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The Technomancer

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Focus Entertainment
Developer: Spiders Games
Release Date: June 28, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PC Review - 'The Technomancer'

by Brian Dumlao on June 30, 2016 @ 3:00 a.m. PDT

The Technomancer is a post-apocalyptic RPG set in a cyberpunk world on Mars during the War of Water, where an aspiring Technomancer faces a myriad of questions as his future grows threatened by the secrets of his past.

Spiders Studio seems to have a knack for crafting action RPGs that are ambitious but flawed. From Of Orcs and Men to Bound By Flame and Mars: War Logs, each title has had an interesting setting but lacked polish, leading them to generate a small cult following but receive average critiques. That last title seems to have received enough interest that the developer decided to create a sequel in the form of The Technomancer, which follows the rest of its lineup in being both ambitious and flawed.

In the distant future, Mars is successfully colonized but abandoned. Those left behind were ultimately divided into several different groups, depending on their circumstances. Those living above ground became mutants that were either enslaved or tried their best to survive on their own. Those in shelters either lived in the slums or under the rule of armed corporations that managed the planet's most precious resource: water. Aside from the soldiers, there are the technomancers, special beings who are able to harness the power of electricity. You play the role of Zachariah, a cadet who's about to graduate and become part of this elite brotherhood. You're sent to learn about the origins of your people but soon become embroiled in something that affects Mars and its inhabitants.

As far as story goes, it hits the expected plot points and twists, like uncovering the evil of major corporations and learning that no faction is inherently good or evil. None of the major plot points are fresh, but they play out fine. What saves the story are the characters you fight alongside, as each one of the large cast has an interesting tale. In essence, their tales become more interesting than the main one, prompting you to dedicate quite a bit of time to concluding their quests instead.

What kills the story is the dialogue and delivery. Almost everyone you meet, whether it's a major or minor character, seems to not know the meaning of brevity. Everyone likes to use as many words as possible for the simplest things. Most of the time, you'll get their gist long before they finish their sentences. Hitting the skip button requires two confirmations, but that only skips that line instead of the whole conversation; this can be annoying if you died and are forced to experience the scene again. Making it more painful is the delivery of the dialogue, which almost always misses the tone. For example, a mutant swears revenge against a rival but does so in the most even tone. After an ambush, a character you're escorting calmly tells you that she doesn't want to go toward an explosion — before shrieking that she's being attacked.

The Technomancer is an action RPG, and as far as the RPG portion goes, it ticks off just enough boxes, with a leveling system with different attributes to upgrade and a skill tree to activate passive and active abilities in four different disciplines. Your technomancer abilities include things like electrifying your weapons, creating shields, and pushing out lightning arcs. As in many modern action RPGs, you can get yourself a pretty big party of characters depending on the factions you side with, and you have the chance to romance a few of them if you keep getting on their good side. For the most part, there's nothing here that's really new or unfamiliar, so genre veterans can jump in pretty easily.

The game also features a morality system, which is affected in one of two ways. The first is through the missions you take and your approach to each of the objectives. As expected, your affinity with the faction you're fighting for will be dependent on whether you followed their orders to the letter or deviated from the path. The other way, however, is more interesting since it depends on how many people you kill. Despite appearances, you never actually kill anyone until you decide to drain them of their serum, which also acts as the game's currency. It means nothing if you kill creatures, but humans who die at your hand will negatively affect your morality, sometimes to the point where your allies will leave the team.

When it comes to your approach during missions, you're given quite a number of options. You can employ some stealth to sneak around enemies and steal items for use later. The system is completely based on vision, so making noise won't matter as much as being seen or hitting a foe. One of the more annoying things about stealth is that your attack is pretty weak until you really power yourself up. You are given a stealth attack if you creep up on an enemy from behind, but it does so little damage that you're better off avoiding conflict altogether or going for regular attacks, since transitioning from stealth to unsheathing your weapon to finally attacking leaves you wide open for a counterattack. In conversations, you can use your charisma to get your way without resorting to violence, or you can resort to bribery. There are a few ways to accomplish a mission, but should all else fails, you can fall back on more violent means.

