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‘2064: Read Only Memories’ – Human Revolution in More Ways Than One

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Technology has evolved dramatically in the last twenty-five years, allowing for advancements at faster rates than many could have ever dreamed of. On occasion, this progression has triggered questions about the boundaries of morality in the scientific world. While devices like smartphones are now essential in our daily lives, our society is still fully human. Though their influence on our society cannot be understated, these improvements in personal technology have not reached a point where they control major sectors of human life.

2064: Read Only Memories

However, jump ahead 47 years and the world will tell you a much different story. Robots called ROMs (Relationship and Organizational Managers) serve humanity, performing tasks ranging from aiding the police force to serving frozen yogurt in the middle of Golden Gate Park. Despite society’s newfound reliance on these machines, software limitations prevent them from attaining a human consciousness.

2064: Read Only Memories tells the story of a freelance journalist struggling to make a living in Neo-San Francisco, whose quiet existence is turned on its head by one young ROM.

On a quiet night in the days before Christmas 2064 AD, you awaken to find Turing, the world’s first fully sentient robot, in your apartment. Distressed by the kidnapping of his creator Hayden, an old friend of yours, Turing used their processing power to deduce who would be the most able candidate to aid them in finding the man who brought them to life: you.

An update to the KickStarter game ROM: Read Only Memories, released on Mac, Linux and PC in 2015, 2064: Read Only Memories incorporates a myriad of new features into the original game, including but not limited to voice acting, enriched storylines, and enhanced puzzles.

Becoming Emotionally Attached to a Robot

At a glance, the mystery at the center of 2064 may seem simple. However, your search for the truth regarding Hayden’s fate seems to unearth more questions than answers. How did Hayden succeed in creating Turing, a technological marvel? Was his kidnapping connected to his position as an esteemed computer scientist at a powerful tech company? Could an anti-technology advocate have discovered Turing’s existence and targeted Hayden as a threat?

In following these rabbit trails, you and your eccentric robotic companion encounter a cast of extraordinary, multidimensional characters. Dialogue options allow you to decide whether these personalities will become your friend or foe, allowing for a variety of endings and story paths. 2064 ‘s cast is full of notable names, including Melissa Hutchison (known for playing “Clementine” in The Walking Dead) and Austin Creed, who add incredible depth and weight to every line of conversation. No matter how you choose to interact with them on this journey, each character leaves an impression that is difficult to forget.

Untangling and understanding their motivations became just as meaningful as solving the central mystery. There are few games where I have connected with each character with such emotional intensity. Even Turing, an innocent ROM, had me on the verge of tears at points along our journey.

MidBoss gave the breath of life to every individual that entered a scene, weaving their stories into one unforgettable tale.

A Master Class in Environment Building

Due to the game’s genre riding the line between a point-and-click adventure and a visual novel, the vast majority of the gameplay lies in exploring and utilizing your environment. Fortunately, the world crafted by MidBoss is nothing short of phenomenal.

While the objects needed to advance the main storyline would do enough to populate the world, the amount of additional detail placed into each section of Neo-San Francisco is unmatched. You are able to look at, touch and talk to almost everything. Items gathered during your journey are also available for use. Each plant, empty glass and box of donuts can be engaged, and I cannot stress enough how rewarding it is for those that take the time to do so.

For every object open to your inspection, MidBoss has written a myriad of delightful, often humorous responses. Whether Turing is encouraging you to speak to your plant Wilty more often (to encourage its growth!), or a macho Neo-San Franciscan is losing his temper over your attempt at a hug, MidBoss has accounted for it. The care taken to craft an immersive world through these interactions is astounding, and takes the overall experience to the next level.

2064: Read Only Memories

The game has a sprinkling of puzzle elements throughout that give a break in the story, although all are tied to advancing your quest to find Hayden. No two are alike, and most are enjoyable, yet I found some to be unnecessarily tedious while others were entirely unrelated to any other part of the game. In these cases, the puzzles just felt like needless distractions and grew frustrating quickly. They were not disruptive enough to significantly hurt the overall experience, but were by far the weakest element of the game.

While there is plenty to praise, 2064: Read Only Memories still has some issues to be ironed out. These can somewhat be attributed to the game’s save system, which lacks an auto-save feature. On two occasions, the game crashed as I examined objects in the environment. I was safe the first time this occurred, but not so much during the second incident.

