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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (416)

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I Am Setsuna 2.5/5
Assassin's Creed Origins 4/5
Boot Hill Heroes 3.5/5
The Bard's Tale IV: Bar... 4.5/5
The Bard's Tale Trilogy 1.5/5
The Bard's Tale III: Th... 1.5/5
The Bard's Tale II: The... 0.5/5
The Bard's Tale: Tales ... 0.5/5
The Technomancer 2.5/5
Tyranny 3.5/5
Pine 2/5
Victor Vran 3/5
Front Mission Evolved 2/5
Greedfall 4.5/5
The Deep Paths: Labyrin... 3/5
The Vagrant 4/5
Avadon: The Black Fortr... 2/5
Mass Effect 3 3.5/5
Mass Effect 2 3.5/5
Mass Effect 2.5/5
Knightin'+ 3.5/5
Indivisible 3/5
Final Fantasy XIV Onlin... 2/5
A Total War Saga: Troy 3/5
Stardew Valley 3/5

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The Technomancer   PC (Steam) 

Eurojank at its Jankest    2.5/5 stars

“The Technomancer” is the 2016 sequel to 2013’s “Mars: War Logs,” developed by French B-rate developer, Spiders, and published by perpetual trash peddler, Focus Home Interactive. “The Technomancer” was Spiders’ 4th solo-development project, where they were without the assistance of frequent collaborator, Cyanide.

With Spiders’ and Focus Home’s reputation for creating and pushing Eurojank, I don’t actually remember why I decided to buy “The Technomancer.” I never played or had any interest in “Mars: War Logs,” and only had a vague inkling of what “The Technomancer” was about. It probably came down to a desire to play a cyberpunk game and the fact that it was on sale for less than $8.

Having recently played – and thoroughly enjoyed! – Spiders’ latest effort (at time of writing), “Greedfall,” I decided to give the title that proceeded it the benefit of the doubt. After playing through it, I cannot emphasize enough how much Spiders improved itself with “Greedfall,” as, by comparison, “The Technomancer” is pathetic.

Presentation
Spiders has been using a modified version of Sony’s Free2Use PhyreEngine since they started game development back in 2010. This mod, called the Silk Engine (because Spiders spin Silk, hurr durr), allows the dev team to produce fully 3D Cinematic games with a minimal budget, and ensures that all Spiders games reach a certain baseline in visual flare. As is typical in Spiders’ Silk Engine games, the result is a collection of striking, visually distinct 3D environments populated by oddly-placed invisible blocking volumes and poorly-animated, inconsistent characters. The lack of consistency in character design becomes painfully obvious when it comes to ‘important’ characters who are central to the story, as some of them look incredibly detailed and textured, while others look rather basic, like they could have been lifted from a 6th Generation game. Also, like other Spiders games, the lip synch tends to be quite weird, probably because the developer is French and publishes their games in an abundance of other languages, so something was going to slip through the cracks in localization, and lip synch was it.

Audiowise, “The Technomancer” is fully voiced, as any game attempting to be a modern, Sony-style, Cinematic game should be. Unfortunately, the performances are generally really flat and wooden. While most of the vocal cast is the type of no-name aspiring actor I prefer to hear in my games, since hearing the same handful of anime dubbers over and over gets ridiculous, not even the recognizable recurring voice actors from other games did a particularly good job with their lines in “The Technomancer.” Indeed, the performances feel entirely phoned-in, like they were recorded in a single take, oftentimes with weird run-on sentences because the actor ignored a period, or awkward French-to-English moments that the English-speaking cast didn’t edit on-the-fly. Perhaps the worst vocal performance in the game is none other than the main character, portrayed by Dylan Saunders, which really drags-down the game’s overall narrative, with how disinterested he seems to be in the whole thing.

The other side of the audio, the soundtrack, is significantly rosier. While most sci-fi, post-apocalypse, and cyberpunk games have traditionally had absolutely horrible soundtracks, “The Technomancer” actually bucks that trend, with a number of actually-pleasant tracks in genres ranging from the expected techno beat to fully orchestral. Granted, I’m not going to rush out and buy this game’s soundtrack on CD or .mp3, but the presence of a good OST in a game like this is significant and noteworthy.

Technically, “The Technomancer” is alright. It only crashed on me a couple of times, and generally doesn’t appear to have any game-breaking bugs and glitches in it – which automatically puts it above Bethesda games. It supports Xinput out of the box, which is nice, but the mouse cursor always appears in the center of menu screens, even though an Xinput user won’t have any use for it.

Story
“The Technomancer” is the sequel to “Mars: War Logs,” which I did not play. My understanding of the previous game’s setup for this sequel is that, at some point in the distant future, humanity has terraformed and colonized Mars, but a civil war between two of the colonizing corporations sees Mars cut-off from and abandoned by Earth.

