By – Steven Smith

Technobabylon Review

The year is 2087, refugees from war torn regions like India and Texas have found a new home in the city of Newton. This bustling Kenyan metropolis is a shining beacon of progress, thanks in large part to the most advanced AI system in the world, Central. Unlike the AI systems of Europe, who only oversee menial problems like traffic, Central has been put in charge of all city operations. This includes its law enforcement department, Centralized Emergency Logistics or CEL.

Newton is home to the world’s finest genetic engineers, commonly called Gengineers, who have created biomechanical marvels. From the mundane such as gengineered plants, animals and food, all of which are copy protected of course, to the ever essential Wetware. This nanomechanical gel is what makes the neural link between humans and computers possible. Any individual who has undergone the proper implant surgery can use Wetware to interface directly with their computers. With access to a public terminal they may go online and join with other users in the Trance, the pinnacle of human interaction!

Like any major city, Newton is not without its problems. Some hacker groups have broken the copy protection on commercial Wetware and are unlawfully replicating it. Users who want to Trance are advised to avoid hacked Wetware as it can cause serious health issues. There is the growing trend of Maladisim, where Newtons youth like to temporarily give themselves extinct diseases such as Influenza, Aphasia or even HIV. Wired citizens should keep their security up to date as protection from Mindjackers, criminals who connect to your Wetware and steal data directly from your brain. The threat from biobombers, suicide bombers who have been gengineered into living bombs, is very real but rare in the city. Don’t let this concern you too much however, thanks to the oversight by Central the crime rate is at its’ lowest in Newton history.

Technobabylon Review

Then there are the Thralls, Trance addicts who spend so much time online that they can’t hold a job or even function in society, some even forget to eat while Trancing. One thrall in particular goes by the name Latha Sesame, she has no job, no parents and no idea why people are trying to kill her. She is also the first playable character in the point and click adventure, Technobabylon. This latest title by Wadjet Eye Games and Technocrat Games drops you right in the middle of this future world and switches you between several characters to tell it’s story. Along the way you will solve murders, hunt down criminals, run from the law and discover some dark secrets about the cast of characters and the city itself.

There are several playable characters with different skill sets, so your approach to solving puzzles depends on who you are at the time. The character of Latha loves to go online and lose herself in the Trance, which is the future version of the internet, where she goes by the alias Mandala. Since she prefers the virtual world to “meatspace”, much of her gameplay revolves around interfacing with various computers by broadcasting her mind directly into them. This mechanic is introduced early in the game with a puzzle that requires getting a specific item from a vending machine. Its’ programming won’t allow you access to this item but by Trancing into the machine you are able to interact directly with the AI controlling the safety and security protocols.

Then next character you play is Dr. Charles Regis, a veteran CEL agent and brilliant gengineer, who is considered old fashioned by his peers. He believes in doing his own detective work rather than feeding information into the cities AI and waiting for its analysis. In fact Dr. Regis is very distrustful of Central and likes to deliberately disobey its orders, this includes the suggestion that all CEL agents undergo the surgery to become wired. Without this procedure Charles is unable to Trance or interact internally with a computer. This is a big change, gameplay wise, as you must solve puzzles solely in the real world. There were a few puzzles where I really missed having the Trance ability, instead having to find physical ways to solve puzzles with uncooperative computer systems.

Technobabylon Review

Then there is Dr. Regis’ partner, Max Lao. She is a former thrall and rookie CEL agent whose embrace of modern technology makes her the perfect partner for Charles. The gameplay as Max is like a mixture of the other two characters. There are a lot of puzzles that must be solved physically and while Max does have Wetware and can interface with computers it is very rare that you actually take her into the Trance. Aside from a few brief sections of the game where you may take the role of someone else for story reasons; Latha, Charles and Max are your three main player characters.

Gameplay in Technobabylon cycles between solving puzzles and character dialogue. There is a lot of talking to be seen as the game tells its story. It was not uncommon for me to spend 20-30 minutes playing and all I accomplished was having a conversation. Those familiar with the point & click genre expect some level of exposition and know that heavy dialogue is always necessary. The payoff of course is a much deeper level of storytelling, and this is definitely the case in Technobabylon. With themes of genetic engineering, mind theft, an omnipresent AI overseer and a dark dystopia hidden beneath the shiny exterior of the technological marvel that is Newton; the story feels very inspired by authors such as Philip K Dick with a bit of Issac Asimov.

Every line of dialogue is fully voiced, and the acting is well done. Each character has their own personality which comes through in both the voice of the actor and facial expressions by the artists. Were there a few lines or characters that were overly cheesy or downright annoying? Oh my, yes! But this was intentional. After talking to each of the characters in the game I found that there was a wide spectrum of personality types, some were quite endearing while others got on my nerves very quickly. Rather than pointing this out as a negative that detracts from an otherwise stellar cast, I see this as a credit to the writers and actors. They designed these characters to act and behave in a certain way to get specific reactions from the player. When I am asking myself “do I really have to talk with this guy again?” I’d say they did the job right.