Although the responsibility does lie on the player to save frequently, crashes like this always present a potential issue to players, especially when they have to remember to save manually. It was only a minor annoyance in my case, as I only lost a small portion of my progress, but it could easily have been much worse for someone less careful.

2064‘s Mad World

2064: Read Only MemoriesAlthough it exists nearly fifty years in the future, the complex social issues that own headlines today still exist in Neo-San Francisco, albeit in slightly different forms. Hybrids (humans who have undergone gene therapy) are fighting to maintain their basic rights, determined to prove their humanity to those who doubt it. Movements like the “Human Revolution” spearhead the efforts to strip these hybrids of any sort of human rights, holding protests outside of clinics and convincing businesses to deny service to anyone with a genetic modification.
The echoes of past and present that ring throughout this story are powerful, striking to the core. As our own society fights to give a voice to the oppressed and the disadvantaged, so do the Neo-San Franciscans.2064: Read Only Memories

This social commentary was incredibly powerful, but also incredibly necessary. Because the game is rooted in a future with a populace that is much more comfortable with technological terminology, scientific jargon can dominate some conversations. While it’s not overwhelming, it might be difficult to understand for someone not familiar with the world of IP addresses and system patches. At times, this was slightly frustrating and left me struggling to hold on to what was going on. This could frustrate some players, taking away from the game’s otherwise brilliant script.

A Lesson in Inclusion

Despite the chaos within the society of Neo-San Francisco, the world has not been without progress. Questions about an individual’s gender come up in conversation on multiple occasions, though never in a pejorative way. My first encounter with this occurred when Turing asked which pronouns I preferred for use in conversation.
Initially, I thought this was just a clever way to tell the system whether my character was a male or female. I was pleasantly surprised to find that “they/them/theirs” was one of the available options on the next prompt. Additionally, players are able to input custom pronouns if none of the available options are appropriate.2064: Read Only Memories

Later, Turing expresses confusion over their own gender, admitting that the concept seems abstract to them. Although it is difficult for Turing to say, they finally come to terms with the idea that they have no gender that they relate to.

While it was somewhat insignificant to the plot as a whole, the fact that a game tackled the struggles of gender fluidity or lack of gender—and illustrated them so beautifully—was incredibly moving. MidBoss did not force it into a plot point, but let Turing’s personality shine through instead. By taking this approach to Turing’s gender identity, the message comes through that how we choose to identify should not be a point of conflict. Rather, someone’s acceptance of themselves should be celebrated.

Final Thoughts

2064: Read Only Memories tells an amazing story set in a world that players can easily lose themselves in. Conflicts regarding societal norms and human rights are all too relatable, while the cyberpunk nature of the world (when not overwhelming) adds an intriguing spin. The bonds formed between me and the characters are stronger than any I’ve experienced in years. For these achievements alone, MidBoss should be incredibly proud.

There are areas that could be improved upon, but if you are willing to grit your way through a few underwhelming, somewhat annoying puzzles, the payoff is well worth it. The journey that Turing and I took together has stuck with me since I completed the game, and is likely to stay for the foreseeable future.

 

Sara Winegardner is a lifelong gamer and aspiring journalist currently based in Washington, DC. Being fed a steady diet of Pokemon, Final Fantasy, and MMORPGs since she can remember, Sara will play just about anything, even if it means grinding for hours on end. Her childhood dream is to walk the E3 floor at least once.

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Game Reviews

‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

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Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

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Game Reviews

‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale

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Yaga Game Review

Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?

From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.

Yaga Game Review

“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”

The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.

Yaga

Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.

However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.

Yaga

At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.

“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”

The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.

Yaga Game Review

On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.

Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.

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Game Reviews

‘Remothered: Tormented Fathers’ Review: I Want My Remummy

There’s merit to be had if you just want a quick bash at a quirky, indie horror game, but with so many flaws, I can’t recommend Remothered.

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Remothered: Tormented Fathers Review

It feels like a while since the ‘survival horror but you can’t fight back’ genre was at its peak, especially with the recent, tradition-tinged revival of the Resident Evil series, but back in 2017 when Remothered: Tormented Fathers was being developed for PC it was all the rage. Like any indie game that’s had even the slightest amount of interest or acclaim during the current generation, Remothered has received the now-obligatory Switch port. Although its modest technical requirements clearly made a successful transition to the platform more than manageable, they don’t help to hide the game’s very obvious shortcomings.

