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The Technomancer

Score: 65%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Spiders
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:

The Technomancerís inspirations are worn on its sleeve, but it never rises to the side of the objects of its aspirations. This is a fascinating but extremely flawed action role-playing experience that aims for the Mass Effect crowd. Itís impossible to say if itíll catch on with that demographic from where I'm sitting. But I need to be upfront about why before I get into the nitty gritty. If The Technomancer on Xbox One was offered at a reasonable price, I would give it an easy recommendation. It's an interesting game, and more importantly, it has arrived at the beginning of the summer software drought. Alas, it's been given a full price tag, and therefore must be held up to the standards of games with far larger budgets. But fans of role-playing games should play it eventually, whether through other platforms or by keeping an eye out for its inevitable price drop.

I really like what the developers at Spiders have done with The Technomancerís visuals. Itís completely in line with the kind of world building I appreciate. Itís absolutely futuristic, but it has far less in common with the polished, optimistic tech culture of Star Trek and Back to the Future and far more to do with the cynical realism of Alien and Blade Runner. The result is a Mars that actually feels lived in. The world of The Technomancer is a socially fragmented one, and the enclosed environments reflect that. Things suffer a bit when you actually leave the bastions of humanity, but let's be real here: Mars is a barren, rusty rock. There's only so much Spiders could do, given the cold, hard facts in the way.

Characters look fine, provided theyíre not NPCs; your customizable hero and party of comrades are indicative of a lot of time and effort, and they look quite impressive Ė and Iím not even going to slap that with the patronizing qualifier "for a low-budget title." NPCs, on the other hand, were clearly not blessed with those same efforts, from their often cringe-worthy faces to the randomly bizarre and incongruous animation cycles they run through as you explore the world.

Fire and ice. Thatís The Technomancerís sound design. It hits some dizzying highs and some abysmal lows. Its soundtrack is the clearest illustration of that disconnect; itís at its best when itís hitting you with low synth progressions that feel right out of Mass Effect, but it often goes into forgettable territory with no warning and no transition. Sound effects are mostly excellent, and do a good job of not only immersing you in the environments, but in the specific situations. Voice work is also hit and miss; while itís mostly fine, there are more than a few phoned-in performances. Thankfully, the most important characters are generally convincing enough to make it a non-issue, if not decent overall.


Gameplay:

The Technomancer is essentially a sequel to Spidersí own Mars: War Logs, though it might come across as more of a side story or a spiritual successor. Set two centuries after manís colonization of Mars, this game depicts the Red Planet as a land of strife, pain, and the occasional bit of progress. The rarity of water on the surface makes it a valuable commodity, as well as a point of contention for the numerous factions vying for control, sovereignty, and ultimately the way forward for mankind. Itís a brutal world where people, mutants, and monsters try and often fail to peaceably coexist.

You are Zachariah, an initiate Technomancer who has just passed his trials and been entrusted with not only the creed of his fellowship of superpowered warriors, but the dark secret at the heart of the guild itself. Working for the monolithic Abundance Corporation, the Technomancers use their abilities for the greater good, much like youíd expect such a privileged group to function. But it isnít long after Zachís initiation that something terrible happens, and our hero finds himself on the run. Luckily, he soon finds himself in the company of a diverse group of survivors, soldiers, and freaks, and he does what any self-respecting adventurer would do: he embroils himself in a series of conflicts on the behalf of strangers while steadily working towards the resolution of his own problem.

Yes, The Technomancer bears the structure and the basic gameplay patterns of most other sidequest-heavy role-playing games, and for the most part, it carries itself well. As long as you donít go drawing comparisons between it and its triple-A contemporaries, you will likely find yourself enjoying the adventure. Even the questlines that arenít so good have a certain comfort food quality to them, and the progression is reward in and of itself.


Difficulty:

Hoo, boy. The Technomancer doesnít fare so well in this department. For a game that dares to impart such ominous connotations on its title character, he sure fights like a wimp. Sadly, The Technomancerís combat system fails to satisfy, and while Iíll save the specifics for later on in the review, it is easily the lowlight of the game.

Enemies hit hard, en masse, with very little telegraphing and no regard for what everyone else is doing. While this may be more realistic than the combat rhythms of better games (particularly the Batman: Arkham games and the Witcher series), itís just too unfair. Combat is action-oriented, but very numbers-driven. If you donít roll the right dice, the outcome will not be in your favor. Even if the animations tell you otherwise.


Game Mechanics:

On the subject of combat, letís get the bad stuff out of the way first. Itís primarily a button-mashing ordeal, but I recommend partaking in a fair amount of the gameís rather pedestrian stealth mechanics over running into the fray with your staff at the ready. Sneaking up behind enemies and taking them out with a single hit might not be compelling or ultimately satisfying, but every little bit helps ensure your chances of survival. When the odds are stacked against you the way they are in The Technomancer, itís worth a little boredom to take the edge off.

Once things erupt into violence, Zach has no choice but to respond in kind. Three combat styles emphasize certain attributes and weapon/gear use, but youíll likely ignore the Guardian style in favor of the speedier, more damaging Warrior and Rogue variants, because damage and speed are your greatest allies in combat. Itíll mostly come down to dodging madly and sneaking in a few hits with your melee weapon, backing up, and hitting them with a bolt of electricity. Thereís a bit more involved in combat, but youíll soon learn to forget even attempting disrupting enemy attacks. As I mentioned earlier, bad guys tend to gang up on poor Zach, and they donít take turns with their shots.

Everything else works about like youíd expect, from character progression, skill trees, looting, and adventuring. As far as exploration goes, itís an inconsistent affair. Level design alternates between wide open hubs and clear pathfinding and labyrinthine, multiplane nightmares. The user interface is kind of a mess, and looting is a boring necessity. But ultimately, this is a fun world to exist in, and while its flaws are always present and apparent, they donít define the experience.

The Technomancer leaves the grand majority of its potential untapped, but it remains an ambitious attempt at a solid futuristic action role-playing game. At its current price point, itís a very hard sell; however, it's cheaper on Steam, so if you have a powerful-enough rig, I recommend checking it out there. If you approach it with the right expectations and the proper mindset, youíll probably enjoy The Technomancer. It isnít in the same league as most of its competition, but it shouldnít be judged that way. Such a shame it's been forced into that position.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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