Science fiction allows for worlds beyond your wildest dreams, or indeed, your nightmares. Some of the best films and games have featured dystopian scenarios based on fear and oppression, and while games such as Mass Effect go for the more grand scale universal war, The Technomancer goes for a more domestic approach with its civil war on the Martian colonies. Yet somehow this setup is marred by being, well, boring.
Zachariah is a newly minted Technomancer on a colony on Mars, assigned to help the local army keep the peace. However, it’s not long before a conspiracy is revealed to you, as you have to hunt for the secrets of the Technomancers who are seeking a way to contact Earth, while also dealing with the frowned upon “rogues”. Its plot is about as generic as it gets, so much so that you’ll more than likely guess the twists long before the game finally reveals them.
Characters are largely bland with instances of awkward dialogue, with voice acting that’s all over the place. That said, there are certainly a few who I grew attached to, such as the owner of a vehicle whose sassy dialogue is delivered with some realistic passion. Your various companions are tied to certain groups, so depending on who you please/annoy, your own companions may decide to ditch you, but it can be hard to care, given some of the performances.
By design, the game feels desolate, and that’s reflected quite clearly within the visuals. As you would expect, the Martian colonies can look dull and dreary, but there are ways to spice up an otherwise dystopian settings, as we’ve seen in countless films. The Technomancer fails to follow in the footsteps of Blade Runner and its ilk, only really showing off a varied colour palette in a handful of buildings.
As first acts go, The Technomancer feels like it’s borrowing from Final Fantasy VII by setting everything in an isolated locale. However, while Final Fantasy VII had many locations and dungeons that made this feel like it could be the whole game’s setting, The Technomancer regularly alludes to other regions while at the same time has a huge number of quests set around the same four regions.
Ultimately (and I guess you can take this as a minor spoiler), you do get to see other areas of Mars, leading to more interesting level and enemy design. Each and every time you move to a new locale, you do so by warping from the end of one zone to the beginning of another. Sure they’re interconnected zones, but we could have had sequences where you drive in a vehicle in order to change up the game’s pace and gameplay.
Quests make up the bread and butter of the experience, largely revolving around going from point A to point B, fighting enemies at Point C, before returning back to point A to get your reward. This formula is tried and tested, but the fact it’s so noticeable is the true sin here, as quests barely have any permanence to their completion. Some more interesting ones do raise your reputation with certain factions who could either help or hinder you in the long run, which is an admittedly nice touch.
While the combat initially seems varied, it soon becomes as tediously dull as the rest of the game. With up to two fully equipped companions alongside, you engage in real time fights against human, mutant and monstrous foes. You have three stances to use, with one having you wield a mace and shield, a second stance with a bow staff, and a final one with daggers. A gun can also be used, as well as Technomancy abilities which are akin to some electrical magic.
Your companions that you bring with you are mere meat sticks here. They do kill the occasional enemy, but largely serve as a big distraction. They’ll always go for the enemy closest to them as well, meaning a more powerful enemy can easily take them out, leaving you as easy pickings in a fight. You can heal them with items, but it’s much easier to run away from danger to revive your team and restore their health before going back for another round, which is such a silly strategy in a game so serious in tone.
Experience gained in combat can be used to raise your abilities in at least one of three different tech trees. Every level you go up will gain you a skill point that can be spent on skills relating to weapon class and Technomancy, while you’ll occasionally get points to spend on secondary skills such as Crafting and Science, as well as points to be able to equip better gear.
It’s reasonably extensive, but while some of the skills are interesting, the majority of the perks are run-of-the-mill stuff. Companions on the other hand only get better when equipped with gear, so you’ll be regularly hot swapping equipment. This is especially true for missions where certain gear is required. As a result, the companions feel like tacked on AI rather than legitimate partners, which is a massive misstep and saps the immersion out of the game.
While there were signs that The Technomancer could have been something worth looking into, I couldn’t shake the overwhelming feeling that I was incredibly bored throughout. Its universe had a decent premise, but the execution of every gameplay detail is something I’d seen before in other games and films. Companions are usually the ones that keep you on the journey, but the detachment from any of them thanks to dumb AI and limited customisability made this more of a solo adventure.
I was never engrossed, enticed, or even entangled in The Technomancer’s web of dystopian dreams. It’s competently made – there’s been far worse games reviewed on TSA recently – but what felt mildly interesting in trailers turned out to be perhaps the most boring science fiction adventure I’ve ever played. Make of that what you will.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4