Whispers of a Machine Review
When you think of point-and-click adventure games, you might recall classics like the Monkey Island series or Grim Fandango. The best of these games are equal parts fun, engaging, and challenging, while the less-than-stellar entries struggle to maintain a balance. A good point-and-click adventure game wins you over and lets you get lost in the story, and Whispers of a Machine captured my attention immediately.
The scene: a futuristic detective mystery set in a small settlement on a post-apocalyptic Earth. The detective: Vera Englund, a big-city agent sent to investigate a murder on her first major case, complete with cybernetic detective powers. Unfortunately for Vera, it’s not a clean and cut case of whodunit, and it’s our task to solve a gradually growing mystery.
When the game starts, our plucky agent is riding the train into the town of Nordsund on assignment. A vague number of years ago, humanity survived a cataclysmic event called The Collapse, and now there are decrees outlawing any machinery with a CPU. As Vera gazes out the window and sees the town of Nordsund, which is suspended on a disc in the sky, by the way, the environment screams run-down steampunk, with littered cars and robots dotting the landscape.
A Mysterious And Uncertain Future
As soon as we arrive on the scene, we chide the local police a bit, and get right down to investigating. Immediately I get a vibe that this story is Ghost in the Shell meets Agatha Christie detective mystery. Vera has been injected with some sort of enhancing nanofluid called Blue which grants her the use of augmentations, such as the ability to scan for DNA. You start with a few of these Augs unlocked and are trained in how to use them right away, as they’re vital to progression, and you unlock more as you continue playing.
“Wait a second,” you might be thinking, “Doesn’t Blue sound a bit like A.I.?” Characters in the world regularly discuss the irregularity, and the game regularly circles back to discussions on A.I., humanity, and the meaning of life. Developers Clifftop Games and Faravid Interactive have previously explored deeper themes in their previous adventure games, Kathy Rain and The Samaritan Paradox.
But while Whispers of a Machine promises a deep dive into these complicated topics, in the end it feels like a simple and fairly linear point-and-click mystery, albeit an excellent one, with a lot of window dressing. The town of Nordsund has some strange machinery and runes that Vera comments on, noting that they’re very peculiar for the locale, but we don’t circle back and learn more about their reasoning. The story tries to follow through on the overarching themes and implications behind the murder mystery, but these threads fall into the background as the story continues along.
Choose-Your-Own Detective Story
What was most impressive was how well it embraces the player’s decisions. From the get-go, I was warned that my approach to the game would influence later actions, and each dialogue choice and puzzle I solved could be tackled in a few different ways. Was I going to be an assertive, straight-to-the-chase cop that had their way? Did I prefer the more comforting, empathetic approach, to try and get suspects on my good side? Or was I a cool and collected logical cucumber that valued reason and deduction above all?
At first, I picked choices based on how I would react, brushing aside the game’s warnings. But later in the game, I saw the impact of my decisions. The story of Vera that I was telling required her to rely on certain skills over others to figure out the mystery, and only after finishing the game did I realize that the puzzle would have been different had I played differently. It didn’t feel like Whispers was forcing me to play a certain way, but rather, it embraced the story I was telling. My Vera wouldn’t steal a key item from someone when she could reason out a way to work around the item instead.
It was easy to get caught up in the story you create, and the atmosphere of Whispers of a Machine plays a huge role. The music that plays as you walk around Nordsund is the perfect blend of mysterious and dystopian, and it pushes you to unravel the dark mystery at your feet. Each character you meet and interrogate is unique, albeit a little flat, with their own mannerisms and stories. The voice acting deserves a lot of praise here, particularly Ivy Dupler’s Vera, a charming performance with a lot of range that makes you instantly root for the heroine.
The Epitome of a Point-And-Click
Again, however, Whispers of a Machine didn’t feel revolutionary, and it’s not trying to be. You’re still going to point and click where you want Vera to go. You’re going to click on items and clues and sometimes combine the two to proceed with the story. The art style and animations are pixely and charming, just as with classic point-and-clicks, and the portraits look fantastic. It wears its legacy with pride, which might be jarring for some. The sight of Vera walking sideways towards the screen made me laugh and reminisce, but for others, it might be a sign of poor aging.
Some puzzles were simple, some were frustratingly difficult. If you’re occasionally unwise like myself, you’re going to click every part of the screen, interact with every character and location, and eventually stumble onto the answer. The cool augmentation detective powers actually further this problem, since their promise of extra information had me try to use every single one on every single screen to no avail.
At the end of the day, Whispers of a Machine is an excellent point-and-click mystery that I would recommend to both a fan of the genre and a solid entry point. It’s doesn’t flip the genre on its head, but the fun detective mechanics and impressively personalized story serve to make otherwise familiar gameplay feel fresh. It’s short, sweet, and although there is the promise for more, is ultimately rewarding.
***PC Code Provided By The Publisher***
- Multiple puzzle solutions
- Engaging atmosphere
- Creative detective powers
- Some obscure puzzles
- World-building falls flat
- Underutilized mechanics