Platform: PC / PS4 (reviewed) / Xbox One
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release date: Out now
Tl;dr: You tried, Technomancer. You really, really tried.
Price: PC – £35/$38/€38, PS4 – £50/$60/€55 Xbox One – £50/$60/€55
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Every time. Every damn time. Never trust a trailer. I got suckered in by what looked like a fantastic premise, an interesting world, and a story that might finally live up to a fantasy like Beyond Good and Evil. Technomancer had the potential to be something really, really good, but when it can’t even tell a simple story, that’s when I figured out I’d been duped again.
Where do I even start? Visually, this game had the potential to be very impressive, yet wasn’t. The majority of the missions inside Ophir have you pigeonholed in what look to be massive warehouses, all dingy metal in varying shades of grey and brown. While the story actually attempts to address this, saying something about the humans not being able to survive in the burning sunlight, it saddens me that a game on another planet could be taking place in the Tesco down the road from me. There’s nothing unique or charming about Ophir; it’s dull and monochrome, and what little you do see of Mars is again, shunted along linear paths that are mostly caves and rock faces made out of red stone. A colony on Mars, what would that look like? Perhaps a town made out of that warm red stone, a desert community? Nope. A metal warehouse. To keep the sun out.
While I do give it some credit for being able to change Zachariah’s appearance, the character models themselves aren’t that interesting either, with not a lot that makes them stand out. Combine that with the dim lighting, only remedied by the highest brightness settings, it’s very hard to find objectives or even sort of work out where you’re going. The ability to overlay a mini-map over the screen was the only way I found my way around the Slums, where everything looked the same, and there were no custom markers. It got to the point where I left it on all the time, lest I ragequit out of pure frustration.
The gameplay itself is the only thing I can praise. It had some pretty good ideas, and I was delighted with the re-imagining of the weapons for the typical classes: Bo-staff for the Warriors, gun and dagger for the Rogues, mace and shield for Guardians, and electrical magic for the Technomancers. It was a pleasant surprise considering most games tend to go for the stereotypical stuff, albeit these weapons are particularly hard to upgrade. Pure metal is apparently scarce, the vendors don’t sell it, and the game does a pretty poor job of explaining how to craft it, so I gave up.
The UI is actually very fluid and intuitive. It makes use of all the PS4’s buttons, including the touchpad, which you can click to open the character menu. You can access pretty much everything you need on there – equipment, upgrade screens etc, and there’s no fixed save points, you can just pick and choose wherever you want. I did get my ass saved many a time via the autosave, and considering the combat was somewhat difficult, it was appreciated. I wasn’t sure if the game was expecting you to pick a class and stick with it, or switch between them when needed, because I sure as hell wasn’t doing much damage as a Rogue. Clubbing heads in with a bo-staff? That worked a bit better. But I was still dying an inordinate amount of times.
And then we come to the plot.
Essentially, Technomancer is really bad at the “show, not tell,” rule. Take the screenshot above – mutants, warped by the sun! The terrifying ASC! Can we go and see that, because that’s a better idea than sitting around listening to this? Oh, nope. Remind me why I’m not supposed to be siding with the ASC, again? Because you can claim your government is as evil as you like – unless I’m seeing it for myself, I’m not convinced. The worse example was Scott Seeker – he turns up about ten hours in, has never been seen before, and Zachariah is suddenly insisting he’s like a father to him? Sean Mancer, yes, I’d understand that, but Scott? No way. Not buying it.
Like I said, from the concept, this sounded interesting. But combine terrible storytelling with anime-esque voice acting quality, I knew from the opening cutscene this wasn’t going to end well. Technomancer has a lot of really good ideas but it simply doesn’t have the skill to present properly. The opening cutscene is a very quick, jumbled narrative from Zachariah, throwing small titbits of information at you about the world, and then that’s it. Technomancers at least get a bit more explanation (a mutation in human brains to make them more susceptible to bioelectricity, I think?) but mutants, shadowpaths, Aurora, the colonists, Noctis, the ASC, shadowpaths and serum…? These get very little explanation. The serum one’s particularly bad, because it’s used as currency, apparently has something to do with stopping people turning into mutants, and kills people if you extract it from them. If you can’t explain what those are in the first eleven hours of gameplay, you’re doing something wrong.
The stilted, overlong dialogue isn’t helped by the voice acting, either – it might be bearable to listen to if the voices weren’t so ridiculous, or if any of the characters had personality beyond that of wet cardboard. Read that sentence above; it’s repeating the same sentiment a handful of times over, and would honestly be improved with a good editor. It doesn’t sound realistic, and it’s honestly painful to sit through. Combine that with various plot clichés (“of course, women can be officers if they want to!”, the very concept of water on Mars, to be fair, the future being a brown and grey slum, and the eyerolling, tired concept of using jobs as last names), and bits of originality mixed in, it isn’t compelling or interesting. Technomancers themselves were a pretty cool idea (though admittedly, as soon as I saw Zachariah didn’t have a fixed appearance, the suspicion he’d be a weak character began to rise), but the whole game honestly feels like it’s trying too hard to be like Fallout. The gameplay system and mutant idea are pretty much the same, and while this could have gone really, really well and created a new breakout IP that we honestly need, but the incredibly weak storytelling is what killed this game for me.
I want to play this game. It sounds much more entertaining.
- It tried pretty damn hard to be something interesting
- Dialogue is far too repetitive and tedious
- Poor storytelling in general
- Weak characterisation
It got a 16 rating, and that feels apt. There’s plenty of implied violence and awkward swearing shoved into the dialogue to make it feel more gritty.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by PlayStation UK.]