Technobabylon Review

The only issues I really had were the dialogue trees used in conversation. When speaking with another character all the choices are laid out in a single menu with no order or hierarchy to them. An interaction with someone might cover several different subjects, each with two or three different dialogue choices. A typical dialogue menu would give you five conversation choices with the sixth being a “That’s all for now” dialogue exit.  Picking choices 1,2 or 4 would lead to an angry confrontation about the person’s past, while options 3 and 5 leads to a pleasant chat about their work. With no way of discerning which choice led to each topic I found myself in disjointed conversations where the subject kept changing unexpectedly. It was most jarring when, like in this example, different subject matter brought out differing emotional states for the character. Having a submenu for the different subjects or at least having them organized by such would have made the in game character interactions much smoother.

The puzzles in Technobabylon are well put together and make sense both to the internal logic of the game and the our real world. There is no need to pixel hunt for key items or brute force your way to a solution by trying every item in your inventory on every set piece in the game until you stumble upon the right combination. For the most part if I was stuck on a particular problem, the answer was an item that I had either not found yet or didn’t pick up when I first saw it. There were two puzzles that stood out as they required a bit of timing to solve. One involved hitting two switches found in separate areas within a specific time frame and the other was playing Gravball, a sports game similar to handball, while in the Trance. At first I was quite upset by these puzzles as they felt very out of place for the genre. However, once I stopped trying to solve them with speed and approached these issues from the point & click logic the answers were quite simple. While the game takes place 70 years in the future, any player familiar with concepts such as regional blocking, flash drives and the dangers of opening files attached to junk mail will find they are already tech savvy enough to navigate this future world.

The graphics are the same pixelated style that fans of Wadjet Eye Games have come to expect. The characters are visually defined enough that you can tell one from another but not much beyond that. Some will convey emotion through big bodily movements but are otherwise limited to vague shapes. It is only during conversation, when the on screen dialogue is accompanied by a character portrait, that you really get to see what these people look like. Fans of newer Point & Click adventures from companies like TellTale Games, Daedalic Entertainment or Phoenix Online Studios might see this a step backwards, but if you can look past the visuals there is some very rewarding gameplay and storytelling to be found in Technobabylon. The only time I really had any issues with the graphics style was reading in game news articles or emails. Pixelated art I can handle, but certain pixelated letters are hard for me to figure out at times.

Technobabylon Review

Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?

At $15 Technobablyon is a must buy for any Point & Click Adventure fan. Its sci-fi setting, showing our slightly distant future, has enough connection to our world that it feels believable. The gameplay is simple and the puzzles are challenging without becoming esoteric. For those who would like to explore the game a little more, there is a Developer’s Commentary mode. As you play there is the option to have the developers chime in and give you behind the scenes information about the game. There is also the Deluxe edition of Technobabylon available for $20 that includes goodies such as recording session videos and some backstory documentation.

Technobablyon Technical Summary:

Technobabylon Review

  • Time Played – 12 Hours
  • Resolution Played – 1280×720
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • Windowed Mode – No
  • DRM – Steam, DRM Free
  • Control Scheme – Keyboard & Mouse
  • System Specification – 2.93GHz Intel i7 870, 4GB RAM, GeForce 9800GT
  • Game Acquisition Method – Press Copy
  • Bugs/Crashes Encountered – Occasional freezing
  • Save Game Location – [Install Folder]\Technobabylon\Saved Games
  • Availability – Official Site, GOG, Steam
  • Demo – Yes
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  • trincetto

    Good review!
    I have only played a little of it, but I agree with your points, so far.
    The fonts can be difficult to read, I wish they would let you select a higher resolution font, which would be easy to do because the game runs at 640×400 (even though the backgrounds are drawn at half the resolution).

    I feel that often in modern adventure games dialogues can be a slog, because of the reduced interactivity with the world. In old games, such as Sierra’s titles, you had multiple verbs available and plenty of (optional) descriptions to read, that fleshed out the world. Today detailed descriptions are almost gone: you only have two cursors (look and use), so almost all exposition is made through talking with people. And while in old games you could avoid looking at every hotspot, you don’t want to miss a dialogue in case it contains a clue or it’s a solution to a puzzle.

    • Steven S

      Yeah, I have been noticing the same trend. I remember playing Spacequest 3 and just wandering around the junk ship looking at everything. Some pieces (like the bowtie fighter from the cologne wars) had descriptions but there also a metal skeleton that I always wanted to know more about. However neither of these items had anything to do with the games story, but rather had stories of their own. Now most of these games have a button that highlights every hotspot on the screen so you can be sure you didn’t miss anything.

      I have mixed feeling about the heavy dialogue though. In some ways it helps bring the characters to life, as you can really get to see their thoughts and feelings. The downside is that it can sometimes feel like a visual novel with some point & click elements thrown in.

      • trincetto

        I remember the first location in Space Quest 3, it was full of sci-fi references, I remember the skeleton too! Great game, that one.

        Highlighting hotspots locations can be useful to avoid pixel hunting, since we haven’t got rid of it because many games are still low-resolution for budget (or other) reasons. I don’t really like it, though, it makes the act of discovery less exciting.

        To me long dialogues are fine, as long as they’re well written and the story is engaging. Unfortunately I find most modern adventure games stories mediocre and without intelligent puzzles to support them, they can feel a bit hollow.