Review: Chronicles of cyberpunk

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Review copy provided by developer via Curator Connect

It’s impossible to say what makes some games so bad they’re good, but I believe being earnest is a large part of it. A game that doesn’t have the best writing or systems can still get by on leaning into what it does have as hard as it can, without a hint of shame at its shortcomings. I think that’s why I ended up liking Chronicles of cyberpunk as much as I did, despite some very strong early misgivings. I’m not going to sit here and tell you it’s something amazing, but it’s certainly worth your time if you want something rough and weird and different.

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You are a citizen of a dystopian cyberpunk hellhole, an almost alien city that feels like a cross between Transmetropolitan and early 90s CGI. The angular mannequin people here are a mix of humans and cyborgs, living in strained harmony under the watchful eye of Big Brother. Yes, he’s literally called Big Brother in the game world and you are one of his top agents, charged with undertaking different tasks for him every day. However, on this one particular day you receive a letter that sets you on a very different path, one that promises to reveal the darkest secrets of this bizarre world.

This is primarily an adventure game, told in first-person as you scoot around the city and talk to people. You won’t have any inventory to worry about and only a handful of action sequences where you need to run from something or shoot something. That places it more on the walking sim side of the genre, and indeed you’ll spend most of the game running from place to place, automatically completing tasks for folks by your very presence. While you’re out and about you’re free to explore and see what the citizenry has to say for itself, as well as marvel at the absolutely insane architecture adorning the district.

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Don’t get too excited about all of this, because the core gameplay elements are only passable at best. For starters the story is bad, and is told in one of the worst ways possible. It’s a complex plot with plenty of twists and turns through the tropes of cyberpunk but you get everything fed to you through dialog boxes, including dramatic reveals and startling deaths. The world has the static feel of something like old Morrowind, where you have a fully realized and populated world of people who do absolutely nothing except when you’re not looking and then tell you about it later. There’s also no advantage to exploring aside from turning up additional weirdness because there are no branches to the plot.

Beyond the story, Chronicles of cyberpunk is a chore to play. Your objective is always posted in the top-right and features such scintillating tasks as “Get food in DINER” and “Say hi to drone”. It’s the lowest-effort way to keep the player on track and is a noticeable drag on the fun. Despite the simple polygonal graphics it runs really choppy, with constant animation hiccups. Before you start the game, the full range of Unity engine settings from Fastest to Fantastic is available to you and none of them change a thing. There also aren’t any in-game options for basic elements like controls or volume, leaving you stuck with default keys and other important settings.

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I was tempted to punch out of this one based on the technical limitations alone, but I stuck around to have breakfast with my giant monitor-brick drone roommate and collect my mail from the flying postman outside my window. On the way to DINER I stopped to watch the flying cyborg cats drift by and speak to a head in a jar. I became engrossed in the world and its profound weirdness just to see what else was hiding around the next corner. The maps tend towards flat, empty stretches to hike across but they’re filled with nonsensical architecture, pulsating devices, and hilarious citizens who sound like they’re debating metaphysics in Google Translated tweets. It’s shoddy in places and well-constructed in others, a mad crush of design that builds with the story enough to get me invested in the plot by the end despite how badly it’s paced and expressed.

Chronicles of cyberpunk isn’t a good game. There are too many problems with the narrative, the quests, the translations, and even the game engine itself. But I enjoyed the 80 minutes it took to finish and I’m glad I did it, not because it was good but because it was so very, very different. A lot of games try to capture that untouchable magic of the strange and this is one of the rare ones that does it, just in a rickety, confusing package. It plays like Jazzpunk with E.Y.E. Divine Cybermancy’s text, two inscrutable games on their own that this crossing tops in how unapproachable it is. But approach it you should, even for a moment, to glimpse the mad and broken wonders within.

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