Technobabylon marks Wadjet Eye’s forte into the world of the cyberpunk.
Brooklynian developer Wadjet Eye Games has put some fine work under their belt over the last few years. Between critically-acclaimed sci-fi adventure Gemini Rue and their long-running Blackwell series, the team has developed something of a reputation among the indie adventure game scene.
This year, with cooperation from indie developer James Dearden, the studio is taking a step into the brave frontier of the cyberpunk near-future. Technobabylon was originally intended as an eight-episode project by Dearden, who released three episodes before being approached by Wadjet Eye. Now Technobabylon is nearing release, and the good folks behind it have given us a first look into their latest exploit in expert storytelling. Let’s plug in.
After hitting us with a bit of stylish opening presentation, Technobabylon puts us in the digitized shoes of Latha Sesame, one of the game’s three protagonists (of which we meet all three, but only get to play as two). Latha is an unemployed woman, presumably somewhere in her 20s, who has no desire to get a job, move out of her government-provided sad excuse for an apartment, or do pretty much anything else that involves interaction with the real world. Latha prefers the world of the Trance, a futuristic internet that can be accessed directly from peoples’ brains. Latha is not only connected to the Trance, but uses it to solve the puzzles that face her.
In Latha’s section, we find ourselves trapped to the confines of her apartment. Something has gone wrong with the building’s network and security systems, locking Latha’s door and cutting her off from going online with the Trance. From here, the game uses the Trance, even in its offline state, as Latha’s main tool in puzzle-solving. Something that made stuff like the Blackwell games so great was the dynamic between the two main characters as they worked together. We see something similar to that later in the preview, but although Latha doesn’t get a dynamic like that, she does get the use of her digital resources to solve puzzles all on her own. Latha can establish connections to the AI systems that control things like her door’s security system and the food vending installation in her wall, and communicate with them freely. They all have distinct art styles to them, really giving off the feeling of interacting with brand icons from different developers. Talking to these AI systems and getting them to do what you need them to do is the crux of the way Latha plays.
Latha’s presence in what we’ve played of Technobabylon is a bit brief in comparison to what the preview’s second character gets. Meet Charlie Regis, a member of Newton City’s unique futuristic police force. Officers have PhDs and a great deal of scientific knowledge, a fact which we soon learn is essential based on what they have to deal with. Their entire police force takes orders from Central, a peacekeeping AI that runs the city. Charlie is less keen on the rise of synthetics and AI, and as such has not had a neural Trance connection installed in his brain. His partner Max Lao chose to opt in, though, and acts as his foil throughout the preview from this point out. This brings us back to a partner dynamic between two characters, giving us someone to talk to if a puzzle stumps us.
As cyberpunk future-cops, Charlie and Max certainly have plenty to do. The pair is pursuing a criminal dubbed the Mindjacker, a murderer responsible for the death of several people suffering from fatal brain injuries related to invasion through Trance. The pair nearly catches the murderer, but their failure opens up to even more mystery. From there, they are called to contain a bomber on a train in the city, whose presence gives way to some interesting worldbuilding that simultaneously expands the game’s universe and reveals some more about its characters. Finally, we are brought to a gruesome murder scene, and use some less-than-conventional interrogation methods on a synthetic robot maid in order to investigate. Puzzle-solving requires thorough scanning of each area, in which interactable items are well-blended into their surroundings. A lot of items come into pay here, each with a logic and purpose just elusive enough to require some deliberation. The preview ends by tying Charlie and Max’s paths to Latha’s, in a clever way that left me itching for more.
Technobabylon left a first impression on me so positive that it makes me terrified at the prospect of anything going wrong with it. It does so well what Wadjet Eye always has done well; take classic point-and-click gameplay, and place it in beautifully-drawn and intelligently-designed environments, with different forms of inter-character interaction acting as the key to solving puzzles. Between Latha’s nervous introversion from the real world to Charlie’s dark and troubled past, it didn’t take me long to feel like I was getting to know these characters intimately. The voice acting and writing all sell themselves well, and the story seems to be holding a good balance of personal and interpersonal narratives. Technobabylon so far does a great job of showcasing the very real hearts beating among the synthetic within its vast, cybernetic city.
Technobabylon launches next month, and will be available on Steam and its official website. Check back for more, as we can’t wait to genetically upgrade ourselves with all the crazy technology the future requires.