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This Is The Zodiac Speaking

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Klabater
Developer: Punch Punk Games
Release Date: Oct. 15, 2020


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Switch/PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'This is the Zodiac Speaking'

by Cody Medellin on July 17, 2020 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

This Is The Zodiac Speaking is a dark, fact-based single player FPP adventure thriller, combining stealth & detective modes in a stylized world of California 1970s.

Games rarely tend to use real-life events as a backdrop, but when they do, they go for something grand with a definitive ending, such as world wars or revolutions. Basing one's work on a real-life event that has had no definitive conclusion is a rare sight, and that's what makes This is the Zodiac Speaking so interesting.

The game takes place in the Bay Area of California during the 1970s, and along with everything else happening in the world, the area is coping with another terror in the form of the Zodiac Killer, a murderer who's not just on a spree but also fond of taunting the authorities with cryptic clues that, if deciphered, could help catch him. You play the role of Robert Hartnell, a budding journalist who is intrigued with the case and gets roped in when the killer takes a liking to him and sends him more clues. Having already lost everything else due to his obsession, Robert takes it upon himself to document and solve the case to put an end to the Zodiac Killer's spree.

The demo is split up into two chapters. The first is the prologue, where you wake up and get a feel for your character; it's immediately apparent that his obsession with the Zodiac Killer has taken a toll. He receives a package with a roll of film that contains a clue about where the killer wants to meet him. This is where you're introduced to the game's basic mechanics: go to a spot and interact with something. The only puzzle is the deblurring of an image and looking for a spot in a book to find the location. It feels rudimentary in nature, almost like a modern Telltale game, minus the dialogue trees.

From here, you'll make it to a hilltop where, after going through another round of picking up and examining objects, you're introduced to the stealth mechanic where you'll need to crouch and stay out of the view of the Zodiac Killer, who is roaming around and wanting to kill you. The scenario highlights some inconsistencies that need to be smoothed out, as you can pick up a pistol at your house for protection, but you enter the scene without it.

Completing the scene takes you to the sixth chapter, where things get interesting. You're talking to a psychiatrist about the Zodiac Killer and ask to pick a photograph to replay that particular crime scene. In this case, the player is tasked with roaming around the scene and trying to set up the scenarios in the world before matching them up in his clue book and setting them in the correct order. The pieces were easy to figure out, since most of them either involve fetch quests to find the right piece or avoiding the gaze of the Zodiac Killer. Even then, getting caught wasn't a huge deal, since it meant going back to the beginning of the scene with your progress intact, so the challenge feels lacking. Solving all of this replays the scene, and then the demo ended.

While the audio remains a work in progress mostly due to a lack of effects and a limited soundtrack, the graphics are interesting due to their low-fi look. The color scheme appears a little flat, but that's appropriate, considering the subject matter. That is overlaid with some film grain to give the game an even dirtier look. The environments and almost all objects are crafted with a low polygon count, which is stylistically interesting since the character models are more detailed, making for a striking contrast of styles. All of this is framed in the style of an old TV in that the edges of the screen are rounded out, which further adds to the distinct look.

There's an intriguing air of mystery around This is the Zodiac Speaking. Most of this comes down to the story, which leaves in enough intrigue to make the player want to see what the journey is like and where it'll ultimately end up. The puzzles seem to be rather basic, so there's the question of whether the full game will offer more than re-creating scenes and hiding from an imaginary version of the killer. We'll know the answer when the game releases in two months, but we're hoping to see more of the game before then.

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