Digital games are a unique medium that have seen an extraordinary evolution since their birth. The first inklings of a technology-saturated future came from a cathode ray tube amusement device in 1947, but could anyone have predicted the worldwide domination games have achieved in today’s society? It’s likely that games have reached such astonishing levels of popularity, ones that even eclipse the popularity of film, because they are a form of ‘play’.
Humans engage in play because it fulfills deep, psychological needs; it is fun, it offers stress-relief, it offers a space to explore one’s own creativity amongst other things, and it does so in an interactive manner. Despite these therapeutic benefits, we still know the distinction between the virtual and the real. But in the cyberpunk world of Technobabylon, a sci-fi adventure game brought to us by Technocrat and Wadjet Eye Games, those barriers are entirely dissolved.
Set in the futuristic locale of Newton city, Technobabylon introduces players to a realm where gengineering (genetic engineering) is the norm, a sophisticated AI system called Central maintains a constant surveillance on over 9 million citizens, and the Trance, an abstract and addictive form of meditative technology, has ensnared the minds of millions into becoming one, much like the Borg collective in Star Trek. The name ‘Technobabylon’ itself hints at the once holy city of Mesopotamia, Babylon, which was home to the Hanging Gardens (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world), and a place renowned for its wealth, beauty, and luxury. Technobabylon takes this concept and transforms it into a futuristic utopia which is frighteningly believable. An opening cutscene reveals a man standing outside a glass framed building, as passers-by walk on oblivious to his plan, much like the player; the atmosphere is alive with an eerie hiss of electricity, propelled by a dark ambiance that reaches a climax when the man says he has “been planning this for years.”
The game transitions to a floating, digital image of a pixel-art punk girl with silver-green hair, dressed in garments of the future. She proceeds to explain the inebriating nature of the Trance, and leaves us with the suggestion that our real-world achievements are not more meaningful than our virtual ones-which seems rather true in this Technobabylonian empire. Through some on-point voice-acting, we learn that her name is Latha Sesame, and once she hesitantly disconnects from the Trance, we are launched into brilliant point-and-click gameplay that looks like it was plucked straight out of the nineties.
Trapped in her apartment, we are invited to explore our surroundings and collect any useful items that may aid our escape. Technobabylon adopts the familiar combination of left mouse click to interact with items, and provides a wonderfully detailed explanation/hint system should you use the right mouse button. In this first chapter of the game, curiously entitled ‘Prisoner of Consciousness,’ players first encounter the separation of organic from the inorganic when they re-enter the Trance in search of clues. Those who have never imagined what software that protects computers against malware actually looks like may be surprised when they meet a virtual manifestation of an antivirus, complete with knight’s armor and archaic linguistic mannerisms.
He is not the only example of Technobabylon’s quirky cast of AI, which extends to ‘Cheffie,’ an overwhelmingly chipper virtual chef. It is hard not to be impressed by the sheer depth and personality of Technobabylon, whether it is through the characters themselves, the underlying questions it raises, or the lovingly crafted background art, there is a story here for everyone, but especially so for our inner detectives. After some light sleuthing and heavy sabotage, Sesame escapes her prison, the game segues back to the man in the alleyway, and so begins chapter 2 of this deliciously woven mystery.
Here Technobabylon diverts to a scene depicting two CEL agents on the case of a ‘mind-jacker’ on the loose. Such is the state of the criminal world of 2087, where streams of data can literally be purged from victims’ minds with lethal consequences. Both Charlie Regis and Max Lao are standing outside Animus Organics when a screaming body suddenly plummets down onto the road, painting it with a pool of blood. For me, it was at this point that Technobabylon became irrevocably immersive.
The game’s complexity not only stepped up a notch, but it managed to capture the brilliance of adventure classics in its ability to plunge you into a world where you can lose yourself, and have a laugh at the in-game humor. When Regis and Lao return to CEL headquarters, players can choose to focus their efforts on the case, or embrace their wacky side as they repeatedly dial random numbers on their personal phones, which include contacts such as the French Embassy and Blackmail ‘R’ Us. Technobabylon’s well-paced gameplay succeeds in both consistently intriguing the player and revitalizing the adventure game genre as a whole. Even when the puzzles step up a notch in difficulty, such as when Regis and Lao are entrusted with exploring the apartment of one Giels Van Der Waal, the tangible sense of mystery cannot be extinguished.
In addition to making an intelligent commentary on the intersections between technology and humanity, Technobabylon is a true feast for the point-and-click enthusiast. It is brought to life by an irresistible cast of characters, presents players with a series of rich, ethical dilemmas, and dips into the sci-fi palette with just the right amount of twists and turns. Whether its vision of the future is an accurate one remains to be seen, but time will tell, and Central will be watching. Technobabylon is currently available on Steam for $14.99 USD. If you are partial to old-school mystery adventure titles, this is a must-play.