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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews The Technomancer.

Transcript Edit

It's always inspiring to see the sub-AAA sector lighting itself on fire and shooting for the stars. No retro pixel art or large-headed children in scary worlds for The Technomancer. Oh, goodness me, no. It's Mass Effect and Deus Ex full-on action RPG club that it hopes to blag its way into with its dark glasses and suspiciously bulky trench coat.

Have you characters, Technomancer?

'You bet your bollocks we got characters, party members and quest givers every color of the miserable bastard rainbow with struggles and adversities you'll invest in like a dot-com startup in the late 90s.'

Have you built us a world, Technomancer?

'You gamble your gonads we've built a world. A dark and complex cyberpunk world in which factions battle the supremacy against the backdrop of post-colonization Mars and there are only shades of grey.'

I ain't disputing that last part, Technomancer, but probably not in the way you intended. Now have you combat?

'You wager your wobbly bits we've got combat - exciting real-time combat with enough variety of weapons and skills to create a staggering number of alternative play styles.'

What number is that, Technomancer?

'Three! There's three play styles.'

Hmm, that is quite a staggering number. Alright, I'm down. Why don't you start by telling me the main character's overall goal?

... 'Oh bugger, I knew we forgot something.'

For what it's worth, our hero is Zachariah Mancer, a technomancer, because on future Mars everyone's surname is their job like a village of medieval serfs. We can customize his appearance, but it's not really worth to bother. You can't pick gender and the available faces are a global showcase of conventional attractiveness. There's also no facial hair, like, anywhere, even on the NPCs. Some people have stubble but nothing that can't be drawn onto face texture with felt tips. So I guess we know precisely where the 3D modeling budget ran out.

Anyway, our story begins with Zachy boy graduating from the Technomancy school of his home city on Mars. The technomancers are an exclusive and ever-so-slightly creepy order of mystics bound by vow to protect the secret of their mysterious power. What mysterious power, you ask? They can shoot lightning. That's it. Doesn't seem worth making that much fuss about in a world that also has guns. You could outequip a technomancer with a gift certificate and ten minutes in an American shopping mall. And the big secret you're all vowed protect is that technomancers are technically mutants, the lowest caste of Mars society because aren't they always? This, too, doesn't seem worth making that much of a fuss about and can probably lose all its impact with a few minor societal reforms. I mean, one suspects mutants are only an underclass because they are such ugly motherfuckers and the technomancers all look like various incarnations of Robert Patrick.

But it's Zachariah's devotion to keeping the secret that earns him the ire of evil ruling authority. Once the graduation's over Zach starts to work as a peace officer working with the evil ruling authority. So while I was at that point about as engaged as a dad chaperoning his daughter to a One Direction concert, I figured I was obliged to at least play as far as the bit where we get framed and the sinister authority turns against us, which anyone with the majority of their brains still inside their skull could see coming. Any game in which you start as a member of a sinister authority who interacts with poor people and suspiciously attractive revolutionaries will almost certainly contrive you to be no longer a member of the sinister authority before the second act, with the exception of modern warfare shooters, where you usually stay in the sinister authority and French-kiss assault rifles for six hours.

It's the usual action RPG format. Quest givers give you a place on a map to go to, you go to that place, talk to someone at that place and occasionally they become so incensed by the audacity with which you go to places talking to people that you're forced to beat them and their friends to death in a Dragon Age-esque disorganized melee. There's the inevitable stealth option but stealth attack doesn't even kill the target and it alerts everyone in the area anyway. So it's of as much use as a handbrake on a shark. Otherwise I've seen worse combat. I went for club-and-shield specialization because fuck it, let's just turn every game into Dark Souls. And here's my top tip: keep swinging and press block if the enemy dodges twice because you'll get a free parry. Combat got really fucking boring after I figured that out but the game compensates for that.

Remember when I said it was building a dark and complex cyberpunk world? Well, the emphasis was on 'dark'. The graphics get so shadowy it's almost impossible to tell the human enemies and my party members apart. They're all silhouettes with no beards. And half the time it's difficult to tell whether they're winding up attack animations or checking themselves for prostate cancer.

So, getting back to that inevitable first-act twist, it turned out I was giving too much credit when I predicted the evil authority would frame you for something before they do the big betrayal scene or indeed that they would show you the big betrayal scene. What happens is, two of the Zach's mates intercept him on the way to work and say, 'Hey, they are setting up a big betrayal scene in there. Might wanna just piss off.' And he takes their word for it. Blimey, those budget cuts hit everyone, don't they? Technomancer is certainly more at home to Trevor Tell than Siobhan Show. And by Christ does it tell!

Characters can't be said to converse in this game: they merely recite paragraphs of exposition vaguely in the direction of other people. And sometimes the game doesn't even get as far as the telling. Those two mates who warned you off from the betrayal piñata party? I'm prepared to swear that this was the first time we were meeting one of them. But she is presented like we already know who she is. Maybe I hadn't paid enough attention 'coz I was distracted cataloging all the metal wall textures. It's possible she was one of the NPC quest givers we met earlier. They were all fairly interchangeable: dark clothes, boring voice, no beard. Whatever, betrayal allegedly occurred somewhere, presumably. And we're forced to flee the city to pursue our quest of ... That's right. We've never figured it out, did we?

Well, there's some overarching thing about the technomancers having the lifelong goal to reestablish contact with Earth. But that's more of a hobby, really, and even if they succeed I fail to see how it would help. I don't see the scrappy survivalist communities of Mars crafting a space program out of radio parts and back issues of Top Gear magazine. All that we actually do is go from settlement to settlement sorting out random issues and be the pigeon to the main villain's Dick Dastardly who hounds us apparently out of having literally nothing else to do with his time. It's a shame because exempting a few petty niggles like the way Zachariah shuffles forward a few steps every time he tried to stop moving so getting in front of a small panel or dustbin to interact with is like keeping hold of a bar of soap in the bath, the game is technically functional. But it can't tell an interesting story for shit and in an RPG, that's 90% of the final grade. They failed to find the interesting story in a game about lightning wizards from Mars. That's like failing to find the homoerotic subtext in professional wrestling.

Addenda Edit

  • More like electromancer: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • You'll notice I didn't mention Brexit this week 'coz I aspire for the comments to be about the fucking game for once
  • My occupational surname would be 'Bellend'
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time

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