The point and click adventure has come a long way since the likes of The Secret of Monkey Island, with a stark improvement on the visual front being the biggest change seen recently in The Inner World and Broken Age. Developers MidBoss have decided to do things in their own style though, and their addition to this ever growing genre takes the story into a futuristic cyberpunk world, whilst the aesthetics are a blast from the past in the form of pixel art. The title in question, 2064: Read Only Memories, is incredibly retro, but will that be more harmful to its chances of being a success, or should it be embraced to experience a worthwhile tale underneath it all?
In case you haven’t guessed, the year is 2064, the place is Neo-San Francisco and you take up the role of a journalist at a time when humans are becoming genetically and cybernetically enhanced, for both cosmetic and medical reasons. These ‘hybrids’ are frowned upon by certain members of humanity who call for an end to the technology advancements. There are also Relationship and Organizational Managers (ROMs), which are essentially robotic assistants, but then your whole world gets turned upside down when the first sapient machine, Turing, arrives at your rundown apartment at an ungodly hour requiring help.
This rather naive ROM has escaped a home invasion of its creator Hayden’s residence and your character is a known acquaintance of him. It appears Hayden has been kidnapped, but from the moment Turing gets you involved, it becomes clear that there’s a bigger issue at hand. Hayden’s place of work, Parallax, may not approve of Turing and they aren’t the only suspects needing to be investigated, with many others harbouring motives for the crime.
In terms of storytelling, there’s so much going on that you’re never sure who to trust or what to believe and it keeps you hooked in from start to finish. The depth of lore is impressive, with gaps filled in about the past activities of different characters, helping to develop a better overall picture of who you’re dealing with and the state of society in this time period. It helps that certain conversation tree choices can endear you to specific people, because then they’ll be more forthcoming in spilling the beans about stuff. I like the fact that you can also annoy and offend people to the point of them not wanting to help at all. It all depends on the type of person you are. If I was to have one criticism, it’s that sometimes the dialogue goes on too long and there’s nothing of note being said.
As 2064: Read Only Memories is a point and click, the gameplay consists of interacting with numerous items, objects and people in each area you traverse to. There are four options; look, use, talk to and use an item. You’ll feel the need to click on everything with the cursor given, just in case it proves to be important or can inject some light humour into proceedings. From using your laptop to read the latest news and giving a pep talk to a dying plant in your apartment, to chatting to locals in the Stardust nightclub and adding useful items to your inventory for later – you just never know when that carton of spoiled milk will come in handy!
Aside from solving problems via your inventory pickups and talking your way out of trouble, there are a handful of mini-games to freshen up the adventure. Sadly, I believe they do more harm than good. For example, one such game involves diverting traffic via nodes on a map to force a taxi to drive to your location. The problem is, it’s not entirely clearly what to do or what the rules are, and it only gives you one retry before failing you at the next fault. Then there’s a shooting mini-game which just doesn’t lend itself well to the nature of the cursor at all, with seemingly accurate shots causing no damage to the enemy in question. Worst of all is a section requiring a password to be entered, but for some reason the keyboard is dodgy and doubles up every letter or number pressed. I couldn’t even intentionally fail it to move on and spent ages trying to get it to type three at once, seeing as the backspace deleted two at a time also. It’s such a pain.
The negatives don’t end there though, with the cursor not being very well optimised for console, refusing to highlight the item that it’s hovered over. Considering you’ll use this a lot, it’s not ideal, but in fairness it’s bearable for the sake of enjoying the story. What isn’t bearable though is how easy it is to hit the Load button instead of the Save button situated right next to it, sending me back to my last manual save – there’s no auto-saving – without even asking if I’m sure I want it to happen.
Back to the good stuff and the option to have voiceover for the conversations is great as the way the text is presented, pixelated, it’d be a nightmare to have to read it all. The voice cast is darn splendid to, with a who’s who of actors from the Telltale Games such as Adam Harrington and Erin Yvette playing great support characters. It’s safe to say that Melissa Hutchison steals the show as Turing, a truly charming sidekick with a hell of a lot of lines – but would you expect any less from the voice artist for The Walking Dead series’ Clementine? The characters are brought to life brilliantly, although I did expect a little more for Austin Creed’s character Vincent, especially given how much the guy puts into his WWE persona Xavier Woods each week. For some reason the voiceover didn’t play in integral parts of the story for multiple characters which is a shame.
Visually, I can’t pretend I like the pixel art style, but the colours give it a real boost and help everything within the environments stand out. The soundtrack is very fitting for the cyberpunk theme; with it changing up to set the tone at the right point almost every time. This is never truer than near the end when everything gets incredibly tense.
If you’re after a gripping story covering political, social and conspiracy themes, then 2064: Read Only Memories absolutely delivers with its interesting world of diverse characters, a noticeably player driven narrative and twists and turns when you least expect them. Having so much dialogue voiced is impressive and it really helps to hold your attention across the six main chapters. These should take you around six hours to complete – not including the accidental reloads. The opportunity for replayability is a welcome one, with your choices leading to different endings and other junctures playing out differently. The mini-games are a struggle though and those – coupled with the frustrating cursor – take the fun out of the experience, when that’s the complete opposite of their purpose.
2064: Read Only Memories possesses a great tale, and some weird and wonderful characters, but it is let down on the gameplay front. It has all the adventure, yet suffers in the point and click side of things, so take that into account before you consider picking it up.