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December 2021


Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC
Genre: RPG/Action
Developer: Anshar Studios
Release Date: Sept. 16, 2021

About Andreas Salmen

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PC Review - 'Gamedec'

by Andreas Salmen on Nov. 15, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Gamedec is an adaptive, cyberpunk RPG game where you play a private detective who solves crimes committed in virtual game worlds.

RPG fans have had a few great years, with releases such as Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous or Baldur's Gate 3 offering some great experiences. The most notable release, however, was Disco Elysium, a detective CRPG that did not feature combat in a traditional sense and instead focused on story-driven role-playing and decision-making to shape the adventure. Gamedec, while smaller in scope, goes down a similar route, offering a narrative RPG in a dystopian cyberpunk world set in future Warsaw, Poland. After completing the story and playing a second time to see some of the different choice-driven story paths, I came away quite impressed. It cannot reach the heights of Disco Elysium in any single area, but Gamedec stands confidently on its own as a short but sweet narrative exploration of gaming and crime in a dystopian future.

Our protagonist is the titular Gamedec, which is short for game detective, a PI for hire when crimes are committed in the real or virtual worlds. In the futuristic Warsaw, people physically jack themselves into virtual experiences, ranging from harmless farming sims to brutal and dangerous criminal worlds, and Gamedecs keep things in order. Exploits, cheaters, and blatant virtual kidnapping are a few examples of what you're hired for. You'll make crucial decisions and deductions along the way and shape the outcome of the story. Since the story is the key pillar of the experience, I won't go into any major story details, but I was surprised at how flexible some dialogue and story beats were, depending on what decision I made. The game is quite varied, with the story being comprised of several different cases you'll take on, most of which require you to visit a different digital world. While each case isn't overly long, you visit different game environments and meet different characters at regular intervals, so things remain fresh and interesting as you progress.

This variety and flexibility in the game positively impact the quality of the experience. I enjoyed the cases I had to solve as a Gamedec, and there were some interesting decisions and outcomes and a decent overarching storyline tying everything together, but it never went very deep. The NPC characters you meet along the way are not always memorable and can come off as two-dimensional since you don't spend much time learning about their motivations or backgrounds. A lot of the dialog feels superficial, making it difficult to care about a given case.

The quality of the narrative is enough to carry the game throughout its 10-hour runtime, which can easily double if you try a second walkthrough to see different endings. From what we've seen, a second playthrough is warranted. Gamedec never shows you a game over screen. If you make a decision that leads you down the wrong path, the game doesn't really stop you, which I found to be refreshing and fun since that meant decisions have some weight and consequences.

At the same time, I found Gamedec's world to be a tad uninspired. While the different virtual worlds poked fun at game experiences today and at their logical repercussions in this fictional future, the depiction of this world can feel unoriginal. You'd be quick to point out that Gamedec plays in a cyberpunk world, but that's about it. There is not much world-building that would make this cyberpunk interpretation wholly original or different from other experiences. Again, the game falters if you compare it to the genre's shining example, Disco Elysium, for its lack of voice work, small environments, depth and detail of the writing, and the variety of options. If you're looking for another game that comes close to that on a smaller scale, Gamedec is comparable from a narrative standpoint, but it's a much simpler RPG.

Gamedec starts with a basic character editor, where you can choose from a selection of avatars to represent your character, one of two backgrounds, and a profession that dictates your starting stats (if you want to call them that). There is no real leveling system in Gamedec. Instead, you earn what I'd call currency in different areas that you can spend on additional skills. You start with a handful of points to distribute based on your character profession, and after that, your behavior toward NPCs in dialog earns more points. If you are harsh to a person, you may get an aggression point, but showing empathy might get you a point in the feeling category.

Each new profession you unlock using these points unlock more options in either dialog or when interacting with certain objects in the environment. As such, these professions can have a major impact on the outcome of a case, since different professions open different paths to solve the case. I usually saved up all points until I was faced with locked dialog options, and then I decided if I wanted to unlock that profession to move the discussion in that direction. As a result, I always felt in control to move things in the correct direction, making the overall experience feel engaging throughout.

Every piece of gathered information counts. You have something of a "mind castle" at your disposal; the Deductions screen is where all of your collected info is displayed in nodes. Each node allows you to make a conclusion once enough information is collected. An incomplete set of information can make it difficult to draw the correct conclusions, and you may not quite get enough information to be 100% sure, so you must consider your actions carefully enough to not upend the investigation. Each deduction inevitably leads you down a certain path, and making different deductions may send you in different directions or locations, further adding variety to your choices.

Gamedec runs quite well on the PC, with minimal requirements ensuring that most people will be able to run the game in some capacity. That means the game isn't necessarily the best-looking. Even on maxed-out settings and downsampling of higher resolutions, the game always looked a tad blurry to me, and there are a few areas where the texture work looks downright fuzzy. Given the isometric camera view, things look decent enough when zoomed out, but they falter under close inspection.

We also encountered a few technical difficulties, like our character freezing in place at some point, which required a quick reload of our most recent save. You'll notice a few cut corners in the presentation, like repeating NPC models that further contributed to some characters feeling unmemorable and underdeveloped. The score is solid but not overly remarkable, especially since it rarely plays. You're most often immersed in the sounds of your current environment, with a good selection of noises and soundscape to bring the virtual and real environments to life. It's a mixed bag, both in the visual and audio department, but not to the detriment of the experience. It comes together quite well, and the focus isn't necessarily the presentation anyway.

I don't think Gamedec has to be afraid of the comparison to Disco Elysium. Yes, it is smaller in scope and production values, but its choice and dialogue systems are incredibly solid and accommodate an intriguing story-driven experience that instills hope that Anshar Studios will continue to deliver with future projects. The pricing at $30 is a tad too steep for my taste, given its short runtime and production values, especially when compared to Disco Elysium, which can be found well below that price nowadays. If you have already played Disco Elysium, Gamedec is a worthy and fun game to check out if you need that same itch scratched.

Overall, Gamedec delivers on its premise. It's a fun and intriguing story with plenty of choices to make and cases to solve. It never gets remarkably deep in lore, world-building, or character development, but it pulls off the decision-driven storytelling quite well. The limited scope hurts the experience, though. Environment maps can be small and feel on rails even when they're not, and some cut corners distract from what is a thoroughly entertaining narrative experience.

Score: 8.0/10

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