Whispers of a Machine

 

 

 

Genre:    Adventure 

Developer:   Clifftop Games, Faravid Interactive

Publisher:    Raw Fury

Released:   April 17, 2019              

Requirements (minimum):

  • OS: Windows XP/Vista/7/8/10
  • Processor: 300 Mhz processor
  • Memory: 128 MB RAM
  • Graphics: 640x360 32-bit
  • Storage: 800 MB available space
  • DirectX: Version 9.0c

 

 

 

 

by Dan Peach

 

Whispers of a Machine

Clifftop Games, Faravid Interactive

If you thought the future was going to be an AI controlled utopia of automation, think again. It's not. Well, at least not according to Whispers of a Machine, a new 3rd person point-and-click adventure from Clifftop Games (Kathy Rain) and Faravid Interactive (The Samaritan Paradox). In their vision of the future, all AI, CPUs, and basically anything with any kind of electronic brain, is outlawed....outlawed by the 3rd Decree! And woe betide anybody caught defying it! You can't even ride in an elevator anymore. It's THAT serious.

So, what happened? Well, apparently, years before, we humans were getting along nicely with all our gadgets, and everything seemed to be fine. But, under the surface, behind the scenes, in dark rooms and back alleys, certain people were getting restless. They didn't like this embracing of our new artificial overlords. And some other people didn't like that they didn't like it. So tensions grew. And grew. And then grew some more. Until.....The Collapse. Some kind of catastrophic apocalyptic event that almost destroyed everything. And out of that rose a new world. A world devoid of any advanced computer based technology. A world where such fanciful things are confined to museums and curiosity shops. All in non-working, de-activated, and replica form naturally.

And now, some 86 years after The Collapse, things appear to be going quite well in Nordsund, a small and docile Swedish town perched atop a large platform, safe from the horrors of the past. The trains run on time, the police enjoy the sleepy nature of their jobs, and the only thing to worry about is the ever growing pile of old pre-collapse junk. But even that's not a worry since it's part of the local scenery, and much beloved by everyone, especially scrap hunters and the local kids who just can't get enough of climbing to the top as a way to pass the time since there are no game consoles or tablets anymore.

Today though, things are a bit different. Today there has been a murder. And it's the second murder in quick succession. Enter us, the player, as Vera Englund, a federal agent, dispatched from the nearby city, by the Central Bureau, to investigate. We're no ordinary agent though. No. We have been injected with something known as "The Blue". The Blue is one of only a few technologies still allowed to be used, and even then, only by the Central Bureau. It grants Vera and her fellow agents special abilities in the way of augmentations. And there's quite a wide variety. And we can use them all in our quest to find out just who is behind these grisly killings.

Whispers of a Machine has a couple of features that set it apart from your average standard point-and-click adventure. One is the aforementioned augmentations. Right from the start we have access to three of these special abilities. We can increase our muscle strength for a brief period, we can scan the environment for biometric data, and we can monitor a person's heart rate and demeanour. Using all three of these, we can break open lockers, follow invisible footprints, and tell when someone is trying to hide something from us. The second feature is the now seemingly much sought after choice making mechanic wherein you get to decide how to question/react to people at certain times. You have a choice of three distinct "paths" you can follow throughout the game - empathetic, assertive, or analytical - and whichever way you decide to go will have an impact on certain elements of the game later on. In particular, your choices will affect which new augmentation you receive each morning, as The Blue slowly alters your biochemistry over the course of four days. You will get just three new abilities, out of a larger selection, and whichever ones you have will determine how you go about solving certain puzzles throughout the game. The problem though is that the game just isn't really long enough or expansive enough to really make use of these features to an effective degree. You will probably find yourself using your new abilities only two or three times throughout the entirety of the game. And they're used in very specific places at very specific times so it becomes pretty obvious which you need to use and when.

In addition to solving puzzles with your augmentations, there are also the usual inventory based problems to solve, which won't present much of a problem, as well as some out-of-the-box thinking, which might cause some head scratching. You might find yourself having to consult a walkthrough multiple times during the first two-thirds of the game as some solutions just don't link together, and Vera doesn't give up much in the way of hints to assist us. One example is a certain click-things-in-a-certain-order type puzzle to reveal a secret door. The solution is contained within a book that you picked up a while before, which you will have read at the time, but by now forgotten all about. There's no reason to think you should go back and look in this book to find the solution to this puzzle. A little guidance along the lines of "Hmmm, this reminds me of something. Did I read something about this earlier?" would go a long way to preventing a lot of frustration. Although, it will become apparent as you progress that if you still hold an item, then it will still have some use, as Vera will unceremoniously declare that she is just going to throw items away when they become useless. All that being said, the game does feel like it gets easier going into the final third. Almost as if it were designed by a different person. It just flows better overall. In terms of both puzzles and story.

