropped and I could put it on my Steam using my pre-order code! As always with point and click adventures, I was pretty excited with starting it up, and with three playable characters and a lengthy story to play through, I was sure I’d be playing something I’d enjoy.
Technobabylon is a game following in the footsteps of George Orwell’s 1984, set in the not too distant future, with the world in a war-torn state and the story being set in a dystopian metropolis called Newton. Newton is a city which is policed largely by a Big Brother-esque machine named Central, which has access to all CCTV in Newton and, if a crime is detected, Central will dispatch reasonable police force to quell any issues. Due to its more futuristic setting, there are some interesting things to learn about the game, although occasionally some of these aren’t quite as well explained as they should be. It’s heavily focussed on technological advancements, which probably isn’t surprising given the name. You’ll come across people that have been genetically engineered as bombs, androids that are almost indistinguishable from humans and a nifty thing called the Trance. It’s never explained how these things came about, but they all contribute heavily to the story, particularly the Trance, which is really just a fancy way of accessing the Internet using an avatar of the characters choice. It’s an aspect that is heavily visited by one of the three playable characters and can provide some interesting gameplay and another layer to any puzzle you’re trying to solve.
On the topic of the puzzles in Technobabylon, there are some tricky ones to attempt throughout. They’ll never be too challenging to overcome, but there are some really inventive and ingeniously designed puzzles that fit the game very well, even if they did have to create some new items to complete the tasks, often without giving much background at all on what the item does. Each puzzle isn’t just a single, quick task either, they each comprise of many smaller puzzles that are all mostly logically set out for you to leap right into. It definitely makes for better gameplay than attempting to rub everything on your inventory against everything in the room as you’re never feeling like you’re standing there like an idiot, there’s always something to be getting on with.
While the game is generally well presented in terms of graphics, there are a number of issues that I found, which I’ll bundle together under the umbrella of “user experience”. There are some parts of this game where the developers didn’t seem to put much, if any, thought into the user experience. None of them are absolutely heinous errors, but they do undermine the game substantially, especially when they occur repeatedly. The first issue I found was presented immediately after starting the game: the lack of consistency between textual and vocal descriptions of items. Normally when playing through a game, either your characters say everything out loud, like in the Broken Sword series, or they only speak out loud when talking to a character, à la Resonance. With Technobabylon, they never make their minds up which way to do it, which leaves half the descriptions being short and spoken lines, and half being very verbose descriptions of items. You’ll be able to get almost no information for things that actually matter, but be overloaded with information on pointless parts of the game. Further to this point, when you’re trying to speak or just take a look at a person, your character suddenly won’t remember which gender to use. Very frequently, you’ll mix up your gender pronouns and call women “he”, and men “she”. It’s an oversight by the developer, but it is an incredibly daft one that should have been very easy to remedy, and consequently breaks immersion in a really bad way.
The other issue I found with the user experience is that generally, when you move around, you point and click where you want to move to. Pretty simple, and mostly works in this game. Mostly. There’s a part of the game where you have to climb on a table, and once you’re on that table, it’s impossible to get down unless you click to interact with something on the other side of the room. As there’s no way of interrupting movement in the game either, you have to waste about two minutes of your life as you slowly lumber over to your target and then interact with it, which, after the tenth time of doing it, the action and the voice acting associated with it starts to really grate.
Technobabylon isn’t a terrible game by any stretch of the imagination, but as I was playing through it, I was just increasingly looking forward to not playing it any more. At about the half way point, even though the story was a good length and had some interesting concepts in it, it was fairly poorly told and started to drag on a bit. I can see why some would enjoy this game, but for me, it’s not something I’ll likely revisit too frequently and not something I’d recommend to a friend.