Sometime later, perhaps hundreds or thousands of years, “The Technomancer” picks-up on a Mars that is still dealing with inter-corporate struggles. The corporations have morphed to become less like corrupt businesses and more like city-states, as the descendants of humanity struggle to gather enough water – called ‘serum’ in-game – to survive, all while confined to a handful of man-made domes and natural caves, since the Sun scorches and irradiates the planet’s surface daily. Indeed, a weird variant of Gnostic Christianity has become Mars’ dominant religion, with Father Sun seen as a cruel tyrant, and The Shadow becoming something of a Messianic figure who protect pitiful humanity from His Father’s ire.

Our hero is Zachariah Mancer, a young initiate into the titular Order of Technomancers, a secret society of people with the power to channel electricity through their bodies. In a short tutorial, Zach and his Technomancer mentor head out to an abandoned dome, where Zach learns the secret that all Technomancers must protect with their lives.

After this tutorial, the game proceeds to another, much longer tutorial, in which Zach is recruited into his corporation’s army as a commissioned officer. In this tutorial, Zach is saddled with a pair of the most boring, unremarkable companions I’ve ever seen in a party-based game. Alongside these two lumps of meat, Zach proves himself a loyal citizen, but also bumps into a variety of factions and individuals seeking to sew unrest.

At the end of the second tutorial, Zach is betrayed and forced to go on the lam, with the fangs of a planet-wide conspiracy gnashing at his heels. It is only at this point – officially the game’s second chapter – that things start to get interesting and Zach is joined by companions with more personality than a loaf of stale bread. Unfortunately, for anyone who hasn’t played “Mars: War Logs,” I think the boring dueling tutorials are necessary, as they do actually set up a lot of the world’s backstory, even though the actual plot threaded through them is as milquetoast as possible.

In Chapter 2 and beyond, “The Technomancer’s” intertwining plots and narrative get significantly better, with multiple factions each vying for attention, side-stories that flesh-out companions’ backgrounds, and Zach’s continual dilemmas of both protecting the Technomancers’ secret and keeping his karma up by not wantonly killing humans, in spite of the fact that so many of them want to kill him.

However, in spite of the fact that much of the backstory and lore is creative and unique, in spite of the fact that the narrative weaves many different threads together at once, at times the story feels a bit incoherent and disjointed. Characters will often drop sudden revelation bombs with no pre-amble or proper explanation. Other times, characters who seem friendly to Zach and his cause will suddenly become complete jerks for no reason. At least some of the inconsistencies in the plot and narrative tone come down to nuances that were ‘lost in translation,’ and it’s clear that “Greedfall” had a much better – or at least more experienced – localization team than “The Technomancer.”

This is also one of those games where ‘choices matter,’ and they, surprisingly, actually do. While the concept isn’t new, dating all the pay back to the pen-and-paper Choose Your Own Adventure books, Spiders has shown a knack for building these branching, tangled narratives into their games in ways that feel much more organic and meaningful than the stuff put out by the big “AAA” publishers. As a result, “The Technomancer” definitely has replay potential for those who get excited about such things… and who can stomach the game’s other shortcomings.

Overall, “The Technomancer” is just about the right length for its genre, clocking it at roughly 30 hours. If it had done on much longer, I would have gotten fed-up.

Gameplay
“The Technomancer” falls into the generic modern game genre that cynical Australian reviewer, Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw, refers to as ‘Jiminy Cock-Throat’: A third-person Action game with an open-ish world as well as crafting and Stealth, as exemplified by Ubisoft’s historically-inspired ‘Assassin’s Creed’ games. In general, the gameplay in this type of title boils down to two main questions: ‘Is the combat good?’ and ‘Is the game world fun to explore?’ Unfortunately, with “The Technomancer,” the answer to both of those is a resounding ‘NO.’

For a game that takes place on a fictionalized version of the planet Mars, which has been terraformed and irradiated by the Sun to the point where every life form brought from Earth by the early colonists has mutated into a horrific local variant, we really aren’t given much freedom to explore. At all. I would estimate that 90% of the game takes place in one location – the Dome City of Ophir – which does, admittedly, consist of three inter-connected maps. However, all of the map layouts in the game are unnecessarily cluttered and confusing, while the mini-map that is supposed to help the player navigate doesn’t have an option to fix it in place, so it constantly rotates, making disorientation a real downer. Nearly all of these modern exploration-based games provide the option to lock the mini-map for a reason: It’s because people who know how to read an EFF-ing map always orient it so North is at the top! Stupid moderns with their phone GPSes who don’t know how to read a damned map!

