[toggles behavior=”accordion”] [toggle title=”Minimum Specs”]OS: Windows XP Processor: 300 MHz Processor Memory: 128 MB RAM Graphics: 640 x 360 32 bit DirectX: Version 9.0c Storage: 800 MB available space[/toggle] [toggle title=”Recommended Specs”]OS: Windows 7 or higher Processor: 1 GHz or faster x86 or x64 processor Memory: 2 GB RAM Graphics: DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver DirectX: Version 9.0c Storage: 800 MB available space[/toggle] [toggle title=”Review Specs”]OS : Windows 10 Processor : 1.8 GHz Memory : 2 GB RAM Graphics : Nvidia 710m 4 GB DirectX: Version 11 [/toggle] [/toggles] Who hasn’t played Detective-detective in their childhood? Taking on artificial cases of stolen candies and lost toys where the culprit at the end of the day is… well, another toy. But as I grew up, the themes changed from fun and frolic to hardboiled urban noire when I came across games like Max Payne and movies like Sin City, which was when I started imagining myself in scenarios where I had to solve a grisly murder or find a damsel in distress with a sleazy sax playing in the background. Sometime later I realized what kind of a pain in the ass actual detective work is; just look at those investigation sequences from Sherlock Holmes games and LA Noire where we have to watch out for every tiny detail to haul the story forward. But one thing was common in such games i.e. the everlasting dark and gritty setting.
This is where the futuristic, colorful mystery game called Whispers of a Machine comes in, serving the same old wine in a new bottle… and it tastes good!
Story and Narrative
One of the strongest points in the game, and it has to because Whispers of a Machine is essentially a point-and-click detective adventure where you star as Vera Englund, an elite operative of the Central Bureau’s Violent Crimes Division who has been injected with a heavy dose of nanomachines to assist in crime-solving (Deus Ex anyone?). She has been summoned to the remote town of Nordsund, constructed atop a hundred feet high plinth, to investigate the horrific murder of a lowly smithy worker. But before she could anticipate, one thing leads to another resulting in more unexplained murders where a secret society, an anti-machinist church, and a human-AI hybrid is involved!
Now, I won’t be going further into the actual narrative here because that would mean giving you spoilers, but all I can say is true to the genre, Whispers of a Machine touches on many sensitive aspects of a dystopian society, introducing a post-apocalyptic world where all the AI-driven CPU’s and machines have been deemed illegal by a fictional 3rd Decree following a planet-wide event called ‘The Collapse’. At some portions of the game Vera will come across relics of the Pre-Collapse era – agricultural robots and automated drones lying in heaps of rusted metal amidst the growing sprawl of wood and concrete – and at times more than often she will ponder over subjects like neo-religion, opposing ideologies, and man-machine interrelation, while internally fighting her past which wishes to get resurrected via illegal AI interventions.
The dialogues are well crafted, the characters feel warm and real rather than those wooden cut-outs in most AAA games and the way Vera fights her personal battle despite getting embroiled in a cold war between two clandestine factions – one wishing to re-establish AI and the other countering it – will make you empathize with her predicament; her lover is dead and his only memento is a candid picture which she holds dear above anything else. The voice-acting of all the characters in Whispers of a Machine is top-notch, including a random ventriloquist whose dummy is a tiny robot as funnily annoying as Claptrap from Borderlands. With the story’s progression, the events of the past are unraveled as they become more and more central to the narrative, linking them directly to the horrific murders that haunt the peace-loving citizens of Nordsund, and it’s up to Vera to put an end to all this before a new threat to mankind takes form.
But here’s to say, Whispers of a Machine only grazes past the very philosophical responses it aspires to evoke, leaving the world it wishes to portray as somewhat vague where the society is struggling back to find its roots following the unprecedented collapse. After playing games like Deus Ex and Prey (2017), I thought I would be treated to an immersive world-building, but the way in which things are showcased fell short of my expectations making me yearn for more. For example, it is never explained why Nordsund is constructed above a massive plinth despite the Earth’s surface being perfectly fine complete with the right amount of vegetation. Maybe the authorities wanted to maximize space, then what about the cost associated with the constant lifting up of food and other resources, no explanation for that. Furthermore, a little detail of The Collapse would’ve been fitting instead of just mentioning it as ‘the period of darkness whose pages are absent from history books’. This plus the fact that the game is quite short, makes Whispers of a Machine come out as conventional detective noire set in a quasi-cyberpunk backdrop unlike Blade Runner (which is more of a tech-noir), where the main focus is to solve the murders rather than question your motives or the higher powers in general.
Gameplay and Mechanics
Like I mentioned before, Whispers of a Machine is a point-and-click adventure where you have to use your ingenuity, eye for detail and intelligent guessing to solve the clues. Since this is the future, Vera is injected with a CNS compatible bio-fluid which goes by the slang term “Blue” that activates her bodily nano-augmentations enabling her to scan the environment for fingerprint and DNA traces, detect biometric anomalies while interrogating and even give her a short muscle boost to pull up tasks inconceivable by a normal human being without the aid of tools. But the real spice comes from the way in which you react to certain critical situations and choose certain dialogue options while conversing with the NPCs as based on it, Vera’s dormant augmentations will awaken giving her a host of new personalized abilities like seeing in the dark, mind-control, activating a cloaking system to vanish away from sight, etc. There is a gamut of powers waiting to be activated and the combinations in which you unlock them will vary as your actions will determine the path Vera travels down – Assertive (Path of Tyr), Empathetic (Path of Baldr) and Analytical (Path of Frigg). That said, your choices will shift Vera along the corners of the personality triangle and there’s a high probability that you’ll end up with a mixed bag of enhancements owing to a mixed persona (and unlock a steam achievement if that happens).
But even though the playthrough varies based on whether you tackle a situation empathetically or analytically, the variation is only limited to that particular section of the story without any ramifications on the overall arc. It would have been better if we had the option to actually mold the story as per our convenience but I guess the writers wanted us to follow down a scripted narrative where the only change is in the way how we handle specific scenarios. This reduces the charm of a second playthrough as you will already be knowing what will happen next… unless if you’re curious enough to know how to counter a situation differently.
Visuals, Performance & Sound
These are perhaps the best substance Whispers of a Machine could offer, even better than the intriguing storyline because the environmental art and level detailing with Nordic influences are downright glorious! Each minuscule object that Vera can interact is handpainted with a tinge of pixel-art like a delicious icing on the cake. The facial expressions of the characters are extremely dynamic, constantly changing with the moods and as per the dialogues. The background score is atmospheric, accurately hyping the mood in any situation whatsoever, and this actually made me relate to her as in how I would have performed in her shoes. Not a single, I repeat, not a single performance issue, and I think Whispers of a Machine would go down as an unsung hero in my steam library because there is no sign of Raw Fury’s The Last Night coming anytime sooner.
Whispers of a Machine is good, but it’s quite short and the world-building isn’t all that enough to arouse your curiosity for a second playthrough because Nordsund feels kind of sparse given its quasi-cyberpunk setting. Apart from the NPCs Vera interacts with, no other characters are present, no side-quests, no collectibles except those hidden steam achievements for which I had to see the online walkthrough to obtain them. But who are you gonna show that off? But if you’re in the market for a game with pixel/watercolor aesthetics and an awesome story with a fitting OST, this is the best thing you could play.