The last couple of years have really been kind to graphic adventure fans, and a big reason for that is Dave Gilbert. Head honcho at Wadjet Eye Games and creator of the superlative Blackwell series, Gilbert has turned his hand to publishing, with A Golden Wake last year and now Technocrat Games' Technobabylon. Technobabylon is a point and click adventure that isn't afraid to get deep into some complicated themes while remaining well written, consistent and above all fun to play.
Artificial Intelligence, cloning, both sides of the genetic engineering argument, legacy, hacking and internet addiction are just some of the threads that run through the tapestry that makes up Technobabylon. We join detectives Charlie Regis and Max Lao as they hunt down a vicious hacker capable of extracting memories from human minds, with fairly negative consequences for the extractees. Assisting them is Central, an advanced A.I. tasked with running the city that Regis has his doubts about. In true noir style the case gets complicated very quickly, with dark pasts and personal conflicts surfacing and threatening more than individual lives.
It's been a while since I've seen a game that tackles a very complicated plot with such aplomb. The sheer number of ideas running through game is amazing, and the fact that everything gets pulled back together to give a satisfying conclusion with no loose ends is nothing short of a masterstroke from Technocrat Games. Characters are deep, with real personalities, secrets, desires and resentments. Even the 'synthetic' characters are better written than many supposedly human characters in other games, oh my yes. The forces of good in the game have dark sides to them, and the antagonists are not simply evil for the sake of it; there's no moustache twirling and maniacal laughter here. Everything happens for a reason, and the reasons are damn good ones!
Presentation-wise the game is spot on. The art and animation are handled by Ben Chandler, who is quickly becoming one of my favourite game artists, and the detailed animation really brings out the personalities of each character. Backgrounds are detailed without being cluttered, and from the run-down tenements to Regis' private garden, the whole city radiates personality. There were a few graphical glitches here and there, but nothing game breaking or immersion destroying.
Solid voice acting also helps to breathe life into the characters, and attention has been paid even to the most incidental characters. In fact, one of my favourite characters in the whole game (except Mr. Stepford who is just phenomenal!) was Cheffie, an over-enthusiastic cooking program installed in the various food dispensers found around the city. I made sure she got her opportunity to rise above her station near the end of the game but the mere fact that I felt something for even the most incidental characters is a testament to the quality of both the writing and the voice acting.
Oh, and the puzzles! All of this would be for nought if the puzzles weren't up to snuff, but thankfully they are! Difficult but not obtuse, they scratch that cerebral itch, just tough enough to make you feel smart after figuring them out. For those that pay attention there are often subtle hints contained in the environment or the dialogue, which is a really nice idea. I only found myself properly stuck in a couple of areas, but I found going away and having a little think was usually enough to solve the problems.
So in short, Technobabylon is an excellently written trip to a dystopian future ruled by A.I., populated with complex and believable characters and great puzzles. Available on Steam or Humble, I say GoPlayThat!