12 July, 2016

Review – The Technomancer

Mars is an unforgiving wasteland, the hunting ground of voracious and hardy wildlife. Inside the depilated facilities of the planet’s first settlers, beneath the patchwork protection of their domed roofs, sprawl the human hives, neon lit slums. Welcome to the dystopia of The Technomancer.

Review – The Technomancer banner

The Technomancer

Mars: War Logs was not a very good game, and it has aged about as well as an unprotected slab of meat subjected the Martian sun — I promise you the analogy is on point. Yet every time I scroll through my Steam Library and see it listed, I give pause. There was something there, earnestness, boldness? There is no end of games that say the words ‘prisoner of war’, and there are probably more than a few who pay lip service to the coarse brutality of prison life. But Mars: War Logs, in spite of its sci-fi setting on the colonised Red Planet, and its technical and mechanical failings, is the only game that has managed to affect my response to either term.

It was for its dark and creatively honest endeavours that Mars: War Logs deserved a sequel; The Technomancer. Which I’m happy to say, hasn’t shed any of its predecessor’s warped specificity, nor its damnably bleak atmosphere, nor its mechanical failings – though the latter are by no means as problematic here. The mechanical, and to a lesser degree technical shortcomings, despite even my initial feelings towards them, may actually work in the games favour, if not the players.

Review – The Technomancer mars

As in Mars: War Logs, the player controls a specified character, in this case the young Technomancer Zachriah Mancer — let’s not even go there, surnames are weird on post-apocalyptic Mars okay? The Technomancer however, gives the player some room to customise the look of Zachriah – there are no gender options however. And through dialog choices and objective branches, shape his personality in a much grander fashion than War Logs’ Roy Temperance allowed.

Technomancers are warriors, gifted with control over electricity, and burdened with a dark secret. Though Zachriah learns the secret early in the story, the implications don’t become fully clear to the player until hours later, when they have acclimatised to Mars. This apparent failure; the game’s inability to provide the player with adequate context, is but one example of the obscurity The Technomancer employs, intentionally or otherwise, to great effect.

Review – The Technomancer mantis

The Technomancer is an action role-playing game, in a pseudo open world, far larger and more elaborate than Mars: War Logs. Its combat is an evolved form of its predecessors, which is to say heavily melee focused. Here it has been refined into something quite enjoyable; a simple but engaging brawler that has you quite literally, bashing in enemy skulls in with wrenches and the like. There are three stances, or weapon sets, with their own moves, quite separate from the Technomancer powers governed by a fluid meter. In all there are three forms of player levelling, but most of the choices revolve around the stances and powers.

There’s a crafting system too of sorts, allowing almost all armour and weapons to be modded, or upgraded. The Technomancer doesn’t feature the traditional ladder of level-specific gear however, all items exist in a narrow bracket. So if you really dig sleeveless soldier look, you can keep the armour viable through upgrades, and that’s neat, I certainly did just that – Zachariah’s arms are so pretty after all. But it’s also quite necessary, because there isn’t a wealth of gear, high-end or otherwise.

Variety is The Technomancer’s greatest weakness; there’s a sad lack of it with regards to crafting, loot, and combat. In the case of the latter, it’s enemies that grow tiresome; the most prevalent enemies are heavily armoured and largely unaffected by Technomantic powers — I don’t know if the game ever calls them this, but it would be a fool not to. These foes aren’t a ton of fun to fight once, let alone every ten minutes for the last ten hours of the game. The more interesting enemies, the large mutated predators of the Martian wastes, are on the other hand engaging and memorable. Usually appearing only once, as boss fights, they boast unique attack patterns and abilities, but there are only a handful in the game.

There will be players who feel the same way about the environments and quest structure, who’ll lament the running back and forth through the same streets, but on that we’ll have to disagree. What makes a well-designed game does not necessarily make a well told story.

Review – The Technomancer noctis

Anyone who has played their share of Japanese games, particularly RPGs, has likely encountered lines of dialog or turns in the plot, that felt quite simply, ‘off’. Maybe one character says something to another and the reply appears to have little to nothing to do with the line that came before. Or there’s great leaps of logic, that try as you might you can never quite reconcile; relationships set up in one light, only be revealed to be nothing of the sort. Such issues often stem from translation and localisation, though Spiders, the developer of The Technomancer, is a French company, not Japanese. Mars: War Logs had a particularly painful transition into English, but the same isn’t true of The Technomancer. While all the oddities described above manifested here, and there were many more, they actually benefited the game greatly, as they do in many lauded Japanese RPGs.

A lot of popular English storytelling — I mean the language specifically — regardless of medium, is hell-bent on clarity; sides must be delineated, characters must be understandable and relatable, and so on. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but it isn’t the only way. The Technomancer revels in vagueness, in obscure specificity. Its writing and portrayal isn’t weird or dark for effect, not because the game intends for you to feel this way or that; rather it is those things and much more, because that is its nature. It’s honest and beautiful, and it needn't to be fully comprehended to be so. As the renowned novelist Stephen King once said; you don’t have to understand all the lyrics, to enjoy the song.
Review – The Technomancer good 4/5

The Technomancer has moved and inspired me, and not at all because of its progression, mechanics, or dialog — none of which stellar. Rather the resulting experience, the whole with what many would consider ‘flaws’, is precisely what it needed to be. The Technomancer is not some titanic, polished to a mirror-shine experience that anyone who plays or watches will enjoy, and that’s why I find it so beautiful.

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