Review: The Technomancer (PS4)
Classifying games has grown harder as distinction between genre blurs. Beyond this there are also more fan defined classifications like “Eurojank”. These are games identified by developers based in Europe that have distinct elements. Usually unpolished with lacklustre visuals combined with gameplay elements that can be clunky. Yet at some level, there is an endearing quality that makes these games more unique against the backdrop of the ever present triple A line-up. French studio, Spiders, is one of the last few that keep the torch of Eurojank alive. With their new release they very much stick to the tenants of Eurojank in what might be a clear example of the pseudo-genre. In all the best and worst ways.
That Space Wizard came from Mars
The setting is the planet Mars sometime in the future. Contact to earth has been lost and now the planet that is most uninhabitable is run by waring corporations that run cities and control armies. You play as Zachariah Mancer, an initiate Technomancer for the corporation of Abundance. As a Technomancer, you are essentially a space wizard who controls lighting. As part of this clan you are provided two goals, to protect the secret of your kind as well as continue to try and discover a way to contact earth. Yet, as the plot progresses, the corporate greed and lust for power starts to shift the balance and through betrayal of the corporation that raised you, a journey beings to seek answers and a way to overthrow the rising dictator.
The plot at first might strike some familiar notes and the game doesn’t help in trying to differentiate itself. At first glance, characters come off as shallow or might just be nothing more than a form of expository info dumps. As the game progresses, it does start to become interesting enough to hold the players attention. Figuring out where the plot might go does hold some weight but one cannot help but feel that the already familiar ground might be overdone by this point.
There is an interesting world to explore. While working through the different roles, players will have to interact with multiple characters that have an impact on the political, social and economic landscape of Mars. Rubbing shoulders with generals while discussing future actions with crime lords, there are some forms of a connected and growing world. Unfortunately, this is where the true problem with regards to story and progression really arise. As much as the game wants the player to be invested, it does not allow for much exploration. Character interaction is limited to few and even then most of the time the dialogue only really hits points of exposition. No character really stands out besides the companions, and that might only be because of how plain the rest of the characters are.
The smallest choice, the greater impact
Quests are the meat of the game, with players taking up jobs from whomever is willing to give. They don’t stretch too far from a target kill or a delivery but it is the ramifications that really give them purpose. Most actions taken by the player will have impact on two systems, Reputation and Karma. The latter are points based on the good or bad actions, which will in turn help how your companions will look at you. Reputation holds much more weight. There are multiple factions, each with their own interests. Reputation might seem meaningless, but decisions made early will come back later in the game, so understanding that at some point the player may need help is key to the decisions made. Beyond the reputation gained or lost, side content actually has a much bigger impact than initially expected with moments sometimes getting some payoff story wise.
It is here where The Technomancer truly shines. As an RPG having actions come back in sometimes meaningful ways creates a sense that choices mean more than just a bit of Serum (the currency in the game). Finding out that what appears to be a simple choice early on can actually lead to something worthwhile and can be extremely satisfying. Yet, the game also doesn’t realise how to fully capitalise. Choice is usually a factor in quests but often times it is not as apparent as the player might think. The quest log is extremely bare and provides no more than a sentence of the action at hand. It does not help that the map only acknowledges the original quest location and not the possibilities presented. While it is nice to have interpretation away from the game just giving you the options, this ties to a later point of gameplay where the effort to try and explore and find different methods of play is not worth it. There are however moments where it feels rushed. Big plot points are quickly thrown away, and some of the deeper character actions seem to lead to nothing. It can feel disappointing when a core part of the story just kind of ends without any kind of weight. Entire story arcs can be over in the blink of an eye and this really comes in contrast to when there is a legitimate payoff.
Stance switching and mutant ditching
With The Technomancer being an Action RPG, combat is a very important element. From humans to mutants, players are going to have to utilise all forms of combat given. The Technomancer does not use traditional class based systems. There are three stances, the Warrior, the Rouge and the Guardian along with all the lighting abilities that the Technomancer can hold. These are traditional set ups, with the Warrior focusing more on heavy damage, the rouge with more quick attack focus and finally the guardian with the ability to block. In combat the controls can be excessive and sometimes confusing. The square button activates your general quick attack, while you’l press Triangle to pull off a heavy attack. Stances can be quickly changed by holding R1 in combination with one of the face buttons. L1 brings up a tactical menu where all the options are available and L2 are for the player’s quick select actions which can be abilities or items. Finally, R2 is a special action of the stance, with the Guardian being able to block, the Warrior doing an area attack and the Rouge having the ability to shoot enemies. Understanding how each works and when it’s best to use it is a big part of the game. Experimentation and stance switches is highly recommended.
