"Technobabylon exceeds all other games I've played in terms of storytelling, character dimension, and exemplary writing."
I was fortunate enough to have played Wadjet Eye's re-release of The Shivah, an excellent point and click adventure that raised many difficult questions. Thus, when they decided to publish Technobabylon, my interest was sufficiently piqued despite my mild aversion to science fiction titles. Developed by Technocrat Games, Technobabylon must have some hook that persuaded Wadjet Eye to pick them up, and I resolved to find it.
At the beginning of the game, the player controls a girl named Latha, whose online alias is "Mandala." Abruptly awoken from the Trance — an addictive cyberspace connection with others — when the power is cut, Latha gets up to figure out the cause and finds herself locked in her government-assisted-living apartment. With the help of some illegally cultivated wetware — an organic nanomechanical compound that helps to establish connections between humans and electronics — she outwits the automatic food dispenser and electric door systems to wrangle herself out of the shabby room only to hear a huge blast and feel the entire apartment shake.
If all that isn't too disorienting of an introduction to the world of 2087, welcome to the City of Newton! You take control of Charlie Regis, a CEL agent working under Central who is investigating a potential mindjacking case with his partner, Max Lao, at a well-known organic computing company. Central is the A.I. that handles all operations in Newton based on information from an extensive surveillance network and its own impressive computing powers of probability — hence, Central's ability to predict a crime and deploy personnel before it even happens.
Technobabylon throws the player straight into its extremely well-developed world without any hand-holding — and really comes out better for it. Like most science fiction, there are many concepts and terms to pick up along the way, but the game eases them all in without making the player painfully aware of the process. Every minute detail in Newton conforms to the technological advancements of its time, and even better, many are reasonably foreseeable given our current state of technology. An attempt to describe all the advancements in Newton and its global position in 2087 would likely end up longer than this review, so I will abstain and leave you with this titillating fact and all the conceivable quandaries it poses: there is a restaurant in Newton that legally sells human-cloned meat. In essence, Technobabylon provides a platform that evokes ethical dilemmas the real world could face in the near future without leaning too heavily on either side presented, giving the player room to mull on the nebulous grey area long after.
Three key characters take up the bulk of the player's time: Latha, Charlie, and Max. As the story progresses, the player gets to experience numerous situations from multiple perspectives, allowing for added depth in the characters, their motivations, actions, and consequences of those actions. Though control in the game is simplistic with its basic point and click operation, the story is anything but — unraveling in unexpected, delightful twists and turns. No overreaching arcs or deus ex machina situations exist, and all NPCs have varied motivations for their actions with no intrinsic evil intentions, thus rendering a believable progression throughout the game. By end of the adventure, I felt like close friends with the main characters, could easily place myself in Newton's peculiar world, and desired to know what the future holds for the city and its citizens — often an experience only induced by well-wrought books, but surprisingly condensed into 10 hours. Technobabylon exceeds all other games I've played in terms of storytelling, character dimension, and exemplary writing; the level of detail, immersion, and familiarity developed with the world and its characters is enrapturing.
In a similar vein, the puzzles go a step beyond the usual fare to match the technological advancement of Newton. One of my favorite types involves the use of a robot splitter that can download the personality, memory, and role of up to three robots, and then splice them as needed to gain information. If a robot's personality prevents them from revealing damning evidence, swapping out the tight-lipped personality for a much more amendable one makes the task a piece of lug nut, or whatever robots like to eat these days. At certain points, the player is given some hard choices to make; I'm unsure how much these decisions play into the progression of the game except for the final call determining one of two endings, but the game makes a convincing show of the aftermath of these decisions regardless of their long-term effects. While Technobabylon contains no throwaway puzzles, I encountered some difficulty when I accidentally skipped over a character's dialogue that contained important details. NPCs do not always retain crucial minute hints when you talk to them a second or third time; instead, they sometimes fall back to a more generalized statement that, while still helpful, does not always provide enough. Still, everything can eventually be figured out and there's no one to blame but my own carelessness!
Much like other Wadjet Eye games, Technobabylon shares the same pixelated art style that some might find unpleasant, given the current advancement of video game graphics. However, the face art and animations are exceptionally emotive during dialogue, and I enjoyed most of the two-dimensional visuals, which capture the city of Newton exceptionally well, though rather ironically given the 2087 setting. I constantly felt the game would look better if the window could be adjusted to a smaller size, but the settings would not allow it. On a smaller screen, like a tablet, it would likely look more polished with less obvious pixelation. Occasionally, I found the text difficult to read as well, for the very same reason. Perhaps the font slowing down my reading helped pace the voice acting — I spent much time savoring the spoken dialogue with very little skipping. The actors do a great job voicing the multitude of characters, particularly given the broad range of complex emotions that arise and the racially diverse profiles. While it's hard to say if they nailed the various accents, especially since a reference to a Texan accent caught me completely off guard, they certainly do not go overboard despite clear distinctions.
As someone who shies away from science fiction titles, I found that Technobabylon not only barreled through my preferences, but also made the explicit point that a good game will always reveal itself regardless of how it's dressed up. With such an outstanding story, developed world, in-depth characters, ingenious puzzles, and thought-provoking questions, Technobabylon reinvents and invigorates the defining features of the point and click genre. I can only hope all future games I play will meet such standards.