GAME REVIEW: The Technomancer – It Really Tries

The Technomancer feature
The Technomancer

The Technomancer is the hardest game I have ever had to review in over two years at Cultured Vultures. It’s not because it’s particularly bad or even too good for words. No, The Technomancer is difficult to review because of just how average it is, meaning that it’s hard to keep going back to playing it sufficiently enough to give it a proper assessment.

Developed by French studio Spiders, The Technomancer is a third-person RPG that is grand in concept, but meek and middling in execution. It tries so very hard to be a proper AAA game – it never really comes close. Everything you encounter or experience in the game has already been done, even as far back as a decade ago.

Playing as Zachariah Mancer, a gifted individual with a paperweight personality, you must fight to bring peace to Mars and uncover the mysteries of the planet and the factions who reside there. Or at least that’s what I believe The Technomancer to be about – the plot is bloated, hackneyed and uninspired to the point where it’s more satisfying to just move past it. There’s a great deal of lore to be uncovered here for RPG veterans and all credit must go to Spiders for that, but when everything else is so pedestrian, it’s difficult to connect with anything that’s going on, as deep and complex as the story may go.

The Technomancer game

Where The Technomancer falls down most is in its combat. It’s punishing and ultimately not very enjoyable; it tries to ape the combat style of many better games with half the finesse. Each fight feels like it’s a constant war against the controls and the system itself, not helped by the woeful camera that you must have upset in a past life. No matter how far you progress or how powerful Zachariah becomes, it feels like you’re cheating through every fight – every scenario boils down to dodge, attack, dodge, attack, dodge, and so on. It plays as if there should be QTE prompts on screen at all times, almost as if it’s Dance Dance Revolution instead of a Wild Hunt beater.

You need to follow a combat template when playing through the game as you will find yourself being prompted to load the last save all too often. You see, despite Zachariah supposedly being an all-powerful warrior, he is actually about as fearsome as, well, me: a slightly chubby guy sat writing in a vest. Unless you’re prepared to constantly dodge, The Technomancer is going to be a source of frustration – it takes as much to kill you as it does your enemies. Having a balance is never something to discredit, but when you have electricity coming out of your hands, surely you should be more powerful than a random thug in a gas mask. People might say that those that are turned off by this should “git gud”, but here’s the difference between The Technomancer and Souls games: Souls makes you feel like the world is yours once you finally beat what’s been besting you, as if you’ve really progressed; The Technomancer just keeps plodding along.

To commend Spiders where it’s due, they have put a lot of time and effort into the different combat styles Zachariah is able to utilise. You can either go Rogue (sneaking), Technomancy (electric powers), Warrior (Darth Maul), and Guardian (shield). Each of them can be useful depending on the situation you find yourself in, and you will find yourself in a lot of tricky situations over the course of The Technomancer.

Comparisons to other games have been plentiful, but the franchise that it takes inspiration from most has to be Mass Effect. It even plays like an early Bioware game, like the developers are only just finding their feet, despite the fact that Spiders have created games like Bound By Flame and Mars: War Logs in the past. Even though the original Mass Effect is now years old, it’s still more polished and satisfying to play. Just like The Technomancer, Mass Effect 1 tried to do a million things at once and, for the most part, succeeded. The Technomancer seems like it’s trying to half-do a lot of things at once and constantly falls on its face as a result.

The Technomancer
It looks nowhere NEAR as good as this.

You need only look at the presentation side of things to see an example of this. Don’t let the marketing materials fool you, The Technomancer is not a pretty game. It has flashes of beauty and details that demand you take a look, but as a complete product, it’s really drab. There is no vibrancy to anything as all of your surroundings are simply there – as fitting as this is for a dystopian video game, there are ways to capture the attention more than making everything dark and dreary.

The animations also leave a lot to be desired, as in there are barely any. Character movement is jarring with bugs and clipping being a common occurrence, though where The Technomancer flatters to deceive the most is in its facial designs. Characters talk with about as much empathy in their eyes as serial killers, not helped by the fact that only their mouths are animated, giving everyone a disconcerted mannequin look. When it comes to the voice-overs, it’s completely hit-and-miss. Sometimes it’s okay, but most of the time it’s as if the actors were reading lines for different characters; the tone is rarely right and the delivery often flat. There have even been a few instances where NPCs have been screaming bloody murder, yet their faces are calm and composed, as if a demon has just burst out of their mouth. As for the soundtrack, let’s just say it never quite fits and is FruityLoops-y to the extreme.

For those who want their RPGs to have a lot of depth, The Technomancer could be a treat. There are a lot of items to find and gear to equip with the latter even having room for upgrades, which are minimal, but effective. The game also has more than its fair share of interesting side-quests, most of which are actually more interesting than the story missions. Dialogue grants the player the opportunity to discover more about the world and to make decisions that will change the way the game plays out; a nice touch. There’s even a karma system involved for those that love their throwback mechanics.

To nitpick The Technomancer fully would take all day. There’s so much wrong with it that should completely turn me away, but there’s something undefinable that charmed me. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that it tries really hard to be something more than it is, like the team behind it wanted it to be so much more but struggled within their limitations. There’s a heart to the game that stops it from being outright bad to just about okay.

For anyone still sat on the fence, The Technomancer is a hard sell. It won’t win any awards and it might not be remembered fondly in even six months time, but I can’t deny that it has its charms. As long as Spiders keep giving a game all they’ve got, they will get there one day.

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