Now and then a game sneakily grabs my attention and it feels like I am the only one in the world waiting for it. The Technomancer is such a game. It hails from humble origins, a big brother to the poorly received Mars: War Logs, a digital-only action game created by a small development team in France. Spider Games have this time set out to build a meaty Sci-Fi RPG for full retail release. Taking on such a large game was ambitious and unfortunately some poor technical execution has made me question my anticipation.
Set on a ‘Total Recall-esque’ version of Mars hundreds of years after it was colonised. Human civilisation is now controlled by corporations instead of governments. And humans being humans, are at odds with themselves and pretty much everything else on the red planet. The Technomancers are a group of gifted soldiers used by the Military as human weapons, capable of wielding electricity to terrible effect on the battlefield. Main character Zach, is a freshly minted Lieutenant from the Mancer Brotherhood, put into an elite unit to maintain order and keep the public safe.
After a short intro, character creation and choosing some passive skill perks, I was faced with a nice surprise for a RPG. There is no limitation to class type, I really liked that. At any point I could fight with a shield‘n’mace, dagger‘n’gun or Technomancer Staff. Specialisation only comes by spending experience points in the fighting style I preferred. This ongoing freedom in an RPG was refreshing and made my characters progression feel more organic, as specialisation in a class style occurs over hours, not just during the character creation intro.
Suffice is to say the setup is here for a solid action RPG. Mars itself is beautifully realised, with a huge amount of detail throughout the dystopian city suburbs and sun burnt wastelands trader outposts. The underlying story is full of subterfuge and intrigue and it’s clearly evident that the games inspirations have come straight from the late-2000s greats of the genre, such as Dragon Age and Mass Effect. The world created is impressive, as is each characters own story arc. To the developers credit and I am sure at huge expense, the game is fully voiced! But the actual character animations and facial expressions during conversations amount to static dolls with moving lips. This, combined with the hit and miss voice acting, breaks any chance that fully voiced characters will foster engagement by the player on a personal level.
Outside of conversations, crafting and squad management; melee combat is at the titles core. The great use of motion-capture has certainly helped in its presentation of fluidic hand to hand battles. But the smooth appearance is destroyed by the ‘clunky’ feel. A fight may look impressive, but lacks the player feedback that modern melee games have evolved into, allowing the player to understand what’s going on. The Technomancers combat feels old and unrealistic. It’s at complete juxtaposition to the attention to detail that the greater game world has benefited from.
Its poor enemy balancing and hit detection makes the simplest encounter a risky endeavour. Even 10 hours in with a levelled up, lighting wielding badass, I finally gave into my frustrations and the need to save between EVERY encounter. Dropping the difficulty level to Easy to avoid snapping my controller. I consider myself an experienced gamer, beating many hard games on high difficulty settings over the years, so I totally appreciate the value in challenging gameplay. However, there is a difference between challenging and plain old unfair.
The Technomancer has a purity in its design and I respect that. There are some great ideas hidden in its levelling systems and the Sci-Fi story is a solid romp. Unfortunately it plays terribly and the characters lack the substance needed to forge a personal connection with. I also love Sci-Fi RPGs and so wanted to love this game. I wish that Spider Games had stepped back from the epic 20-30+ hour game narrative and put their efforts into creating a refined experience, with both the soul and technical finesse the initial vision so deserved.