Wadjet Eye Games has had great success publishing sci-fi adventures from upcoming indie developers, with the likes of Gemini Rue, Resonance, and Primordia already highlighting their catalogue. Now Technobabylon, the first collaboration between Wadjet Eye and James Dearden’s Technocrat Games, proves to be another fun, futuristic cyberpunk romp that fans of the genre are sure to enjoy for its gorgeous art, compelling plot and interesting setting, though the writing is not quite up to par with the level of quality we’ve come to expect.
A substantial reworking and expansion of Dearden’s trilogy of freeware games that debuted back in 2010, Technobabylon transports players to the futuristic city of Newton, run by an Artificial Intelligence (AI) named Central. The story starts off following two CEL police officers, Max Lao and Charlie Regis, as they chase a serial killer called the Mindjacker across Newton and try to prevent him from striking again. Also involved is a woman named Latha, who’s addicted to a virtual electronic world called “Trance” and ends up getting stuck in her apartment in the first five minutes of the game. The adventure follows these characters through several murder investigations and into drug dens and bioengineering labs as they attempt to unravel the mysteries behind the serial killings, blackmail and terrorist attacks. The two stories are disconnected at first, but it’s clear from the get-go that they are really intertwined, though they don’t fully converge until the last portion of the game.
The world of Technobabylon is rich and creative, with its own unique vision of the future. While not a completely dystopian society governed by a Skynet-like entity, the city of Newton is run by an all-powerful and all-knowing AI system that receives orders from the human city council. It’s an interesting blend of man and machine, a theme that continues throughout the game, with things like internet-connected wiring in people’s heads and artificially grown wetware, a seemingly organic substance that can be used as a hacker tool. Most characters seem to favor the technological upgrades, with the exception Charlie, whose sanctuary is a rooftop garden and who refuses to allow wires in his head.
The sheer number and variety of settings is also amazing, ranging from the neat and organized CEL headquarters to an organic hydroponics lab to the grimy train station where a bomber is holed up. One place that especially impressed me was the digital world at a Trance den. This den is set up like a digital club, with a bar and dance floor as well as two game rooms, including one where you could repeatedly experience the end of the world in all its apocalyptic and explosive glory. The people inside the Trance world can look like whoever or whatever they want, which only adds to the appeal. Try arguing with a floating head while a pink bunny with spaghetti arms dances like a tripped-out druggie in the background behind you; it’s definitely an experience.
Unfortunately, despite the depth and creativity presented in the world itself, the story can be very confusing, which is its only major drawback. Plot threads become overly convoluted, as does switching between three protagonists with no form of diary or notes to remind you of what’s already happened to each character. By the end I couldn’t keep track of how many villains there were or whose side they happened to be on at any given moment. Characterizations are also weak for the first half of the game, as we are told much more about the characters than we are shown, which makes them feel very one-dimensional. Luckily, the second half is much better fleshed out.
My favorite character of the main trio is Dr. Max Lao, despite the fact that she is the only one without a real backstory. An ordinary girl who wanted to become a police officer, her cheerfulness and spark keeps her partner Regis’ cynical doom-and-gloom attitude at bay for most of the game and brightens up the atmosphere considerably. In a game that has such a dark plot with so many terrible things happening, Max’s character provides the perfect balance to the mix, adding the sense of hope the story so desperately needs.
Regis, on the other hand, falls rather flat into the stereotype of a smart cop who’s good at his job but is burdened by a tragic past. Flashbacks help establish his wife’s character and give his backstory a little more depth, but he is still not a very well-rounded protagonist. Much is revealed about his personality through exposition before we ever see any evidence of it through his actions, and the latter don’t add anything to what we’ve already learned, serving only as a signpost saying: “Yes, that’s right, we told you he was tortured. Here’s your proof.”
Latha Sesame, aka Mandala (her Trance name), is the only character I actually disliked. We’re led to believe right from the start that she’s something special without being given any evidence for it, and for the better part of the game she remains wholly unremarkable, coming off like a bit of a Mary Sue. The one exception is that she’s addicted to a form of electronics called the Trance—clearly a metaphor for drug use—but she suffers no negative side effects from it, while other Trance addicts are portrayed much more negatively as homeless drifters, and some practically brain dead. While there is an explanation given eventually, her unexplained resistance is the only reason to think she’s at all special until that point.Continued on the next page...