It’s been a while since I sank my teeth into a decent sci-fi RPG. My love affair with the genre dates back to the criminally underrated Anachronox, & more recently the Mass Effect trilogy. As such, I was intrigued to play through The Technomancer – from the makers of Mars: War logs – ahead of its launch. After all, a dystopian sci-fi adventure with a B-movie asthetic, I was surely going to be in my element, right?
Yeah, about that…
Taking place in the same universe as Mars: War Logs, The Technomancer puts players in the role of Zachariah Mancer, the newest member of a secretive order who can harness electricity as a weapon. Upon completing his training, Zachariah begins his journey as a peacekeeper for the city of Abundance, one of the few bastions of humanity left battling for control of dwindling water supplies. Eventually the status quo is rocked, and Zachariah is thrown head-first into a world of long lost secrets, conspiracies, and adventure across the Red Planet.
Well, that’s the intention anyway. What we’re given is an easily telegraphed narrative that ruins any plot twists before they occur. It also suffers from some of the worst localisation I’ve seen in a long time, resulting in dialogue that is terribly disjointed and subtitles riddled with poor grammar. I honestly feel for the good half of the voice cast that did the best they could with the two-dimensional characters they were given, but the other half deliver such mediocre performances that it ruins the conversations overall. I ended up skipping everything I could, yet didn’t miss any important details thanks to the forced exposition utilising the subtly of a sledgehammer.
And don’t get me started on the awful camera angles. No, really.
The art direction for The Technomancer comes across as a mixed bag. I enjoyed the synth-based soundtrack that skillfully matched the on-screen action whilst giving me vibes of 80’s B-movies, and the design of locations such as Noctis helped add some pleasing variation, but the problem was that everything else was too unrefined. Lighting effects created shadows that flicked with strobe-like intensity, while movements for both main characters and NPCS were stiff and limited in variation. In the case of one NPC, I watched her rotate between three poses with clockwork precision during one conversation. I came out of it with a whole new appreciate for motion capture, I assure you.
So, with the narrative and visuals not impressing me, you may be wondering if the actual gameplay manages to pull things back. The unfortunate answer is that you can see a game that could have been good, but there are so many flaws that it ruins any chance of redemption. The combat went from initially boring to intriguing once I had levelled up a few times. Unfortunately that doesn’t last, as just when you think you’ve got the rhythm down the difficulty spikes so much that it makes Zachariah feel underpowered until the very end.
It’s a good job that Zach’s Warrior stance dodge looks as good as it does, because I ended up doing it for three-quarters of every fight in the final 10 hours of the game. Well, I say that – I only liked it when it actually worked. With your companions being useless, and the game not limiting the number of enemies that attack you at once, the situation is made even worse by the ranged attacks that aren’t telegraphed in any way. Upgraded gear did little to help, either, culminating in a boss fight that was one of the most frustrating things I have ever played. As a result any victory felt unsatisfying, coming off as me being lucky instead of skillful.
The relentless difficulty curve meant that travelling to objectives became slower because of the increased number of enemies that spawned. In the end it felt like a cheap way to pad the play time instead of adding more varied quests. It’s frustrating as the devs demonstrate they are capable of more interesting interactions during one particular mission (which requires knowledge of modern astronomy to complete.) Instead, we’re reduced to missions which require chance rolls dependent on non-combat skills being selected or more all-out brawls.
I could honestly go on for many paragraphs with my gripes with this game – such as temperamental interaction mechanics, NPCs blocking my path on a number of occasions, climbing feeling unnecessarily slow – but what’s perhaps the most damning thing is that there is no real redeemable aspect about The Technomancer. In comparison, Alpha Protocol suffered from a horrible first mission and awful combat, but was redeemed by its later missions and divergent storyline. Another example is Mass Effect, which had clunky combat and those Mako sections, but it was saved by an excellent & well paced story filled with fantastic characters.
The most frustrating thing is that I can see the potential here. The combat could have been a highly mobile and tactical affair, but is ruined by poor balance. The story could have been intriguing had it used some subtlety and better localisation. The visuals could have been par for the current generation had there been more time for polish. Perhaps had this been released a decade ago I may have been more forgiving, but instead what we’re left with is a 20+ hour-long game I struggled to get through, and only continued with because it’s my job as a reviewer.
Well, that and I refused to let it beat me, because I’m a stubborn fool.
- 80’s synth soundtrack fits well with every scene.
- Some of the locations, like Noctis, are visually interesting.
- The combat looks great in action…
- … but it’s so unbalance that players will feel underpowered for most of the game.
- Uninspired characters & poor localisation make a predictable storyline even worse.
- A lack of polish in multiple areas makes it feel dated compared to other modern RPGs.
[one_half_last]The Short Version:
Fans of Mars: War Logs might enjoy exploring more of Spider’s dystopian Mars, but I honestly couldn’t recommend The Technomancer to newcomers looking for a sci-fi RPG. Its poor combat balance, dated animations, and predictable storyline result in a game that really could have been so much more, but ends up being uninspiring.
Platform: PS4 (Tested), Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive