Technobabylon is the latest point-and-click from ‘Wadjet Eye Games’, the husband and wife team who produced the critically acclaimed and thoroughly excellent ‘Gemini Rue’ and ‘Blackwell’ series. This studio is something of a novelty in the games industry. While many might consider Tim Schafer’s ‘Double Fine’ or Peter Molyneux’s ‘22 Cans’ to be the epitome of a cult-status studio, the truth is that (unlike Wadjet Eye) these guys are very wealthy, very recognized game devs with legions of fans. I guess what I’m saying is that if you want to be a real hipster, put down your PS4 pad, burn your copy of Brutal Legend and start playing an archaic point-and-click adventure made by a tiny studio in New York.
Wadjet Eye’s reputation for making solid adventure games is well deserved and Technobabylon is no exception to this trend. From the atmospheric opening credits to the tumultuous ending, this game is packed full of originality and atmosphere. In Technobabylon, you play the role of two disenfranchised citizens in the sprawling metropolis of Newton. The year is 2087 and the entire city is controlled by an all-seeing, all-knowing artificial intelligence known as ‘Central.’ Charlie Regis, an old-school detective with a background in human engineering and a poverty-stricken young woman named Latha Sesame with an addiction to the ‘trance’ (a kind of futuristic, full-sensory internet) serve as our protagonists. Charlie does not trust Central to the point that he regularly covers up the camera in his office under the pretence that it is malfunctioning. His appreciation for privacy and his belief in the human side of police work make him something of an odd-ball in a city which simply accepts the convenience of rule by AI. He serves as the plot’s moral compass, especially when compared to his partner, Max Lao, who embraces the complexity of technology in all of its forms. Similarly, Latha Sesame is an expert at the use of the trance, a kind of state of meditation which allows humans to physically interact with computers and technology through the use of an organic material known as ‘wetware.’
If I’m making the plot of Technobabylon sound complex that’s because it is, but the game presents it in such a way that it becomes easy to digest. Take, for example, the concept of the ‘trance.’ The opening puzzle shows the player exactly how this works when Latha is unable to leave her apartment due to a power cut. She must then utilize her abilities to trance with the various AIs which control the objects in her room. One of them is a security obsessed anti-virus program, designed with the personality of a medieval knight. The other is an annoyingly chirpy, anime-inspired computer chef named ‘Cheffie’, responsible for cooking and preparing meals for the inhabitants of all apartments in the city. These AIs become some of the most entertaining and ultimately compelling characters in the game and in truth, I was left feeling that Technobabylon could have explored this idea further. There are other AIs in the game but not nearly as many as I had hoped for and that early promise was, to a certain extent, never delivered upon. But in truth, I’m nit-picking.
Despite suffering from the often convoluted style of puzzle-design that seems to have dogged the point-and-click genre forever, Technobabylon’s puzzles are usually tough but fair. However, where the game really shines is in its presentation of the city of Newton and its inhabitants. The colossal sky-line flanking the highway as Charlie’s patrol car speeds to its next destination, the incorporeal cyber-bar where trance-addicted techno-junkies meet to anonymously dance and play computer games, the dilapidated, graffiti-ridden factories of an abandoned district of the city. All these locations come together to create the impression of a living, breathing city, a city that you believe could really exist sixty years from now. This is aided in no small part by the excellent, ambient soundtrack which, for me, was very reminiscent of the original Deus Ex’s score.
The plot is brilliantly original, especially in the already bloated cyberpunk genre, a genre which Wadjet Eye have already explored in 2011’s ‘Gemini Rue.’ But where Gemini Rue’s World felt oppressive, claustrophobic and ultimately constrictive, the city of Newton feels open and is presented as a bastion of liberal thinking and left-wing acceptance, all the while giving you the impression that this image might just be merely another tool for control of the populace. Voltaire’s famous statement that “it is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere” springs instantly to mind and this subversion of the old cyberpunk cliché of a right-wing government being obviously evil and brutally oppressive is a real breathe of fresh air.