It's 2087. You get off work — if you're lucky enough to be employed — and melt back into the dark, dingy city you call home. If you're younger, maybe you head to your one-room apartment and slip into Trance — a virtual reality world where anything is possible. If you're older (and a Luddite), maybe you retreat to a rooftop garden — one miserable, genetically engineered speck of green amidst grey urban sprawl.
And if you're rich, maybe you head to a restaurant that serves human meat. Cloned human meat, of course — to keep things legal.
This is the world of Technobabylon, a cyberpunk point-and-click adventure that's about as well-written as it is retro — which is to say, very.
In many ways it's your standard cyberpunk set-up. There's a too-old-for-this cop pushed to his limits. There's an addicted-to-the-Internet hacker type. There's a global conspiracy. There's neon and synthesizers and seedy city blocks. Stop me if you've seen this literally a billion times.
But where Technobabylon succeeds is in manipulating perspective — in framing the same ideas through different lenses.
There's Regis. He's the "too-old-for-this cop" I mentioned earlier, and boy is he too old for this. If Regis could wear a Rage Against the Machine shirt to work, he would. Assuming people remember Rage Against the Machine in post-nuclear 2087. Surveillance cameras, computers, phones, cyborg-style implants — Regis hates the whole lot, and most of all he hates the city's overzealous artificial intelligence, Central.
Contrast that with the twenty-something Latha, an unemployed woman living in the city's slums. She's wired head-to-toe and spends more time in Trance — basically the Matrix — than the real world. Only her apartment's exploding drives her into the distasteful realm she not-so-fondly calls "meatspace."
Then there's Lao, Regis's partner. She's in between the two, with some amount of reverence for real life tempered by extraordinary hacking skills, deference to Central, and her own set of cybernetic hardware.
My favorite aspect of Technobabylon is the way it shuttles you between these three viewpoints. The game's not incredibly long — maybe six to ten hours, depending on how long you're stuck on some of the more egregious puzzles. But it feels like we learn a lot about the world, thanks to our split perspective.
And what a world. Eating cloned human meat is just the most notable example, but Technobabylon touches on a number of challenging/taboo science fiction subjects — from mass surveillance to the ethics of teaching an artificial intelligence to scientific experimentation on humans to digital escapism.
On some of these subjects, Technobabylon takes a hard stance. For instance, cloned human meat — well, let's just say Regis doesn't have much good to say about the merits of eating John F. Kennedy's leg, "legal" or not.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.