The technology of Newton isn’t very well explained either, which leads to many puzzles turning into veritable guessing games of “Let’s see what happens when I stick this here,” rather than intuitive problem-solving. For example, the exact capabilities enabled by the wiring in people’s heads are unclear, and the results seem to vary from character to character. It also took me a half hour to figure out I had to stick the wetware onto anything electronic, going against 24 years of being told to never put electrical equipment near anything wet. Had the concept of wetware been adequately detailed from the start, its application would have been a much less frustrating experience. Although after finishing the game, I’m still not entirely sure what the rules are for what it can or cannot connect to.
Almost every single time you change locations there’s a new objective for you to complete, as well as new characters to talk to. Puzzles are all item-based, involving both inventory and location-specific objects, and they occur very frequently. For the most part the puzzles themselves aren’t actually difficult once you sufficiently grasp the world’s rules. There are many hotspots throughout the game, most of which are needed to advance the game or solve a puzzle, though there are some that are purely optional. This comes in useful for puzzle-solving, knowing that just about everything will be used eventually.
Controls are simple and introduced right away—left-click to interact, right-click to examine. Character switching is imposed for the first 90% of the game before providing the option to alternate between them via icons in the inventory. It’s all pretty straightforward, but the game took me quite a while to complete, largely because of the lack of hint system or even hotspot highlighter. Throughout most of the game you can talk to other people who might offer you subtle hints in conversation or clarify the current objective or the way certain technology works, but if that doesn’t do enough to help you, you’re on your own. Without getting hopelessly stuck, you can probably expect to finish the game in under six hours.
The low res pixel artwork is absolutely gorgeous, by far the best aspect of Technobabylon, as expected from artists Ben Chandler and Ilyich. The backgrounds are nicely detailed, with little things like animated bulletins and cleaning robots serving to enhance the futuristic world-building in small but appreciable ways. The character portraits are also detailed and change facial expressions frequently as people talk, which significantly improves the conversations. Animation is clean and smooth, with only a few hitches walking up platforms, which look slightly awkward but don’t pose any actual problems with the gameplay. There’s ambient movement in most locations to make the city feel more dynamic, from the nameless, faceless agents in the hallways at CEL headquarters to a dripping puddle of goo in Latha’s grungy apartment.
Voice acting is passable, though far from superb. Emotional moments, particularly at the end of the game, tend to fall flat, and some of the cast come across as hamming it up a little TOO much (looking at you, Chantelle), though others like Regis’ former scientist colleagues Doctor Chigwa and Nina Jeong are perfect. There is also an achievement-worthy objective to “Find Abe Goldfarb” among the character roster, though I guarantee you’ll be surprised when you do encounter this familiar Wadjet Eye voice veteran. Despite some dubious acting, all of the voices fit the characters well and the game is perfectly cast, if not perfectly performed. And if you don’t want to listen to it, you can always speed-click through the dialogue.
The music is thankfully not electronic or techno, which often tend to get lumped in with the cyberpunk genre. Instead, the soundtrack provides a soothing mix of classical and New Wave Trance, with plenty of futuristic sound effects thrown in for good measure, oddly complementing orchestral pieces that include Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”. Unfortunately, there are no music cues for dramatic moments or to punch up the occasionally funny dialogue.
There are at least two choices you make during the game which can affect the final outcome, adding a degree of replayability to see what happens by making different choices. As with other Wadjet Eye games, there’s an option to turn on a developer’s commentary, adding prompts for some additional behind-the-scenes insight that can add further value to a replay. Presumably the story is a lot easier to follow the second time as well. Even the first time through, however, Technobabylon is a fun, futuristic romp that fans of cyberpunk will love, with fantastic settings depicted in stellar pixel artwork. Despite the confusing plotting and tendency to tell instead of show that lets an otherwise compelling story and diverse cast of characters down somewhat, it’s another great addition to the Wadjet Eye sci-fi game catalogue.