Inside Pulse 12

Review: Read Only Memories (PC)

romcoverRead Only Memories
Publisher: MidBoss, LLC
Developer: MidBoss, LLC
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 10/06/2015

Video games have a long history of not being the most inclusive hobby out there. Like in other major mediums, your race, gender, or even sexuality are less likely to be represented unless you fit the perceived normality. However, more recent efforts have proven that there is a market out there for different kinds of games with different kinds of casts. Read Only Memories is one such effort, having raised its funding through Kickstarter. But we’re not here to discuss this game’s social impact. We’re here to discuss the overall quality of this game.

rom1ROM takes place in the year of 2064, in the city of Neo-San Francisco. The world has seen a number of changes, both technologically and socially. LGBT folks are treated like anyone else, and there’s less fuss over pronouns. People use the net to connect over a virtual space in ways that Google is probably trying to implement even now. The real news of the time is the new frontier of human modification. Cybernetics have allowed humans to replace parts of their bodies (whether lost beforehand or not) with mechanical parts, and genetic manipulation has advanced medicine in fantastic ways. There are even a group of people known as Hybrids, who have merged themselves with feline DNA to a degree. The stage has been set for a city that’s managed to overcome some social stigmas while creating whole new ones.

In this story, you’ll play as a investigative journalist who’s been relegated to reviewing new electronic devices instead of digging for a hot lead. Thankfully, such a hot lead breaks into your house in the form of a little robot named Turing. Turing claims that they are the first ever example of sapience in a machine. More importantly, however, their “father,” a man by the name of Hayden, has been kidnapped. Turing’s theory is that Hayden was kidnapped in order to get access to the technology that powers them. They enlist your help to find Hayden and get to the truth of the matter.

rom2This game runs like a typical detective story for the most part. You investigate leads, meet interesting people, and get into some dicey situations. The game excels in characterization. Turing is a fascinating subject, as they are still trying to cope with things like identity and emotions. Other characters include an infamous hacker, a Hybrid rights activist/lawyer, and a disgruntled former CEO of a major technology corporation. It’s worth noting that things like gender and sexual preference are never really mentioned. No one is shocked by a gay couple or a someone identifying as a gender that doesn’t match with preconceived notions based on appearance. The game doesn’t spend pages of text preaching about this. It just presents a world where these issues have been resolved, and it makes for a fascinating place to explore.

There are some issues, however. Too many times, the game seems to rely on coincidence in its scenario. For example, the two thugs you randomly decide to chase just happen to be the ones who defaced an office. The reasons for suspecting them are pretty much based on things like appearance and general location, which seems counter-intuitive to the purpose of the game. Also, things get really rushed at the end. While the story starts out with a slow burn pace, it gets out of control right before the end. There’s no crescendo to build up to this moment; it just sort of happens. It’s a jarring moment that interrupts the flow of an otherwise enjoyable game. It really needed more time to gestate.

Visually, the game recalls early nineties adventure games. There are basically two screens. On the right is a larger screen that shows the area you’re in. Objects are OK looking, but characters are often nothing more than a pixelated mess. When you talk to them, however, a larger, more animated model appears on the left screen. Here the game’s awesome aesthetic can be seen to its fullest. Characters emote, the screen shakes when they get upset, and the style seems just like what someone from the 80s or 90s would have thought the future would look like. It’s pretty darn neat. There’s a sort of neon hue to everything that gives it a unique feel. It’s not impressive from a technical perspective by any means, but the art style is certainly worth looking at.

rom3When it comes to the game’s audio, there’s pretty much only two things to talk about. Firstly, there’s the music. It’s all synthesizers all the time for this one, but there are a number of solid tunes that will get stuck in your head as you play. However, the game does a great job of using a lack of music to fit the tone of the game when it is necessary. There’s also a decent amount of variety as well. Secondly, the game doesn’t have voice actors per se, but instead uses mumbled noises for it’s voices. Think games like Banjo-Kazooie, but not as high pitched. Depending on how you feel about that, you’ll either hate it or love it. If nothing else, you’ll want to keep the music turned up.

When it comes to playing the game, there’s not really all that much you need to do. When you have control, you can move the cursor over items of interest and interact with them in some basic ways. Usually you can observe them to get some basic information, use an item from your inventory, touch them, or talk to them. However, not all of these options appear all of the time. For example, you can’t simply walk up and grab someone. You also can’t talk to a plant. Of course, it turns out that you rarely need to interact with anything at all. Usually you can just speak to someone and that will move the story forward.

Most of the game is talking to characters. You just have to press the space bar or left click the mouse to move forward. Often, you’ll have one or more choices to work with as well. Sometimes you’ll have to go through all of the choices one by one to move forward, but other times you can pick one that will skip the others. This allows you to get more back story or detail if you want it. There are some puzzles, but it mostly involves actually getting to use one of the scarce items in your inventory. For example, you might need to show your ID to a bouncer before he lets you in a club. You never have to switch locations to find some object you forgot to click on either. It’s pretty straight forward.

rom4Then come the mini-games. There are only a few of them, but they really break up the pace of the game. One such mini-game involves tricking a traffic system into thinking various streets are closed off in order to get an auto-cab to park at your location instead of driving off screen. Another involves playing a game of Mastermind. You have a limited number of guesses at a pattern, and the game will tell you how many pieces you got right after each guess. These are pretty simple, but without the game would probably be more of a visual novel than an adventure game.

Going through the story will take several hours, and depending on how you manage your saves, you can spend a number of extra hours to see different endings. Some of these are nothing more than your characters dying because you failed a puzzle, but they’re amusing enough to try seeing anyway. It’s definitely on the shorter side as far as adventure games go, but you’ll likely get enough content to justify the asking price.

Finally, there are some bugs, at least in the version I played. On more than one occasion, interacting with an object caused the game’s cursor to disappear. This meant I couldn’t talk to anyone, open up my inventory, or use the map. Not even using the keyboard controls would help. The only option was to hit escape and use that menu to reload an earlier save. This bug came after making some rather logical interactions. For example, I tried to a money card on a vending machine. The game let me try this, but that bug showed up. The lesson here is to save often.

Short Attention Span Summary

diehardjack1-150x150Read Only Memories is a game that will make an impression with it’s characters, setting, and style. The LGBT themes, while an important part of the game, don’t turn into a sermon, which should assuage any fears in that regard. Where the game’s actual issues lie is in some shaky writing and a general lack of interaction. Still, it’s worth picking up, especially if you’re into the older style of story-based adventure games.

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