Players take control of Rosemary Reed in her attempts to investigate retired notary Dr. Richard Felton, who is currently undergoing treatment for a mysterious disease. Oh, and he has a missing daughter that he probably murdered. The plot of the game feels a little cliché, but it’s undoubtedly its strongest facet. However, suspending your disbelief at the ropy animations and dodgy voice-acting is needed to avoid being sucked into feeling like you’re watching Theresa May running around a big mansion trying to escape from a John Cleese impersonator with his arse hanging out. Alas, I clearly failed in this endeavor.

Remothered is essentially a game of ‘go there, fetch that, bring it here, use it’ with an added element of ‘don’t let the annoying old man kill you in the face with a sickle’. Yeah, one of those ones. The story takes place almost entirely within Felton’s huge mansion, and navigating the ol’ girl is by far the game’s toughest element. It’s made especially harder while you’re constantly on edge, trying to avoid the stalking lunatic without a map, weapons, or a proper objectives system. Be prepared for your bearings to be quite considerably lost.

There are a couple of ways to avoid that face full of sickle. There’s a dodge button (provided Rosemary isn’t too tired to actually dodge), a run button, distraction items, and defense items that will automatically be used to escape a grab attack if you have one equipped at the time. Remember those crappy bits in Resident Evil 4 where you had to play as Ashley? This is like that… for a whole game.

While a little tired in 2019, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the formula of the weapon-less survival horror game – it’s just that in Remothered, it’s not implemented all that well. Enemy AI routing is weird, which should be grounds for an unpredictable fright-fest, but leans more toward the annoying and/or hilarious. It seemed like the stalkers would either sit directly outside the room I needed to enter – barely moving and refusing to be distracted for longer than a few seconds before returning immediately to their original spot right on my current objective – or simply bugger off to another floor and never come back.

Even with his penchant to completely vacate the area, and despite his advancing years, Dr. Felton possesses supersonic hearing. It seemingly doesn’t matter how far away you are – if you run in this game, he will hear you. To make matters worse, the sound design just doesn’t make sense. With every press of the run button, enemy dialogue would instantly change to indicate they’d heard you and then loud footsteps would permeate every room you enter as if they were right behind you, when they most certainly are not.

It’s either a cheap scare tactic to give the impression of enemies constantly being within touching distance, or the fallout from a combination of naff sound design and the limitations of my Switch’s Pro Controller not having a headphone port. What makes it worse is that everything is so campy that it’s seldom scary in any tangible way. When the man trying to murder you is constantly shouting about how he hasn’t got anything to eat that isn’t moldy while you hide in his cupboard, it’s not exactly bone-chilling.

As a result of the big-eared murderers and their impeccable radar tuned to the sounds of running, I spent almost the entirety of the game… well, not running. Unfortunately, Rosemary walks slower than an asthmatic ant with heavy shopping, and this made exploring the mansion a monotonous chore – especially when getting caught and subsequently having to run up and down floors to hide before slowly sneaking back to restart the investigation.

Puzzles are that old school type of obtuse where you’re tasked with finding everyday items to fix problems. The puzzle itself lies in realizing the item the developer decided should work, finding it in the giant four-floor mansion, and slowly returning to the its intended area of use without dying. For example, in order to get into an attic, you have to search rooms at random to find an umbrella to pull down the door’s previously-out-of-reach cord. It’s such a shame that Remothered eschews any type of self-contained puzzle for a string of confusing fetch quests, as everything feels more tedious than taxing.

It feels a little unfair to bemoan the lack of polish for a two-year-old indie game, but Remothered is full of niggling issues. Animations are janky, lip-syncing is non-existent, and the camera wigs out after the QTEs to fight off enemies have finished – always pointing you in the wrong direction. I also encountered a couple of game-breaking bugs where Rosemary did her door-opening animation without the door actually opening, and I couldn’t enter the room without rebooting the game. Lastly, and I don’t want to be too harsh to an Italian developer, but the in-game English is pretty abysmal, and lots of the game’s expositional notes and articles border on illegible through their poor translations.

There are some people out there who can’t get enough of the whole hiding under sofas schtick, but I like my survival horror games with better psychological tension, a (limited) means to fight back, and coherent puzzle-solving. There’s merit to be had in the game’s labyrinthine setting and short length if you just want a quick bash at a quirky, campy indie horror game in the Haunting Grounds model, but with so many flaws and such a frustrating gameplay loop, I can’t recommend Remothered: Tormented Fathers outside of anything other than morbid curiosity.

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