Review: 2064: Read Only Memories Integral
You have to admit, there is a certain type of charm to point-and-click adventure games. While I personally didn’t dive headfirst into these games when Sierra ruled the roost in its heyday, I’ve enjoyed the fruits of of the modern resurgence of the genre that’s been led by Telltale as of late. Specifically The Wolf Among Us. It shed away a lot of the awkward trappings of early Sierra games while retaining and streamlining the format in a way that newcomers could easily digest and enjoy. Team that up with a mountain of good writing, and it’s no surprise that game is getting a sequel next year.
I bring this up because Midboss’ Switch re-release of 2064: Read Only Memories, now subtitled Integral, appears to acknowledge the progress made by Telltale and merge it with a 16-bit-like style and a game interface that gives me some serious Commodore 64 vibes. Billed as a sort of Definitive Edition of the game, Integral includes a dearth of development assets and the Punks side story. Other additions to the game since its initial release are also included here as well as a jukebox mode. Integral released on the Switch eShop on August 14, 2018 at a price point of $20.64 (har har har).
The universe for 2064 is a retro-futuristic one, and the game wastes little time with getting you up to speed with it by way of an opening cutscene full of exposition. Much of the style you see here is dripping with ’80s-esque aesthetic, almost to the point of beating you over the head with it. It’s not afraid to wear its Snatcher influence on its sleeve, obviously, but it doesn’t follow the beats close enough to where it feels like an outright copy instead of a homage of sorts. Personally I don’t mind, since they did their homework and it fits with the retro graphical style they aimed for. Low-level labor has been taken over by AI-enabled robots called ROMs, and they coexist with the human population and the physically altered human/animal hybrids that inhabit the setting of Neo-San Francisco.
You come into view as a broke review journalist just trying to get your latest hardware review completed so you can keep the lights on in your dingy apartment. Once you decide to turn in for the night, a mysterious ROM easily (and quite creepily) breaks into your house asking for help. This ROM is Turing, who I would best describe as a ROM that’s similar to Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Quickly establishing that its programming and design far exceeds any normal ROM, it desires to enlist your help in solving the mystery behind the disappearance of its creator Hayden. The game establishes that the player character (that you can name and assign from one of various gender identities and personal pronouns) has prior history with Hayden, so you choose to aid Turing in solving the mystery.
Hassling With Conspiracy
Let’s get this out of the way first, 2064 is one of those games where the focus is more on the story more than anything else. Considering that it’s an adventure game, that’s not uncommon for the genre. That’s not to say that the gameplay is a complete afterthought, as it does follow the familiar adventure game format. Thankfully this is basically just limited to moving around Neo San Francisco, interacting with characters and the environments as it relates to the mystery via manipulation commands, and occasionally engaging in a simplistic mini-game as it relates to the plot every now and then. It feels like the goal was to make the gameplay as straightforward as possible so it doesn’t get in the way of the story. The flow isn’t always consistent, and sometimes moving from one task to the next can get a bit irritating at times. Sometimes it feels like a chore, but it’s not something that ultimately detracts from the total package.
The environment here is pretty inclusive from an LGBTQ standpoint compared to the modern society it strays away from. Characters in these types of relationships are seen as a completely common part of society, and aren’t limited to a token status. It might be a bit idealized for some, but these characters are presented in a normalized way. They’re just people living out their lives in a (relatively) healthy way, and one such couple are shown as understanding and easygoing to each other. I’ve refrained from assigning any gender-specific pronouns to Turing for plot-related reasons, but it’s amusingly lampshaded to a certain extent once the subject is brought up.
Since Turing accompanies you from basically beginning to end, it acts as a guide of sorts. This sort of thing is done in a natural way through dialogue, but sometimes it does hold your hand a bit too tightly. Presumably, the aim here is keep the player focused on the story. It lends itself quite nicely for portable play, and it does take advantage of the HD Rumble of the Joy-Cons. The one thing that confused me is that they do give the option to use one or two Joy-Cons in the options menu, though interfacing via the touchscreen in handheld mode is absent. If similar touch-based control schemes were absent in other ports (PS4/Vita/Mobile), I might not have minded as much. Omitting this in the Switch version, though, is just puzzling save for a technical reason for that decision.
