I’m always somewhat skeptical when it comes to plot-based decision making in games. Typically, you’ll be offered one of three choices in every situation: something a nice person would do, something a mean person would do, and something that falls somewhere in between the two.
The consequences of these decisions usually manifest in how the NPC you’re interacting with responds to you, or you might avoid or initiate a combat encounter based on what you selected. Only very rarely do your decisions in a game cause sweeping changes to your experience with it as compared to someone else.
Enter Hindsight 20/20 – Wrath of the Raakshasa, developed and published by Triple-I Games on September 9th, 2021 with the specific aim of changing its narrative based on player actions and offering situations that are more grey than black or white. It will be available on PC, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One. The PC version was played for this review.
Jehan Is Back In Town
Hindsight 20/20 is centered around Jehan, a masked, one-armed warrior returning to his home of Champaner after an extended absence. A viral outbreak in the city limits is affecting some of its citizens, mutating them into disfigured, violent beings called the Raakshasa. As the city’s culture values the sanctity of life above all, the people of Champaner are caught at a crossroads between upholding their beliefs and quelling the outbreak before it spreads more rampantly. Further complicating matters is Gibsonia, a separate city inhabited entirely by Raakshasa. Sinha, their leader, is in possession of a superweapon called the Trishakti, and thus has the ability to destroy Champaner in an instant. Jehan’s mission is to influence the events of both cities through his decisions to avoid the destruction of his hometown.
Delving further into the specifics of the narrative would be doing the game a disservice. Part of the fun of the plot is parsing the feelings and actions of the townspeople and their leaders as you work your way through it. This is doubly true on repeat playthroughs, when you’re going out of your way to do things differently than you did before just to see how things can play out.
That said, while Hindsight 20/20 absolutely depicts its situations in a way that’s more nuanced than not, I did find myself consistently wishing the game took more time to dig a little deeper into what was really motivating these characters and their actions. Especially on followup playthroughs, they all begin to feel a bit more superficial and shallow than they seem initially.
In any game that makes it a point to offer a variety of different outcomes based on player input, some concessions will have to be made with how well it tells its story. That’s simply the nature of the beast, and in Hindsight 20/20‘s case this shows up in some of the characters and dialogue feeling a bit ham-fisted or overly expository at times. It does result in some lines falling flat in the moment, but it unexpectedly ends up being something of a boon for the game’s story.
Hindsight 20/20 has its title for a reason; all of its elements explore the idea of looking back on one’s decisions and wondering how different the future could have been. After you get a few playthroughs under your belt, you start to realize that it’s not really about the characters and plot of Hindsight 20/20 themselves, but rather the concepts and ideas they represent. When viewed from this angle, I found the relative simplicity of the game’s plotlines and characters to feel more like an intentional choice than an authorial misstep, and the focus on its titular idiom is impressive.
Staying Your Hand or Slaying the Land
Most of your time in Hindsight 20/20 is spent dungeon crawling. You’ll be working your way through enemy encounters, avoiding obstacles, and earning keys in order make your way through a variety of different locations.
The player is given access to two weapons in every battle: the stun baton and the sword. The baton will defeat the enemies non-lethally, while the sword will absolutely not do that. You can switch between either at any time, allowing you to kill certain enemies and spare others in the same encounter. Both of them are based on chaining together a series of six consecutive strikes, with only the third and sixth successful hits actually dealing any damage or dropping resources for your special abilities.
The sword combos are based simply on successive hits, but the stun baton’s combo count only increases if you’re alternating between different targets. It’s a lot of fun to watch Jehan bounce back and forth between enemies like a pinball, and the controls are tight and responsive when an enemy catches you off guard and you’re forced to dash away to avoid taking damage.
Hindsight 20/20‘s combat doesn’t offer a lot of variation in how you attack enemies. You have access to one simple combo and one special attack (of several that you can choose from) for each weapon. Despite this, it manages to stay satisfying enough throughout each playthrough with the help of punchy sound effects and slow motion camera work, although a larger amount of finishing animations would have gone a long way to make combat more fun to watch.
Variety comes in the form of the different enemies Jehan faces in each encounter. Typically, an enemy will have one method of inflicting damage to the player, forcing you to keep an eye on the battlefield when there are multiple enemy types present. I quickly came to appreciate the game’s lack of a lock-on functionality, as it encouraged me to scan my surroundings and be alert when new enemies would appear instead of constantly gluing my eyes to my combo count.
If you’re not fighting or walking to the next batch of enemies in pursuit of a key, you’re solving “puzzles.” I wish I didn’t have to write quotation marks here, but the ones found in Hindsight 20/20 are almost too simple to even be called such. The logic and solution for nearly every one is immediately apparent—match some colors here, complete some patterns there. This makes them feel more like roadblocks to waste your time than the brainteasers they should be, an issue that’s compounded by the fact that you’ll be solving the same puzzles with the same solutions across multiple playthroughs.
While there are decisions the player makes via dialogue choices, the vast majority of your input is made by deciding the fates of characters in combat with one of the two weapons. When it comes to actually making these decisions, the game offers very little guidance in how much your handling of non-important NPCs actually alters your story experience, and the sheer amount of combat encounters in each five-hour playthrough makes it hard to believe that sparing or killing normal enemies actually influences very much. There is something to be said for leaving things for the player to figure out themselves, and enemies do act differently in combat based on what weapon Jehan is using, but a little bit more guidance toward other story paths would have been very welcome for repeat playthroughs, especially given the relative lack of content exclusive to certain decisions.
Diamonds and Rust
My initial reaction to Hindsight 20/20‘s visuals in its promotional material was somewhat mixed. At a glance, it seemed a little too simple and a little too reminiscent of some other titles, but this preconception faded away quickly after I saw the art style in motion. The environments are depicted in what I want to describe as a gritty softness, which absolutely sounds like an oxymoron, but Hindsight 20/20 manages to pull it off and claim its own meld of fantasy and science fiction.
I also found the variety of the game’s locations to be impressive—at first. The beginning of Hindsight 20/20 focuses on shorter dungeons with unified yet varied aesthetics, but the later portion takes you through locations that go on for much longer while offering little in the way of keeping the visuals fresh, and this makes it difficult to get excited about the area you’re going through long before you get to the end of it.
The game also struggles with frame rate drops and hitches during combat on PC when it feels like it shouldn’t, and this is especially unfortunate given the complete lack of graphical options on the platform. Thankfully it usually runs smoothly during boss battles, but it’s very rare to have a regular enemy encounter that doesn’t suffer from at least a bit of slowdown.
The original soundtrack is solidly composed. It always fits what’s happening on screen and features frequent emotional highs and lows without getting repetitive, but it isn’t something that I would find myself listening to outside of the game for very long.
Turning Back the Clock
The game falters somewhat under the weight of its ambitious premise—the various ramifications of killing or sparing certain NPCs in each five-hour playthrough probably won’t wow you to your core—but fun combat, charming visuals, and thorough commitment to its namesake elevate Hindsight 20/20 – Wrath of the Raakshasa to a unique experience that’s absolutely worth a playthrough (or three) to see what it has to offer.
Review copy provided by Triple-I Games for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.