Technobabylon, video game, box art, Latha Sesame, Charlie Regis, Max Lao, Trance

Preview: Technobabylon

Kim loves Wadjet Eye Games. She also loves a good adventure. So when they offered her a preview code for upcoming cyberpunk point-and-click Technobabylon, she was lost for words.

Title overview

Name: Technobablyon
Developer: Technocrat Games
Publisher: Wadjet Eye Games
Release date: May 2015
PEGI rating: Not listed
Platforms: PC
More information: Official website

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Kim says…

I’m a huge fan of adventure games and, having played several of Wadjet Eye Games’ titles in the past, can easily say that their releases feature some of the best writing in the genre. The Blackwell series is a captivating tale about a reluctant medium and a sardonic ghost from the 1930s; the intense Gemini Rue is set in a bleak future dominated by a corrupt crime syndicate; and games I haven’t yet had the opportunity to play, such as Resonance and Primordia, have received ratings of at least ‘Very Positive’ on Steam. So when the 1001Up team received a press releasing announcing the arrival of a new cyberpunk adventure later this month there was no doubt I was going to follow up on it.

Promoted as ‘Blade Runner meets Police Quest’, Technobabylon is a slick point-and-click set in the 2087 city of Newton where ‘wetware’ wires people directly into the internet and genetic engineering is the norm. The first chapter opens with a description of the Trance: an online word built of abstracts and intellect, where people make mind-to-mind contact (similar to how the net is portrayed in Johnny Mnemonic). Unemployed agoraphobic Latha Sesame is trancing when a disconnection throws her out and it’s necessary to go and speak to the building manager. Unfortunately however, an access error prevents her from leaving her squalid room and players are hit with the first challenge: escaping.

Wadjet Eye Games kindly provided us with a preview code for the release along with the instruction to not reveal what happens past a certain chapter, which you can see in our gameplay video below. I’ve only encountered a few puzzles up to this point and they’ve been relatively easy, but they’re certainly clever; you’ll realise the direction you need to head in for the challenge described above once you’ve figured out what wetware is and how the various contraptions in Latha’s environment work. It’s the start of what has the potential to be a nice learning curve if there are some more difficult puzzles thrown into the mix later on.

There are a couple of great touches here. As part of her escape, it’s necessary for Latha to establish a connection with both the door panel and food machine in her room before heading back into the disconnected Trance so she can communicate with them directly. The former appears as a knight who speaks in old English and ‘prevents intrusions upon thy fortress’; while the latter is an annoying interactive guide to meal options known as Cheffie. They’re both satisfying representations of the software in Latha’s environment and the addition of the online world creates an interesting aspect to puzzle-solving.

Another mechanic is her mailbox, via which she receives various messages – including spam, but instead of being an irritation it actually helps the protagonist during this first section. As well as promising amazing deals on chem, EXS Pharma provides Latha with a virus-ridden attachment and what better way to make use of it than to screw up the aggravating Cheffie. The way the puzzles have been structured so far is very astute; it feels as if developer Technocrat Games have considered how we use our current technology and how we’d manipulate it if we were just one more step ahead, and so nothing feels illogical or out-of-reach. Both the Trance and mailbox mechanics have the potential to add a really interesting dimension to Technobabylon.

After the first chapter players move on to the arrival of Centralized Emergency Logistics (CEL) Agents Charlie Regis and Max Lao at Animus Organics. They’re investigating a serial Mindjacker who is tapping into the wiring of seemingly-ordinary citizens and destructively-removing their knowledge with fatal consequences to the victims. The identity of the perpetrator isn’t yet known but the case file on Charlie’s Traveller device explains that he appears exceptionally skilled at infiltration and may have inside help from a larger sponsor. Central, an omnipresent artificial intelligence (AI) who has eyes and ears on everyone and everywhere within the city, has predicted that the Mindjacker will strike again at these offices – but the AI won’t allow the Agents access to how it came to this conclusion.

The mix of puzzles and inventory-based challenges add variety and makes for some thoughtful gameplay.

Unfortunately the Mindjacker has already hit, and after accessing the office Charlie and Mao find the body of a HR supervisor dead on the floor. There’s only one other way out and it’s here that they encounter their initial puzzle: how to get past a locked door and up onto the roof to follow him. One possible way is to call the HR Operations Manager and try to get the access code out of him by selecting the correct options in a dialogue tree, but I failed spectacularly at this and instead had to resort to getting Max to using some brute force. The fact that the Agents’ puzzles so far have been primarily conversation-based seems fitting with their CEL positions, and the mix of these along with the earlier inventory-based challenges add variety and makes for some thoughtful gameplay.

I fared much better on the next puzzle, which saw Charlie assigned as crisis management and trying to talk down a bio-bomber at a transit station. As well as moving the story along this was a perfect, seamless way of finding out more about both the world of 2087 and the protagonist’s backstory. Instead of a bomb, it’s the culprit’s bones that are the explosives after he was ‘made as a weapon’ through prenatal genetic engineering; and Charlie reveals that he used to work with ‘weaponized youth’ a long time ago. There are clearly many dark secrets in Technobabylon waiting to be uncovered.

I don’t want to give anything away, but there’s a further scene with Charlie which almost stopped me in my tracks. A shady, anonymous contact requests that he obtains an active-memory module, otherwise there are going to be disastrous consequences for the protagonist’s unborn children… I can’t say anything more other than that it’ll have your heart in your throat and is sure to have implications for the rest of the storyline. The limited amount of time I’ve spent with the title so far has already revealed a number of intriguing, curious, devastating plot threads, and I can’t wait to see how they’re all going to come together.

You can look at Technobabylon and know straight away that it’s a title from Wadjet Eye Games. It has a similar visual style to the Blackwell series and Gemini Rue, although is somehow a little more refined, and the contrast between the futuristic world of 2087 and retro pixel-art is a pleasing one. The loading screen that appears when accessing the Trance and connecting to devices is a nice feature and one which creates the sense that everything – and everyone – revolves around technology. There’s little music but what’s there is unobtrusive and adds to the atmosphere and, as to be expected from a game from this company, the voice-acting is spot-on.

It’s rare to come across a release that you can’t find something negative about, even something minor, within the first ninety minutes; but so far I’m struggling to find anything bad to say about Technobabylon. A Mindjacker who’s suspicious intentions aren’t yet clear; an unemployed Trance addict who seems to be on his hit-list; a CEL Agent whose past is now coming back to haunt him; and omnipresent AI who seems to control everything and talk directly to citizens via their wetware. This compelling plot, along with some lovely graphics and acting, means that we could possibly be looking at the cyberpunk adventure we’ve all been waiting for.

The game is due out on PC on 21 May 2015. If you can’t wait that long, why not watch the gameplay video above for a sneak-peak and head over to the official website to pre-order for $14.99. Do so and you’ll not only receive a Steam key for the title, but you’ll also get your hands on some bonus items including the digital soundtrack, production art gallery and a PDF guide to backstory and context. Now please excuse me, I have a game to get back to and a Mindjacker to apprehend.

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