In a far off dystopian future, humankind has colonised the underbelly of the red planet’s crust. Since the loss of communication with Earth water has become a scarce commodity and has become currency. Hiding away from the Sun’s harmful rays that cause mutations to occur in those exposed to it. Some were forced to change to work in the harsh radiation on the surface. Occasionally the mutations can create a Technomancer, capable of bending electricity to their will. Published by Focus Home Interactive and developed by the web weaving team over at Spiders, Technomancer is a continuation of their Mars: War Logs series.
After a brief narration setting up the politics of this world, you get the ability to customise your character’s facial features. It’s nothing fancy and since you’re set as the protagonist Zacharia Mancer, you can only be male. It’s all fairly superfluous to the grand scheme of things though. As with most RPGs you assign a limited amount of points to various skills and perks before you begin. These are a-typical perks such as lock picking or charisma and character stats such as strength and agility. You begin as Zach, placed into the daily grind of policing of the City of Ophir as the Technomancer elite guard. The tasks seem almost endless yet, they have potential future consequences, depending on your choices. Traversing the city had a definite air of Dragon Age about it, with dialogue options to match.
To be completely honest, visual aesthetic is decidedly average by contemporary standards in this genre. There are some awkward moments with camera angles, however, it’s nothing game breaking. The missions do feel varied, day-to-day crimes mixed with moments of clashes with the cities more nefarious characters. Decisions about those you apprehend that could have unclear future consequences. The choice to, let walk free, arrest or kill, were pretty cool thematic moments. The dialogue is fully vocalised though, it’s fairly monotone, especially from the main protagonist. There are some occasional clunky moments through no fault of the voice actors. There’s a lack of character emotion to that which we’ve become accustomed to in this genre. I think this is mainly due to wooden animations not conveying them accurately enough during dialogue scenes. That doesn’t mean the other aspects such as missions, combat and events aren’t enjoyable. After venturing many times through the three areas, the Underworks, the Slums and the Exchange, the constant backtracking can cause early fatigue. It’s worth sticking it out though, as the game eventually opens up beyond the cities limits. Once that happens the real story begins as you rise through the ranks and cut out a reputation as a rogue Technomancer.
One of my favourite parts of the game is the combat. Instead of going for the usual ‘Arkham’ system we see in similar games, they went with something more unique. You have three different fighting styles, Guardian (mace and shield), Rogue (gun and blade) and Warrior (Staff). The Rogue style has a fairly decent roll, whereas the Guardian has an awkward shuffle step that isn’t getting you anywhere fast. You can lock onto enemies but I found this hampered my maneuverability in Warrior mode to the same awkward shuffle at times. It’s more beneficial to the Rogue stance, which is a more Bloodborne style of gameplay. Guardian class can be built into a walking tank so, locking on is beneficial there as long as you don’t get surrounded. Each has it’s merit, yet I was most drawn to the Warrior style due to the extra maneuverability in the field. I barely even used the lock-on and opted to manually adjust the camera. I was able to cartwheel all over the place, dodging blows and bullets while finding a decent vantage point to unleash an attack.
Whichever style you select in combat, you have a quick strike, an interrupt attack and a special move. You can switch between stances on the move and in combat using R1 to bring up the hotkey wheel. It’s not as fluid as I’d like as changing up mid combo might have been interesting. Still, your adversaries won’t wait around and will attack every chance they get. It’s an all out brawl with attacks coming from all directions. Some enemies powering through your attacks, while others are devastated by them. If you press the dodge button at the right moment or get a critical strike, time slows briefly for effect, which is kind of cool mid-battle. Enemies tend to do huge damage so dodging, blocking or interrupting their attacks takes priority over straight up assault. If you ever get low on energy or health pressing L1 freezes the action. From the select wheel you can assign hotkeys for revitalising agents and any special abilities you might have. You can also give orders to any companions you may have with you. This can come in pretty handy when you have enemies with rifles that instantly become a priority target. As a pro-tip, hotkey only special attacks and the exploding trap and access sustained and health through the freeze action strategy function. The enemy variety constantly expands, increasing its arsenal to eventually include armour resilient to your electrical powers. The exploding trap becomes essential for dealing with such upgraded troops in large groups and tank types.
You will face more than just soldiers as alien life inhabits the lower levels and the desolate places you visit beyond the relative safety of the city walls. Electrical creatures that have elite units that use the small types to increase it’s power. What’s nice is you can overload them with your own power. You also face mole monsters and various other strange and deadly natural inhabitants. If you increase your skills for scavenging you can skin them while draining them of liquid for ‘Serum’, which, as far as I can gather, is the currency word for water. You can loot soldiers for items and there’s an option to take Serum from them but this will kill them. It’s pretty much draining their bodies of water, which is pretty dark. While killing people gives you a small Serum bonus it tends to give you bad Karma and you can lose companions from doing it too often. Serum is also oddly in abundance, as you find it everywhere, so it’s really not worth it.
The difficulty scales well throughout, I never felt like it was too easy. If I lost a battle it was pretty much always my fault for not using everything at my disposal. There’s a fair few decent boss battles, beast hunts, arena challenges and even missions that upgrade a companion so they can be a Technomancer on your team. Your group of companions consist of people you’ve helped before leaving Ophir. You can equip them with weapons armour you’ve acquired, each has a specific style and weapon to compliment any team configuration. Even though both you and your companions can be fully upgraded, their levelling seems reliant on actual use as they don’t level unless selected for your team. In a similar style to Fallout, you can get a timed XP boost by resting on a regular basis. Your electrical special abilities are only limited by energy cells of which you start with two. A sustained electrical ability like electrify weapon will occupy a cell. A special electrical attack will consume a cell that will recharge over time and go on a cool down. Stance special attacks use no energy but have a cool down before you can use them again. When you level up enough you can access more energy cells as a passive skill in the Power ability tree.
Everything is by the numbers and yet the combat definitely stands out to me as my favourite part of this game. Even though I predicted I’d be prioritising one style over the three available, I enjoyed specialising in it. I felt a disconnect with many of the characters and it took hours for the game to really open up. Once it did, the pacing increases and things get far more interesting. There are a fair few interesting locations, like Noctis, a place where humans and mutants coexist to certain degree. Also the Mutant Valley, a city run by mutants that are more intelligent than most humans give them credit for. Still, these are all hub sections similar to Ophir where most of the missions take place. Occasionally you go further afield to places like the Lost dome even then, you visit repeatedly for various quests. Fortunately due to the pacing and emerging intriguing narrative you push forward.
After more than 40 hours I came to the end of this adventure on Mars. That’s not including the amount of times I had to redo entire sections because of how the auto save works. If you change levels by climbing ladders or ledges, go through a door or change location it auto saves. Any other time it’s upto you to manually save. Which I’d advise after each combat encounter or long talking section or just generally if you’ve been traversing the same hub for a while. Overall this is an incredibly ambitious game that could have possibly done with more time in development. A game that’s at the stage that it works without bugging out and needed a bit of polish with animation to bring its inhabitants to life and make them more relatable. What it lacks in aesthetics it makes up for with some great combat gameplay. The storyline and world eventually grow on you and there’s plenty of lore for those that want it. It’s definitely no Witcher 3, but it’s a competent and enjoyable game in it’s own right for those looking for a new sci-fi adventure.
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