Developer & Publisher: Chaosmonger Studio/Assemble Entertainment
Released: January 26, 2021
Requirements: Minimum, Window 7, 64 bit; Recommended Windows 10, 64 bit
Processor: Minimum, i5-8250U; Recommended, i7-9700 or equivalent
Memory: Minimum, 4 MB RAM; Recommended 16 GB RAM
Graphics: Minimum, Intel UHD 620; Recommended, Nvidia Geforce 1060
DirectX: Version 11
Storage: 4 GB available space
Chaosmonger Studio / Assemble Entertainment
Well it took me a while, real life and other things being what they are, but I was able to finish the other day.
Encodya tips you into the cyber-punk world of Neo-Berlin, accompanying 9-year-old Tina and her guardian robot SAM-53 as they traverse the streets, alleys and rooftops of the city. Played in the third person, the 3D character models presented on pre-rendered backgrounds create streetscapes immediately reminiscent of things like Blade Runner. Flashy, grungy, grimy; all feed that impression. The VR addiction of the city’s residents adds a Matrix-style control mechanism, which is the germ of the underlying narrative.
What really gets things going is Tina’s discovery of a message locked inside SAM from her father, which she can’t unlock until her 10th birthday, but which the powers at be now appear to want. Tina and SAM set off to unravel the mystery/s.
There is a lot to like in Encodya, the look and feel of the world being first among them. There is so much in almost every screen that you forgive the short loads that accompany each scene change. The level of detail is obvious, from big things to little almost afterthoughts, and references to other things abound, creating a rich and immersive world in which to play.
(And that one of the NPCs told me about the futility of being a Fiorentina supporter blew me away!)
Tina and SAM are at the centre of things, and their relationship works. It could have been so many things, but I was convinced. The actors playing the parts have a fair bit to do with that, as does the animation of SAM in particular. Indeed, SAM does more than just hold up his end of things, and was pivotal I thought in cementing the realism of the bond between him and Tina. So much so that I switched to playing SAM a lot of the time. Which is not to say that Tina doesn’t do an excellent job of being an orphan child scavenging to survive in a bleak world, just that I really liked SAM.
As indicated, you can switch between Tina and SAM at will, each of them following the other around. Some tasks or conversations can only be carried out by one or the other of them, which might result in eg. Tina saying something like “I think SAM needs to talk to him,” but much of the time they are interchangeable in terms of who you play, although their comments or observations may well be different which is a reason to switch back and forth. They share an inventory, so it doesn’t matter who gathers the item, although again some items might only be able to be picked up and used by one of them (heavy things for instance, way too big for a little girl to manage).
The score works better at times than at others but I turn it down a lot anyway so it tends not to make the same impression as it might otherwise. It did though heighten the mood in places, and help sooth the beast in others. NPCs aren’t as well voiced as the main characters but it’s a comparative thing; I don’t recall thinking any of them were ordinary, let alone poor.
The completely point and click nature of things will appeal to many, as will the ability to save at will. Play in easy mode and you can ask SAM for hints, and the spacebar will show collectable items (but not all hotspots). Or play hard and be on your own.
The game explores some contemporary ideas, and you can discover those for yourself. So too you can form your own views about the despotic Mayor Rumpf.
There are some conversation puzzles requiring you to choose the right responses in a sequence in order to move on, but by and large the puzzling is inventory based, involving finding and using the right items in the correct way. You can combine items in your inventory, which sits in a ribbon across the bottom of the screen and scrolls left and right. It is accessed via the rucksack icon lower right, or by the mouse wheel, and can be hidden until you want to look for something. Which is a good idea, because it can occasionally get in the way of things you need to find if left “open.”
As can SAM, and while he easy to move, if you don’t know he is in the way it can be an issue, particularly if you are playing on the Hard setting.
There are oh so many different screens (one article I read said over 100), which is both a plus and part of what I felt was the main minus of Encodya.
It is such a big place, with so much going on and so many things to find, and it is very easy to miss things. This is part and parcel of these sorts of games, but there is so much to go back over if you don’t have the things you need. The design of certain locations doesn’t help; four floors of an apartment building for instance, or the various decks of a ship, just felt like unnecessary back and forth. Moreover, “what to do next” can be directionless, leading to more backtracking and wandering to try and move on. And there are certainly times when I thought “why on earth would I think to do that,” which I accept might be more about me than the game, but taken together meant the game tended to overwhelm itself.
I did use the hints, and they can help, but they can also be unhelpfully bland. I ended up having a walkthrough close by for about the last third, which I should have done earlier on, but which the strengths of the game made me want to avoid. But I gave in, and enjoyed myself more as a result.
The interface is straightforward. Hotspots will react to your curser, generating two or three action icons, things like look, talk, or take. Hover your curser over an item and your chosen character will likely look in its direction, another nice immersive touch. Do the same on an inventory item and a description will pop up telling you what it is. Click and you will get icons to use or look, the former enabling it to then be used in the gameworld. If it can’t be used in the way you tried, you will need to select it again to try it somewhere else.
Arrows will pop-up in response to your curser to indicate you can eg. enter a building, or access an alleyway. This is where a short load will occur. Double-click the arrow to “jump” there, or click to walk sedately. Point and click to move around in the scene, or double-click to run. A map bottom left of screen will also allow you to quickly access accessible locations.
Two icons sit top right, a cog which accesses the menu and an exclamation point which contains your objectives. Top left are images of Tina and Sam, and clicking one is how you quickly and efficiently change your playable character. It clocked in at about 12 hours of playtime.
Despite my misgivings, Encodya provided a whole heap of entertaining upsides. A tighter more focused game may well have produced something special.
I played on:
OS: Windows 10, 64 Bit
Processor: Intel i7-9700K 3.7GHz
RAM: Corsair Dominator Platinum RGB DDR4 32GB
Video card: AMD Radeon RX 580 8192MB