Even worse, while repeatedly ‘exploring’ – which is really just running back and forth over and over – the game’s main map, enemies constantly respawn, making a simple trip from Point A to Point B a constant slog, as battle-after-battle gets in the way. Of course, if the combat was actually fun, battling would be great, since it’s a good way to build experience points. Unfortunately, combat is easily the worst single thing in “The Technomancer.”

Zach has three ‘stances’ he can freely swap between on the fly: The Warrior stance allows him to wield a staff and flip around in combat like a warrior-monk dealing area-of-effect damage. The Rogue stance allows him to dual-wield a dagger and a pistol, allowing for evasive maneuvers, ranged attacks, and damage over time via poison, all in one package. The Guardian stance allows him to wield a club and shield, sacrificing mobility for tankiness and the ability to block incoming attacks instead of avoiding them. I was drawn to the Rogue stance because it’s really the only ranged option, but quickly found myself irritated by just how squishy and weak the Rogue is, dying in 2-3 blows from the enemy – and with enemies armed with guns taking pot-shots, it’s easy to get ganked even in the late game. The AoE of the Warrior’s twirling staff is drastically overstated, but at least the stance has more defense than the Rogue. The Guardian is just too slow and too boring, so I barely used it, only resorting to that class for the second-to-last boss, which absolutely requires it.

In addition to his stances, Zach has access to a ‘magic’-style suite of Technomancy skills, which mostly involve shooting lightning. Maxing out his Technomancy skill tree will give Zach a maximum of 4 magic charges in a meter that refills fairly rapidly. However, most of the Technomancy ‘spells’ are actually active buffs that occupy a segment of the meter instead of just draining it and letting it refill. Thus, with the obligatory buff to add electric damage (and a big change to stun) to all weapon attacks and the obligatory defensive buff that adds (meager) health regen and a knock-back effect when an enemy hits Zach, the player is left with very little wiggle-room for technomancy as a fighting style. It just doesn’t work as a solo focus.

In general, the combat feels very clunky and sloppy, with a focus on annoying dodge-rolling to exploit temporary invincibility. Enemies also love to dodge, making hitting anyone with a melee attack incredibly frustrating, as they’ll typically do a little hop to get just out of range of Zach’s attack, then counter.

Zach isn’t alone with his crappy skillset and crappy combat: He can be accompanied by up to two NPC companions throughout the game. These companions have a wide array of skills, sometimes duplicating things from Zach’s bag of trick, other times doing something completely original. Unfortunately, these are some of the least useful companions I’ve seen in some time. They usually end up dead within moments of a fight breaking out – even when they’re supposed to be tough defensive types – and unless the player chooses specific perks from Zach’s skill trees, there’s nothing to be done once a character is K.O.’d but to win the fight so they can recuperate. Even healing Zach himself is a tedious affair, since the animation to jab a stimpack into his leg is so long and the mobs of enemies so relentless.

Character building is actually very reminiscent to the system in “Greedfall,” though obviously less polished. There are the combat skill trees that deal with the previously mentioned Stances and Technomancy, but there are also skill and ability trees. Zach gains experience by killing foes and completing missions. At each level-up he gains a point that can be spent on a Stance or Technomancy perk. Roughly every 3 levels, he gains an ability point, allowing him to increase his Strength (Warrior bonuses), Agility (Rogue bonuses), Power (Technomancy bonuses), or Constitution (Guardian bonuses), but really Ability Ranks only serve as minimum requirements to equip better gear. Roughly every 5 levels, Zach gains a skill point, allowing him to do no-combat things. This tree is nearly identical to the one in “Greedfall,” with Charisma for persuading people, Science for knowing science-y things, Crafting for building mods for weapons and armor, Lockpicking for… picking locks, etc. However, unlike “Greedfall,” there’s a hard level cap to how many of these abilities and skills Zach can accumulate, with a maximum of 9 skills and 12 ability boosts, which does force players to stick with a specific ‘build,’ but is generally annoying and feels limiting, especially when the game seems to expect the player to swap to different stances – and thus be able to use good equipment in all of them – depending on the situation.

Overall
“The Technomancer” is yet another B-rate effort by a B-rate developer and a B-rate publisher. While certain parts of the presentation and narrative shine like diamonds in the rough, the gameplay is almost entirely devoid of fun or interesting mechanics, instead focusing almost exclusively on truly terrible melee combat. There does seem to be a fairly large niche audience these days who LOVE horrible melee games, so they might get some enjoyment out of it, but for most people, I’d advise taking a pass on this one and playing “Greedfall” instead.

Presentation: 3/5
Story: 3/5
Gameplay: 1.5/5
Overall (not an average): 2.5/5

 

 


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