The Technomancer feels like a 90s RPG based on an 80s comic book.
It’s not, of course. The game was released this month, and is not based on anything, instead being an entirely new property cobbled together by Spiders (which is the developer’s name…this game was not made by spiders). But compared to the kind of thing we expect from an ambitious sci-fi adventure, something certainly feels off about it.
Reviews of this game (which this definitely is not) have not been kind, and I can understand why. This game is, for want of a kinder word, cheap. It’s an action/RPG that’s trying to be Mass Effect via The Witcher, but in most ways comes nowhere near either of them.
Character faces look dated. The music and sound are terrible. The writing and voice acting (or at least the localisation into English, since Spiders are French) are atrocious. Combat feels janky. If you were standing over the shoulder of someone else playing this you’d think this game was a disaster, especially since it’s coming in as a full-price premium experience, not a cheap indie title.
And yet…there’s something endearing about The Technomancer. It starts with that dumb-arse name and runs right through the story and art design to the scope of the whole project. This is the little RPG that could.
What many have found shortcomings will for others be something to get into. The art style, which is Red Faction meets Mad Max via David Lynch’s Dune, at first looks generic, forgettable. And the voice acting, while enthusiastic, never seems to get anything quite right.
But the more you play/suffer through this, the more it somehow grows on you. The more you notice, for all the initial similarities this has with other games and its shortcomings in terms of presentation, there’s a loveable French weirdness going on here. What first felt familiar soon starts to itch.
You know how for all their problems, people still loved Zeno Clash? And Vampire: Bloodlines? And even E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy? Yeah, this is like that. Just…watch this clip below. If you think this is good/corny enough for you to get into, know that this is the tone of pretty much the whole game.
Beyond the creative intangibles there’s more stuff to acknowledge, if not always enjoy. Combat, while ultimately repetitive, is no worse than The Witcher 3’s, and even trumps CD Projekt Red’s efforts when it comes to truly customising your approach to combat (there are a number of distinct combat styles that you can focus on). And if you’ve ever found yourself complaining about the stuff missing from more contemporary RPGs, you may find some of what you’re looking for here, because in your gear and skill upgrades there’s a ton of tinkering to be had.
And by god, there’s admiration here for what a small team have tried. This isn’t a retro platformer, this is a big, complex thing, something that normally takes teams of hundreds (and budgets in the tens of millions) to pull off. It may not hit the highs it was aiming for, but the fact they got off the ground with this at all is impressive.
I’m not saying rush out and buy this today (this isn’t a review!). I think its positioning as a $US40 ($54) title alongside games with much more polish has hurt its launch. What I’m saying is that this is a crazy game that, for all its flaws, is something you should maybe look into one day if you’ve played the first Mass Effect, older Witcher games or KOTOR and wondered why nobody makes games like that anymore, and maybe what would happen if someone tried. And failed. But failed memorably.