Welcome to Noncomittal-topia
Woah, check out that title! Supposedly Wonderful Future? That must be a hard-hitting, pessimistic commentary on the future of humanity, right? At the very least the story of a false utopia that gradually reveals its sinister undertones or something. As it turns out, it’s neither. All in all the supposedly wonderful future presented in Dmitry Zagumennov’s text-heavy narrative sounds pretty ace to me. The game does touch on some of the issues an advanced society might face but really bails out of delving into them in depth. I can appreciate Zagumennov’s decision to avoid the melodramatic dystopian setting, but as the game progresses and continues to steer clear of making definitive commentary on any important issues or ideas, it starts to look like a general fear of commitment.
125,000 of ’em! That’s a lot of words in one game. Supposedly Wonderful Future tells its story through “RPG-style” text boxes that you access by clicking on characters and interactive pieces of the environment. Most of the word-count is wrapped up in your conversations with NPCs, during which you pick a response every few lines. The age old formula. It’s worth noting that you won’t actually read 125,000 words. The game doesn’t force you to inspect every piece of scenery nor read through every conversational branch.
Still, I consider modern games that rely so heavily on text to be very risky propositions. Obviously they have the potential to be absolutely memorable, disruptive masterpieces, but the possibility of a complete waste of time looms large. I’ll always unapologetically label a game like this “wordy wank” unless it satisfies four basic criteria:
- It must tell an interesting story.
- The writing must be engaging.
- It must respect the player’s time.
- It must justify being a game rather than a book.
Let’s take a closer look at those criteria to determine whether Zagumennov’s work is wonderful or wank.
Is the story interesting?
The story has its ups and downs, eventually averaging out to be reasonably enjoyable. Not remarkable by any stretch, but fairly engaging. You play as Michael, the co-founder of a small tech company, who’s visited by a time traveller from the future. Of course, with a bit of persuasion, old Mike is happy to accompany the lady back to the future (where they apparently do still need roads) and participate in some kind of secret project.
Following that prologue, the story plays out over five chapters, 30 years in the future. To the game’s credit, each section presents a fresh premise that at least vaguely contributes to the overarching narrative. In each one, you dive into the thick of some problematic real-life scenario or other and attempt to resolve it with the benefit of your unique outsider’s perspective.
I wasn’t invested at all at the close of the prologue. I released an almighty groan and prepared my soul for another 100,000 words of drudgery. But then out of nowhere, the first chapter completely turned it around. This is a spoiler-free review, so suffice it to say the tone was darker than I expected, and the scenario more novel. From what I can tell, my conversation choices did affect the outcome of chapter one, which is sadly more than I can say for 95% of the remainder of the game.
And then chapter two happened. What a mountainous, steaming pile of text-crement. This and one other chapter flunked the “interesting story” test. It’s literally all about a girl who posts comedy videos online with her friends and decides that actually she might stop doing that. Remarkably it gets less interesting as you discover more about the scenario. Witheringly wordy wank.
Now here’s the thing about Supposedly Wonderful Future. It desperately wants to be deep, and it’s in this aspect that the game is the most frustratingly non-committal. How philosophically minded you are really determines the level of enjoyment you’ll get out of it. Zagumennov throws in philosophical concepts like they’re going out of fashion (to be fair, they might be), but just dips a timid toe into each before recoiling and running away. If you’re into philosophy at all, you’ll probably find that Wonderful Future’s attempts are too rudimentary to be profound. You might even find some of them annoying.
On the other hand, if you’re not a nerd in the ways of existentialism and metaphysics but enjoy a thought-provoking story, this one might fit the bill.
Is it well-written?
The writing is just about decent enough to pass the test. It communicates the developer’s ideas nicely and creates a unique voice for each character. It does suffer from a couple of problems I’ve encountered in other dialogue-driven games, though.
While the story is generally told competently, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the writing is a bit unrefined. At its worst, it resembles something you’d expect from a smart high-school student. The gaming industry is pretty mature now and at this point I have to hold narrative-driven titles to the same standard I would a book or a movie. Through that lens, Supposedly Wonderful Future falls a little short.
The other issue is the comic relief. On some occasions the humour is well-placed and genuinely funny, but Dmitry, brother, pick your moments. “Witty” remarks are everywhere, and most of them didn’t get much more than a roll of the eyes from me. Usually they appear as an optional response that you can choose to ignore, so some players might be happy to pick a less sarcastic option and move on. For me though, just reading them started to grate.
Does it respect your time?
It’s clear from the start that Zagumennov was determined to create a game that fully respects the player’s time, which gets a huge round of applause from me. Between text threads, you can click the H key to highlight interactive objects and people. Better yet, you can click the N key to highlight the object that progresses the game, which means you can skip the optional stuff. Absolutely ace, mate. But guess what? Dmitry dropped the ball on chapter two. Totally fumbled it and then tripped over his own feet.
I already mentioned that the second chapter is a flop from a storytelling perspective. Of all the sections to start cramming superfluous words into, why that one? You’re breaking my balls, D. At one point, you have to read an entire video comments section, as well as thousands of words of transcribed video footage throughout which very little happens. The chapter presents itself as a sort of criminal investigation, implying that you need to scour these sources for evidence. Thankfully, I correctly guessed that I wouldn’t actually be expected to solve the case. And so it was that I started hammering all the buttons I could to skip through the entire second half of chapter two. And that’s saying something, because for the sake of this review, I tried my best to be comprehensive everywhere else.
I’m happy to say that the rest of the game shows more restraint, although it never quite achieves the balance and immersion of the first chapter.
Should it be a game or a book?
Although basic, Supposedly Wonderful Future’s visuals are endearing. They usually emphasize the tone of the scene and the little animations here and there do a surprisingly good job of breathing life into the game. The music makes for an important addition, too, all courtesy of the Creative Commons community. There are a couple of stinker songs in there, like that one with the synthesized saxophone that nearly made me rip my ears off and throw them out the window. But 99% of the soundtrack perfectly highlights the mood and genuinely adds emotion.
So yes, Supposedly Wonderful Future should be a game. Unfortunately I can’t say that choosing a response every few lines of conversation adds much. They’re handy when used to gain additional information about specific aspects of the story, but when they’re just responses to yet another line of dialogue, it feels pointless. By the end of the game I just picked the top response every time to save clicks.
I did appreciate the option to do a bit of extra reading between chapters, which wouldn’t be possible if this were a book. In Michael’s hotel room, you can access the internet of 2048 to get a feel for the world affairs of the time. You can find some interesting concepts there but it’s permeated by the same lack of commitment and unsophisticated writing that hampers the rest of the game.
I’ve been fairly critical throughout this review but I did enjoy the game. The story’s premise is interesting and it’ll probably tickle your feels without relying on cliches. If you enjoy narrative adventures above all other genres, Supposedly Wonderful Future is worth considering. It’s not wordy wank, but ultimately there are much better sci-fi stories out there, both in book and game form.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Dmitry Zagumennov ; Developer: Dmitry Zagumennov; Players: 1 ; Release: April 18, 2018
This review is based on a PC review copy of Supposedly Wonderful Future given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.