The combat system is familiar by action RPG standards, but it still feels rather good. You have three different attack buttons that vary in ability rather than strength. Your technomancer skills can be accessed with a trigger pull and face button combination, which is also used to access items in your quick use slots. You can perform dodges and bring up menus to pause the action and use more spells and items. What makes the system feel good is the ability to switch off styles at any time. From heavy defense and melee to faster area control attacks, you aren't forced to stick with one class from beginning to end, and you can even change things out in the middle of a fight.

The enemy really makes an effort to gang up on you. In most games, they'll do a good job of crowding around you, but only one attacks at a time, giving you ample opportunity to take out everyone before they do some damage. Here, you'll see both enemies attacking you almost simultaneously or one blocking your attacks while another attacks your vulnerable side. Considering how hard each person hits, it forces you to pay attention to spacing and dodging very often to get control over each fight. You also become more accustomed to throwing in stun attacks in the middle of your combos, since enemies have a tendency to absorb your hits while preparing to perform their own attacks. In most cases, isolating a foe and keeping them in perpetual stun locks is the only way to survive a fight.

Your mobility, however, is completely dependent on whether you're locking on to an enemy. If you choose to ignore it, then you'll be able to make some spectacular dodge moves that put you a good distance away from an attack while still providing you with an opportunity to counter. If you do lock on to a foe, your dodges are simpler and cover far less distance, forcing you to press the dodge button a few more times to get a clearer opening. As such, the only way to be more effective is to constantly engage and disengage in the lock, so combat is more cumbersome.

The other flaw in the combat system has to do with your companions. While you might find them doing fine every once in a while, whether it's distracting an enemy for you or healing you at the right time, they're mostly useless in a fight. They may offer one hit and wait for an attack before finally fighting back with another weak hit. They won't come to aid you, and they never seem to know when to execute a killing blow of their own. Even if you change their behavior in the middle of a fight, their effectiveness isn't enough to make them reliable beyond using them to access cut scenes and side-quests. That same lack of AI is seen in escort missions, where the people you protect are perfectly fine with standing out in the open and taking their hits. As tough as fights can be in groups, they're made tougher since you often have to put in more effort to help your teammates instead of having them help you out.

If you're already over the color scheme used by the previous generation of games, then the graphics in The Technomancer isn't going to win you over. The browns and grays that were so prevalent in Mars: War Logs make a comeback here, and while it fits well, it is cast with so little light in areas that it's difficult to see anything unless you turn up the brightness levels. Once you do, you'll see that the environments are decent but not extraordinary or memorable. The creatures you fight are good as far as imagining what a mutated version of an Earth creature would look like, but humans and mutants are a different story. On the one hand, there are some fine details in the clothing and skin textures, and the hair looks more natural than something akin to a helmet. On the other hand, everyone's eyes are dead, and the camera angles in the cut scenes are terrible, making each person look rather distant due to the angles and lack of centering. The animations are fine, and while the particle effects aren't spectacular, the unlocked frame rate holds pretty steady when using mid-range hardware.

Similarly, the sound features flashes of quality mixed in with mediocrity. As mentioned before, the voice acting is a real sticking point, as the performances are often mismatched with the situations. The voices are average, but their inflections make it so they can't be taken seriously. The music is typical sci-fi fare, but it sometimes appears in the strangest of places, such as the low thumping beat that plays constantly when you're at your barracks. With the effects also being pretty average, the overall audio can be best described as serviceable.

Your enjoyment of The Technomancer is going to depend on whether you're willing to overlook the things it doesn't do so well. The story is fascinating, but you have to deal with characters that are dull and not worth remembering. The combat system is rather deep, but you'll have to be much more proficient due to the lack of intelligence displayed by your AI companions. Finally, the overall dull look and bad audio choices detract from the elements that genuinely look good, such as the skin on each character. Like Spiders Studio's previous works, The Technomancer will find an audience among those who don't mind sampling from the ambitious French house, but others may want to play other available action RPGs before trying this title..

Score: 6.0/10

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