Yet one of the biggest aspects in terms of combat is the difficulty. Damage hits extremely heavy on the player and the party even on the easier difficulties. On normal, in the early stages just four hits are enough to take down Zachariah. It can feel like hitting a brick wall in the early portions of the game while players try and come to grips with the combat systems. While the game progresses, the damage output will always remain high meaning that every encounter requires full attention as one slip up could mean a very quick death. Luckily the save system is extremely lenient so a cautious player who saves won’t be losing too much time. Yet this difficulty can also lead to less experimentation. The camera can force players into a singular playstyle as cheap shots from the enemy are a constant threat. It is why the game really pushes the play to change up the stances based on the situation.
Outside of combat, prepare for a constant run between locations. The game really opens up in the second chapter and traveling between locations back and forth can become a monotonous chore. Enemies don’t change up and having to fight the same enemies with the same strategies grows tiresome. Be prepared to constantly question the rules of the game. There is hardly uniformity in the design with some enemies respawning or some changing hostility. Players will be constantly guessing just what will happen the next time you run by a group of guards, and there is rarely a definitive answer.
As an RPG, leveling up and building the character is key, though you should also place emphasis on your equipment. With every level the player gains a skill point, which can be used to gain additional combat bonuses in particular stances as well as in Technomancer powers. Over a few levels players also gain regular Talent and Attribute points that can be used to grow Zachariah. Attribute points tie to base stats in the game and provide bonuses and allow for higher equipment to be used. Talents are more general actions that split between more dialogue options and more practical in game actions like Lockpicking. There are three levels and have certain equipment or party members can increase these levels. Experience comes easily enough so building Zachariah is easy enough to match any taste. Crafting weapons seems bigger than originally presented, but the limited nature of upgrades is very disappointing.
Clumsy look for a Clunky feel
On the presentation front, The Technomancer falters heavily. The game is not particularly good looking on its own but with the constant visual bugs and issues, it can really drag itself down. Lip syncing is laughable, textures are flat and Animations are extremely clunky throughout the game, often leading to more questions about what just happened than actually feeling the impact of a scene. Some moments can get a good laugh at the utter absurdity of what is being watched. Scenes and animations are also reused throughout the game, so get used to watching the team discuss the mission while in the car because it will happen a lot. Designs also don’t do much for originality. Character designs can be uninspired, never going too far out of one dimensional sci-fi tropes. Mars also suffers from being a constant barrage of grey and red.
Sound design holds up well enough but is by no means ground breaking. Voice Acting is serviceable, with some stand out moments from the party members. They actually can sell scenes quite well through the voice acting despite the clumsy writing. Minor characters however, don’t get the same level of care. Voices are reused and sometimes are can feel lifeless. Main protagonist Zachariah suffers the most with most of the lines delivered in a monotonous tone that honestly puts into question if he even gives a damn. The score itself is fine but doesn’t stand out enough to really make you stop and listen. It is your usual sci-fi dread but it does tie well to the locations the game takes you, so don’t expect to remember any of the music five minutes after turning the game off.
The Technomancer is a flawed game. It struggles in creating a rich world and providing the means for player investment, visually it is a mess at points but still has a simple charm in the design, and combat can be unfair at times and grow tedious quickly. Yet, if you are willing to overlook these issues and welcome the clumsy weirdness with open arms, The Technomancer can be an enjoyable experience. When the game starts to feel tiresome it somehow manages to keep to interested enough to push on to the end. With most Eurojank games, a tolerance is required for the issues and it is required to overlook them to really enjoy the game. Unfortunately, at the current asking price it might be worth waiting for a sale or price drop. There is definitely something worth exploring over the 30 hour plus experience, but the unpolished nature of the game doesn’t justify a purchase right now. If you ever in the mood for some Eurojank fun on Mars, check it out some point down the line.