Review: Read Only Memories, a Non-Dystopian Cyberpunk Mystery

Review: Read Only Memories, a Non-Dystopian Cyberpunk Mystery

Platforms: Windows PC, Mac, Linux, Steam

Game Name: Read Only Memories

Publisher: Midboss, LLC

Developer: Midboss, LLC

Genre: Adventure

Release Date: October 6th, 2015

Read Only Memories – What We Think:

If a robot can think, does it have a soul? And would it be right to create sapient robots? In a world where robots are just used for our benefit, how would the world react to this new technology?

Read Only Memories by Midboss, LLC is a futuristic sci-fi adventure which aims at making you think about these questions. It creates a world that addresses them using an intriguing, entertaining narrative.

ROM screenshot - Revolution

There is a clash in the futuristic world of Read Only Memories. On one side you have a big company called Parallax that creates advanced technology which includes ROMs: robots that act as servants or maintenance personnel around the city. Parallax also helped with the hybridization of the human genome and helped popularize cybernetic augmentations in humans.

Human Uprising

This quick advancement in technology has angered The Human Revolution, which is a group of individuals who oppose these technological advancements. They claim that it has diluted the strength and purity of the human species. They protest peacefully but oppose the uncertain, robot-heavy future that the world is headed towards.

Your role in this story is an important one. You play as a journalist living in a small apartment in Neo-San Francisco just trying to get by. One day, a small robot by the name of Turing breaks into your apartment to tell you that Hayden, his creator – who is also an old friend of yours – has gone missing.

You soon learn that Hayden is an important researcher over at Parallax and that Turing is a new, more advanced type of ROM: the world’s first sapient machine. With Turing by your side, you take on the investigation into the disappearance of Hayden.

ROM screenshot - Club

Along the way you’ll meet a handful of helpful people who are willing to help in your search: a highly skilled hacker by the name of TOMCAT, a tough-as-nails detective named Lexi Rivers, a disgruntled bartender, and even the leader of The Human Revolution. Read Only Memories really does a nice job fleshing out both main characters and the supporting cast.

The more you talk to them, the more you learn of their strengths and weaknesses, their motivations and back stories, and the game’s world itself. They are so well-written and unique that they make the world feel all the more engrossing; I often wanted to spend more time with some of these interesting characters.

The Enigmatic One

By far the strongest character in the narrative is Turing. This advanced robot is charming and very likable. He has a childhood innocence quality because he’s still so new to the world. Turing often laments about what it’s like to view the world through his eyes, and how his perspective is different from everyone else’s, including his robot counterparts.

Turing goes through the most change in the story, and it’s interesting to see how he reacts to certain situations, displaying emotions like anger or sadness. It’s heartbreaking to see and makes you care about Turing even more. He ultimately steals the show and was became my primary motivation to play forward.

ROM screenshot - Turing

The game’s narrative is entertaining but still feels a little lacking; as the story progresses, you quickly find out what’s at stake and how it can drastically change the world. The two opposing groups in the game and their clashing ideologies becomes the main focal point of the narrative. It really starts to focus more on a grandiose plot instead of delving into more interpersonal relationships.

I wish that Read Only Memories would have focused more on some of the interesting characters. After all, focusing on the more personal side is what helps make Turing so endearing. When the characters get pushed aside to make room for the game’s cliche (but still entertaining) plot, it brings down the experience as a whole.

Stand and Deliver

I haven’t been talking much about the game’s mechanics, because unfortunately there isn’t much to talk about. The game feels a lot like a Sega CD game called Snatcher. You enter an area in a fixed first-person perspective. You can’t move in that area, but you can click on objects to interact with them. You’ll do familiar things to interact with the world, use items from your inventory and solve a couple of simple puzzles. You can talk to a lot of people and even have different dialogue options, most of which don’t affect the game’s narrative at all.

There is not much exploration, either, as the game funnels you through a tunnel of areas without a whole lot of pit stops. This method for interaction works well enough to deliver this game’s dialogue-heavy narrative and not much else.

ROM screenshot - Gameplay

During the game you’ll talk to someone, and they’ll give you information or a lead on who to talk to next. You do a lot of that in a “rinse and repeat” fashion until you reach the end of the game. A lot of the time, the game feels like an interactive novel with an overall small number of instances that affect the game’s narrative to affect the ending you receive.

The problem is, that the game is so linear and limiting that you feel like you ultimately lack agency. It’s clear that the game wants to deliver a story and bring you along for the ride, but it feels too restricted. There were times where I was hoping for more in-game puzzles, mini-games or side quests to mix things up a bit.

Here’s Lookin at You

The game’s production values – from the wonderful pixel art to the soundtrack – are all high caliber. The game’s futuristic world is vibrant and colorful. The soundtrack is another standout and really helps set the tone for more emotional or frantic scenes. The visuals and the soundtrack together create a vibe that’s more optimistic and less bleak than you’d expect, given the game’s narrative, and a more positive vision of the future than you usually see in science fiction games. In fact, one of the devs at IndieCade spoke about the game’s setting being “cyberpunk, but not dystopian,” and in that sense, Read Only Memories is an unqualified success.

ROM screenshot - Flower

Read Only Memories is an entertaining experience, even though I had a couple of issues with it. It does a lot of things right. It may not have focused on offering much in terms of gameplay, which is a bummer, but its well-written narrative and memorable characters make up for it. It’s like The Wolf Among Us in that it’s a linear interactive narrative that you can only manipulate somewhat, but I didn’t mind since the narrative was so entertaining throughout.

Watch the trailer for Read Only Memories below:

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