So, how is that story then? Well, the game certainly does raise some interesting questions about our obsessions with technology and our current push towards developing more AI based technology. It makes us think about the possibilities and the consequences. It brings up ideas of God and whether we could create God, and if we could, would we want to, and what might one person do with all that power? It's all very interesting stuff, but unfortunately the game just doesn't delve deep enough into it to offer any meaningful commentary. This isn't helped by the fact that we're cast into the game almost immediately without any real intro explaining the history of what happened and the present day situation. All of the information that we are able to get is gleaned from comments by other characters and things stuck on walls. There were supposed to be all these different factions in the past - some for AI, some against - and the entire story is a murky conspiracy involving some of these different groups. But we never really get a sense that there is anything at stake. Nobody seems to really be fighting for much of anything. It's all just a bit lacklustre. And yet it builds up to what should be a very significant moment in the history of our entire existence. A moment that we, personally, have to make a decision on. But it just doesn't feel significant. It feels like the world will just carry on around us as normal. Nobody noticed. Nobody cared.

Let's talk about the characters. Nordsund is filled with just about a big enough cast of different characters for us to interact with. But, aside from the characters who are directly involved in the main story, not much back story or characterisation is offered for most of them. There's no sense of belonging. No sense of community. No sense of a world going on behind the main story of the game. The characters feel like they're only there to serve us. We spend hours quizzing everybody about everybody else with a simple "What do you think about so and so?" and all we ever really get in response is "I don't know him that well" or "I have heard of her. She's a politician". The world feels empty. There's no fabric to it. Which is a shame, because with such an interesting future new world, there could have been a lot of things going on. A lot of things to get involved with. A lot of things to uncover. We could have really got a sense of what living in this time was really like. The struggles, the trials, the tribulations. The slow march towards the dim light at the end of the tunnel. The possibility of something new. But, sadly, we don't get any of that. The main story is played out too quickly over the top of it all. And it's difficult to connect with what's underneath.

Visually the backgrounds are perfectly acceptable. But again, they feel empty and flat, and like everything is just there because we need it to solve a puzzle. There are some very striking scenes though, particularly the ground levels scenes, where we see remnants of the old world, and the great hulking tower where the town is perched, looming ominously in the background. It would have been nice to spend a little more time down there, exploring the wreckage of that old world, and perhaps meeting some people who could have filled in a lot of history for us. People uninterested in plugging into the new world. People seeking something different. That would have linked nicely to the main story too, if these people were part of those factions. But, I digress. The character art is where the visuals really shine. The dialogue portraits and the in-game characters are well done and nicely detailed, and blend perfectly with the backgrounds. The graphic design of the game overall is also very good. It all has an 80's computer display vibe to it. And there are even a few times in the game when you have to access computers and use a command-line interface. All of that is very very nicely done indeed, and it all feels very realistic.

A definite high point for the game is its voice acting. Dave Gilbert, of Wadjet Eye Games, once again takes on the role of directing the voice sessions, as he did for Kathy Rain. And he does a stellar job. It's a definite step up from Kathy Rain, which was already very good. Dave really shows that he has grown into that director role, and he can only get better, especially when he has well written dialogue and talent that can deliver. Fortunately he has both here. Everybody does a fantastic job, but the standout is Ivy Dupler playing our main character of Vera. The voice perfectly fits the visual and she does an excellent job of capturing the subtleties of Vera, who is by far the most engaging character of the game, unsurprisingly. She is somewhat of a tortured soul, suffering with flashbacks and strange memory issues throughout. There's a lot going on with her, and there are some genuinely touching moments of Vera sitting alone on the bed, reminiscing with a past loved one, who may or may not be real, as well as some more immediate and heated moments later on where she appears to be arguing with her own subconscious. All of that requires a certain range, and Ivy brings it without a problem. Everybody is impressive though. If I were looking to voice a game, then I'd definitely go to Dave to get it done.

In conclusion, I would recommend you play this game. It's not perfect by any means, but there is sufficient substance to warrant at least one play through. There is certainly a very interesting idea here. An idea that will make you think about things, at least a little bit. I didn't play The Samaritan Paradox, but I did play Kathy Rain, and I did enjoy it. I have no doubt that these developers can make rich and engaging content. Whispers of a Machine, for me, just falls slightly short in the end.

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May 2019

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