2064: Read Only Memories INTEGRAL Review
A cyberpunk textploration of machine sapience and hybrids
2064: Read Only Memories has a brilliant set up: you’re a struggling journalist in the near future when Turing, the world’s first sapient robot, breaks into your apartment in an effort to locate its creator, and your friend, who has suddenly and mysteriously vanished.
Midboss’s 2015 cyberpunk adventure has finally found its way to the Switch, giving more players a chance to explore its dark and edgy vision of San Francisco, sweet talk punks and infiltrate a club’s VIP area all while unravelling the mystery surrounding Hayden Webber’s disappearance.
Read Only Memories employs a purposefully retro 16-bit style, paying homage to games like Snatcher, Rise of the Dragon and Gabriel. It certainly nails the cyberpunk theme in its visual style and use of color, which when combined with the wonderful character designs, creates a truly memorable cast of characters. They include animal hybrids, cops, street punks, the fantastic Turing and even a bipedal polar bear who can understand human speech.
It’s a pity then, that the awesome sounding Neo-SF they inhabit is so painfully plain. The locations are uninspired and lack anything to make them truly memorable or interesting. Apart from the final location, nowhere really feels cyberpunky and merely consists of linear screens made up of disconnected areas.
While the color direction is strong, the interface isn’t. I had difficulty not only highlighting the different objects you can interact with, but noticing basic UI elements that should stand out. In almost every location I got lost either trying to select something or trying to get out wishing I had some sort of cursor option to toggle.
This humble style would suggest that the game runs smoothly, which unfortunately isn’t always the case. Often button presses simply don’t register and the game occasionally stutters before moving to the next conversation or event. It doesn’t spoil the experience but is certainly noticeable and disappointing. The game runs the same, good and bad, in handheld mode or docked.
The game’s audio easily steals the show. I’ve already mentioned the excellent character design and fortunately that hip hops over to the stellar voice work. Melissa Hutchison (Clementine from The Walking Dead series) as Turing absolutely takes center stage with jokes, musings about abstract art, and a wonderful mix of human yet artificial emotions. It’s an absolute treat listening to him/her/it which is a good thing in a game where you spend most of your time doing just that.
The talent doesn’t stop at Turing though, each of the characters is voiced incredibly well and able to convey a range of emotions far wider than the writing and animations alone would have allowed.
The music follows suite, absolutely killing not only the cyberpunk 16-bit theme, but also succeeding in transforming those dull locations into spaces with character and identity. Hats off to 2Mello, Radiofred, Virt, Aethernaut and everyone else involved.
Read Only Memories aspires to be a classic-style adventure game but ends up a visual story. There is close to no gameplay. For most of the 8-ish hours you read through text, occasionally select a new location and, a handful of times, solve a rudimentary puzzle. It does manage to avoid other point-and-click adventure game frustrations such as everybody’s favorite randomly-combine-items-from-your-inventory-until-something-happens mechanic but does this by simply giving you what you need, almost always, and almost always immediately. In one section that could have had multiple goals, I was told that the item I was looking for would be nearby and easy to get. Sure enough, it was next door and I merely needed to ask for it.
So then, how about the story? Well, it’s fine. There’s enough intrigue to move you from beat to beat and enough happening outside of the main storyline to build the world. The focus lands on your missing friend, Hayden, his creation of Turing, and the conspiracy surrounding his disappearance which leads us on an exploration of the role of AI in the world.
This theme of technology and its place amongst us is further reflected in the portrayal of hybrids, who have “enhancements” for both vanity and medical reasons, along with the organizations that challenge them and what humanity has become. This near future is conflicted with the choice of how to embrace technology and there are some genuinely interesting ideas and dilemmas explored. Unfortunately, due to the lack of interaction, you end up an observer, rather than an instigator or even a participant. Pulling you from the game even further, the story has branching pathways, but gives no hints as to where the crucial decision points might be and so the weight of those moments is lost.
Fortunately the writing is fantastic with some excellent humor and natural dialogue. It not only maintains the eloquence and wit you want from science fiction, but also succeeds in weaving the diverse cast into the narrative as both a tool for pushing it forward and building the world.
It’s worth noting that the game is more mature than Turing’s cartoony appearance and Ash Ketchum voice let on, dealing with sexual identity, murder, riots and grief.
So is it fun? Well, it’s interesting but it’s rarely fun. The most joy I had with Read Only Memories was listening to Turing speak. At one point I got really excited about going to an in-game arcade where I challenged the little blue robot to a race, only to have the game describe what happened… in writing. The fun was removed and replaced with text.
The Switch version sports some in-game exclusives making this the definitive version. These include HD rumble, the soundtrack, various videos and a 55-page digital art book.
The standout bonus is the ‘PUNKS Side Story’ which tells an interesting prologue exploring some unanswered aspects of the story and further develops two of the more interesting characters. Another is the ‘Endless Christmas Epilogue’ which allows you to explore Neo-SF after the credits have rolled. This is a pretty cool addition because you’re able to see the fallout of some of the game’s events.
While I love interactive stories and appreciate Midboss’s vision, this was a little too light on the interactive side for me to enjoy or recommend. If you’re a fan of the genre then there’s certainly something here for you: some slick music, a cool world and some interesting characters. However, a severe lack of player involvement and straight-up gameplay means it’ll only appeal to a select few.
2064: Read only Memories Integral
- Available On: PC, Vita, PS4, Xbox One, Mobile, Switch
- Published By: MidBoss
- Developed By: MidBoss
- Genre: Adventure
- US Release Date: August 14th, 2018
- Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
- Quote: "Slick music and a cool setting doesn't quite make up for a lack of player involvement and engaging gameplay ideas."