Game: "The Technomancer"
Published by: Other
Reviewer: Dr. Boogie
Review: I always like to see smaller studios rise up and surprise everyone by turning out solid titles on a fraction of the budget of a larger studio. Spiders is one of those studios that came close with their previous title, Mars War Log, so I was anxious to see what lessons they took away from that experience. One note I would've gone with was to avoid giving your characters goofy names like "Innocence" or "Charity", but I guess you can chalk that up to my Earthling sensibilities not being dialed into Martian culture.
Being a sort of sequel to M:WL, The Technomancer takes place a short while after the events in that story. Human beings have colonized Mars, but after some kind of cataclysm, they have been completely cut off from Earth. Now, the remaining population live in large cities run by a handful of power corporations to shield themselves from both the dangerous fauna of Mars and the sun's lethal rays. As a technomancer, you fight to protect the people of your corporation and one day reestablish contact with Earth, although constant warfare has pretty much put the kibosh on that.
So the downside is that you're basically a corporate stooge handing out beatings to randos who are generally just trying to make ends meet. On the upshot, you have lightning powers. By expending a "fluid charge", you can shooting lightning from your fingertips, charge your weapons with electricity, and more. And for those times when you're out of fluid, you'll be building up your skills with the technomancer's staff and two other weapon disciplines for the mace and shield, and knife and gun.
I was excited to try out all three, and so I dove into the training sessions at the top of the game eagerly. During the normal course of being fed instructions and executing them on my hapless sparring partner, I began to notice that I was being absolutely brutalized. In spite of it being the very first fight of the game, and in a training setting where you might expect the NPC to just stand there maybe making an attack to illustrate blocking, my health bar had emptied within moments. I didn't die, though, and my health slowly refilled after so I kept going.
Then the first actual mission began, going with my mentor to get initiated into the technomancer officer's club, and the trouble began. I seemed to be wailing on guys, but at times they would simply ignore my attacks. I'd watch a thug run up with an attack that was telegraphed from the other side of the planet, yet when I intercepted him with a knife thrust, the knife passed harmlessly through him and I got clobbered. I shrug it off and start beating on him, then he suddenly jumped backwards and hit me with an attack that was as fast as anything I was dishing out. And it hurt. All that happened once more and I was dead. In the first fight of the first quest of the game. What was I missing?
Eventually, I came to realize that every human enemy, from the mightiest soldier down to the lowliest street urchin, has the ability to dodge out of any combo you're unleashing on them. And if you attack them after they've dodged, they unleash a quick and devastating counter attack that makes it seem like all those telegraphed attacks they were making was just them hustling you. It's worth noting that similar counterattacks can only be executed by the player if they've gone up a few levels. I'm not saying those guys haven't leveled up their gang member/raider skill trees, but to be so much better than an elite lightning guy so early on?
So you make a note to watch closely when executing long button mash combos and you also learn to watch out for charging attacks that shouldn't ignore attacks but do. You start to settle into a kind of rhythm where you can draw opponents out and deal with them while your companions handle the others. I'm sorry, I should rephrase that: you WILL settle into that kind of rhythm, because even 10 hours into the game, with a host of brand new abilities and your entire party kitted out to the nines, you'll still find yourself dead after taking 4-5 hits from enemies, or less if one especially large attack gets in there.
Stealth is presented as an option in the game, but as with regular fighting, you see problems with it from the moment it's introduced. You creep up behind someone and give them a little zaperoo right in the head, but it isn't enough to knock them out, AND it takes a fluid charge to do it, AND it alerts everyone else in the area. The only way to get stealth up to the basic level you see in every other game that employs a stealth kill mechanic (i.e., silently dispatching an enemy after sneaking up on them) is to completely max out the three-point stealth tree. Getting to that point takes hours of gameplay, and most of your fights preclude the stealth option.
I hate to focus so much on the combat, but it really is the core of the game, and in spite of its flaws it's still better executed than the narrative. The overarching plot of working for an evil corporation that eventually turns on you is easy enough the grasp, but the story itself is presented in a way that's as confusing as it is frustrating. Of particular note is your interaction with your rival, Alan. You and Alan have a history together. What kind of history? A bad one, according to everyone you ask about him. Often you'll see a writer employ something like memory loss to explain why your character (like you the player) knows nothing of a particular person, but here you are simply asked to accept that the two of you don't get along, and you know all this because he said some rude thing to you at the very beginning of the game. Hours into the game, Alan starts doing things to confirm that he is indeed a dick, but you can't even talk to him until he starts doing those things, and even then only when he's doing them. In between, you can start a conversation but have no conversation options to choose from once you've begun.
And speaking of conversations, the dialog between characters that actually want to talk to each other is stilted and filled with passages that fall just short of being regular things people might say to each other. I have to assume these awkward exchanges are just standard Martian conversations? The voice actors seem to be having just as much trouble figuring that out. Most everyone delivers their lines perfectly flat and without any sort of inflection or delay where it's apparent the writers intended there to be some timing for a joke, dramatic moment, etc. Even our hero isn't immune, as his VA delivers his most passionate lines with all the enthusiasm of a man who just found out it's raining and he doesn't have an umbrella.
I did enjoy The Technomancer. I really did. It's just that my tepid endorsement comes from having to ignore all the effort the game puts into turning me away. Hours in, I have to admit I started tuning out the story, but finding your niche in combat helps bring the game back from the brink. That's why I'll be looking forward to whatever Spiders turns out next, and while I'll still be disappointed if I have to dump on it.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
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