Sometimes, a rare gem of a game comes along that just defies true explanation. On paper, Technobabylon is a cyperpunk noir mishmash that seems to take inspiration from Blade Runner, Ready Player One and point-and-click adventures of old, but in reality it’s so much more than that. Not that the combination of those things isn’t awesome already, of course, but Technobabylon’s strengths push it far beyond awesome and into very important and progressive territory.
Set in the year 2087, the game focuses on a future in which technology has truly reached the next level. Homes feature AI devices that can take on personalities of their own, genetic engineering is now mainstream and an immersive, virtual reality type-simulator version of the internet known as the ‘Trance’ means that people are spending less and less time in the real world. This ability to become one with technology is not all good news – the Trance is addictive and now that biology and technology are so tightly intertwined, not even the human mind is safe from hackers, or ‘Mindjackers’ as they are known in the city of Newton.
So, enter our heroes. Charlie Regis is your typical noir detective type, old-fashioned and plagued by memories of the complicated past that he soon finds is not quite behind him. His partner, Max Lao, is younger, more technology-savvy, wittier, and is developing a reputation for delivering results. Their investigation into a serial Mindjacker that has been causing problems for the city links them to our third protagonist, Latha Sesame, a futuristic addict who prefers the avatar version of herself that exists in the Trance to the agoraphobic, lonely girl that lives in Newton. Now, I feel the need to point out that these are very vague descriptions of what are wonderfully developed characters, because I’m terrified of spoiling the development that is so great to experience in-game. Honestly, the fleshed-out characters are part of the reason this game really shines.
The other reason is the gameplay. Technically, Technobabylon plays like a typical point-and-click adventure, with each character having their own inventory and utilizing their specific skills to navigate through puzzles and decision-dependent dialogue, so it shouldn’t be ground-breaking. But what’s incredible is how well it works. Not once did I feel like I was going round in circles, or like the developers had made the puzzles confusing in an attempt to up the difficulty level. Everything felt intuitive but challenging, like I knew I needed to think outside the box but not like I was being asked to solve anything I couldn’t handle. This seamlessness helps to deliver what is an intriguing narrative at the perfect pace, which is not an easy thing to do when the story is told through the eyes of different narrators. In a genre that’s so cluttered with games that have niggling problems, it was so nice to see a game that felt like the point-and-click adventures of old. I’m a firm believer that the reason a lot of people find this genre frustrating is because it’s so rare to find a game that works how it’s supposed to, but Technobabylon absolutely nails it. If I could find a way to re-word that sentiment yet again and reiterate it, I would. The game works, guys. It really works.
A few months ago, I waxed lyrical about the diverse characters and representation in Dragon Age: Inquisition, and I was so excited to find that level of diversity again in this type of game. Two of the three main characters are female, issues of sexuality are dealt with and normalized in a way that is so beautiful and refreshing to see, and the world seems to have developed in such a way that race is no longer a dividing issue among individuals. There wasn’t a moment in Technobabylon when I wasn’t excited by how well-written these characters world, and how tolerant the world that they were living in had become. Then I got to thinking – if there can be a future in which AIs are prominent, genetic engineering is normal and people can essentially exist in the internet, why can’t this future also reflect an acceptance and respect for the identities of everyday people? To me, it’s a real testament to the writers that they had this thought too, because so few games go down this road.
It’s taken me a month to write this review, and in the end, I’ve decided that there’s no way to sum up Technobabylon in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s understating it. I could talk about how the soundtrack reminds me of Blade Runner (which it does), or I could talk about the nitpicky problems I found with the game (because I had to search for some) but those aren’t the things I walked away from this game thinking about. The graphics are old school and sometimes it makes it hard to see what I’m supposed to be clicking on, but not once did that feel like it was detracting from the quality of the puzzles. At one point I found a bug and I got excited thinking I’d finally be able to talk about a negative in this review, but that bug was fixed by a patch prior to release. So in the end, I think all I can say is that Technobabylon encompasses everything a point-and-click adventure should be. Exceptional narrative design, deeply flawed and relatable characters, and an intuitive puzzle design that never feels repetitive and that fits perfectly with the futuristic noir feel that makes the world of Technobabylon so unique. It’s sci-fi done right, it’s adventure gaming done right, and it’s storytelling done right.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Technobabylon by Wadjet Eye Games.