Hacking Through The Mystery
I really don’t want to wander too much into spoiler territory, but the focus on the story here is quite obvious. Many have seen advanced androids coming to grips with sapience or something similar, and sleuthing is obviously a well-worn path for storytelling in general. What draws you into Turing’s story is the genuine nature of its goals that some would say is pure. In some cases, it exceeds similar characters in how it handles the various ups and downs of the plot. You will get the “I’m a robot and I’m able to analyze things more clearly than a human could” angle, but Turing’s approach has a much more human touch to it due to the Data-like nature of its programming. Some of the plot elements here have been done in other games, but this is almost a non-issue due to the fact that the story here grips you in the way an intense book might pull you in. Other characters openly divulge their own struggles living in society filled with robots and hybrids, but it’s not especially deep at points. You’ll get a fair amount of exposition, which does get to be tiring in a few instances. Regardless, it does a good job of fleshing out the setting.
This is strengthened by the fact that the extensive voice cast helps accentuate Melissa Hutchison’s performance as Turing. She’s surrounded by other well known figures such as Austin Creed of WWE fame and Jim Sterling, which is sure to delight some. I’ll admit that I haven’t played much of the Telltale release of The Walking Dead, but I can say with some certainty that Melissa’s performance here is spot on. She understands Turing’s character, and is able to portray emotion in a way that’s believable and sincere. It’s the kind of performance that makes latching onto the little robot’s struggles easy considering the bot depends on you quite a bit. Depending on certain dialogue choices you make throughout your short eight-hour playthrough, the ending will differ. By extension, you’ll be exposed to different performances that fit with the choices you make. This helps up the replayability a bit if you’re up for multiple runs through the game. The dearth of dialogue may turn off some players, though, as it definitely lives up to that volume.
Aesthetically speaking, 2064 goes all in on working that 80s-esque retro-futuristic angle. Much of the environment quietly screams Blade Runner, and the hair/clothing styles fall in line with the era it pulls from. The gameplay area is restricted to about half the screen since we’re working on the aforementioned Commodore 64-like interface, using the lower half exclusively for text. Graphically, it’s wedges itself somewhere in between the 8- and 16-bit realm. Within these parameters, it’s pretty detailed. Animation is relatively sparse save for mouth flaps and certain swift movements throughout. Don’t go in expecting to see anything resembling complex moving action, despite things ramping up to head in that direction. More often than not, you’ll only get sound effects signaling such an event and a fade to the next scene. Disappointing to a fault, but it’s not a bare-bones experience either.
I can definitely say that the biggest strength 2064 has is in the audio department. The inclusion of full voice acting props up the dialogue text in a big way. From the most minor of characters to Turing, performances here are solid and are generally pleasant to listen to. The mountain of exposition can be a little much at times, but at least you don’t have to worry much about poor delivery from anyone. The commitment here is prevalent, which offsets some of the more slow parts of the plot. The soundtrack composed by 2 Mello is also pretty killer as well. If you listen to vaporwave/retrowave/chiptune music, you’ll feel right at home here. None of it is really all that intrusive, and strengthens the aesthetic in a way that strengthens the overall package. It’s mixed in a way that blends to keep with the theme, but it’s done in a way that feels natural. Sound effects aren’t annoying, and are thankfully limited to rounding out the design.
The extras included in the Integral release are also pretty dense. You can browse the full soundtrack from here (which can also be purchased from 2 Mello’s Bandcamp page), as well as a fair amount of concept art throughout the development cycle. A decent amount of promotional videos are also present here if you want to poke through that as well. Character profiles and various recolors of Turing can also be found here. The latter part of that is neat, but doesn’t really add too much. The extra worth highlighting here is the “Punks” side story. It serves as way to flesh out the personal relationship and larger story through the perspective of these seemingly tough but ultimately affable teenagers you meet in the main story. One of these teens struggles with his relationship with the leader of an anti-hybrid group in Neo-SF, and you do get some good performances here as well. While it’s a short aside, it’s a well-written and pretty entertaining one.
Who Am I?
2064 tries its absolute hardest to emulate the drama and nuance seen from its inspiration. In many aspects, it hits some of those heights, but not without a few nicks and cuts along the way. The pacing can be a bit erratic, and some may find the gameplay to be too simplistic even for a point-and-click game. Others might find the plot elements to be a little too worn at certain points, but it molds many of these tried-and-true elements into its own.
Thankfully, most of the complaints I have are nitpicks at best. The nicks in the armor are noticeable, but despite that, everything manages to hold together. There’s heart, emotion, and care here that shouldn’t be passed over. The highs here are most definitely that, and even the shortcomings don’t detract from the fact that you’re getting a fair amount of content for the price, and everything is pretty pleasant from start to finish. This is something you’ll be able to walk away from with confidence that you’ve had a good time with a time and place that lives up to its Kickstarter promises.
~ Final Score: 7/10 ~
Review copy provided by MidBoss for Switch. Screenshots taken by reviewer.