2064: Read Only Memories Review

I’ve noticed that as of late more and more titles are coming out with original base versions of a game before being updated, either continuously or all at once, to become more substantial and improved experiences.  I know why this is the case, but it always makes me reluctant to check out a game unless I know it is fully complete and will not be given substantial updates after the fact, as I want to have my first experience with something be in its best rendition.  I bring this up because that is exactly what happened with me and the original release of Read Only memories, and then I forgot it was updated until about two weeks ago.  Whoops.

2064: Read Only Memories Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Mac, Linux, PS4
Developer/Publisher: MidBoss

2064: Read Only Memories is a graphical adventure game set in the not too distant future of Neo-San Francisco, a veritable hotbed of scientific advancement, bubbling social revolutions.  Though more narrowly, the game focuses around the disappearance of the talented programmer Hayden Webber and his latest creation, a sapient machine by the name of Turing.  But being unable to solve this crime on their own, they need to recruit the protagonist, a friend of Hayden’s, in their quest for the truth.  

Before continuing on with the story itself, I want to talk about the protagonist in more detail.  Early on, the game makes a great effort to push the idea that this protagonist is meant to be an avatar for the player, going so far as to ask about the player’s preferred pronouns and dietary habits.  While that is an admirable and inclusive idea, I also must question the point of it, because the character is not really a blank slate for the player to occupy.  

They are a struggling journalist who lives in a rundown and messy apartment, with an unfinished novel on their nightstand, the poor financial situation that often comes with being a freelance writer, and has numerous existing social connections.  It makes the act of naming the character after the player themselves, which is absolutely what the game wants, genuinely jarring due to how different their situation likely would be from the player.  If I was actually in this situation, I would probably leave one of the most expensive cities in the country and try to develop another trade more applicable than journalism.  Also, the main character never goes to a restaurant to eat or anything, so I do not know why the dietary habits thing is even necessary.  Or why they would have milk in their fridge if they can be vegan.

Going back to the story, it mostly centers around the protagonist following leads, asking around for assistance, trying to piece things together, calling favors and encountering a variety of colorful characters in their pursuit for justice.  As their journalistic pursuit continues, stakes are raised, conspiracies begin popping up, and subterfuge continues on as allies are made, or not if the player chooses to be a jerk for some implausible reason, leading up to a conclusion that has far more bombast to it than would be reasonably assumed based on the game’s more innocuous origins.  

Seriously, the story quickly blossoms from a kidnapping case to one that centers around the very future of human society.  It’s kind of adorable in a sense, and does have a sense of escalation throughout, but something about it just rubs me the wrong way.  How the story manages to reach such heights without characters ever really addressing the absurdly high stakes, and how their path to get there is laid out through a vague string of leads that just so happen to lead to the next piece of the puzzle.  The characters flat out run out of leads constantly throughout the story, and it honestly becomes farfetched after enough repetitions.

This escalation is particularly jarring when compared to some of the more eccentric moments of the game.  For instance, there is a section of the game where the player needs to help a street rapper by the name of 4Moolah come up with a christmas themed rap by giving him various inventory items.  Or the section with a polar bear butler who can understand English thanks to a special hat he wears.  While these scenes do lighten the mood and tone of the game, and are genuine highlights for me, I could not help but find them at odds with the more dour tone adopted by the main story.

Beyond the surface story, Read Only Memories is clearly trying to address a lot of subjects, with themes about identity, the organization of human knowledge and information, the adverse effects of overpowered and massive corporate entities, and so forth and so on.  It clearly pushes a more leftist progressive viewpoint that I will not get into that much, but it also presents these things as being unanimously good and positive without really explaining them in much detail.  Because of that, I was constantly feeling as if something was missing from the thematic heart of this story, a level of self-awareness and the desire to address and explain its viewpoints to people who may not be overly familiar with them or understand them.

For example, I would have loved to see a scene where the player could talk to a hybrid, somebody with human and non-human DNA, and ask them about why they personally chose to undergo this procedure.  Or ask TOMCAT, an androgynous looking and nonbinary character, at least I think they are, their thoughts on gender and how they personally identify themselves.  The game is more than willing to give an expansive rundown of the viewpoints of a radical group that is protesting gene therapy and alternation, dubbed the Human Revolution, but never is the same attention brought to things that the game is clearly supportive of.  I think the most is when gender identity is brought up with regards to sapient machines, but that is more of an aside as part of a larger conversation.

As for the adventure part of this graphical adventure game, things are kept pretty linear, and mostly consists of basic pointing and clicking, conversations, and occasional minor puzzles that vary between the basic and silly to ones that are surprisingly thought out and complicated, often functioning more as a mini-game.  Diversions that do add variety to the game, but I cannot say that I was ever fond of them, considering how much they vary in premise and goal.  Besides, they can often be so simple and quick that it is hard for me to remember much about any one of them.

Instead, Read Only Memories is far more comfortable as a proper adventure game, and includes the level of interactivity and detail one would expect from the genre, which is to say, lots of things to look at and use on other things.  It is not as thorough as it could be, as only certain actions are allowed on certain interactables, but there is enough leeway that one can try and show a carton of spoiled milk to nearly every character in the game.  Which I naturally did.  

Beyond pointing and clicking, the game features a conversation system, though it is a rather binary one for the most part.  The dialog the player chooses will gradually affect how people view the protagonist, and will affect the story accordingly.  Meaning if the protagonist is nice, they receive a better ending where they befriend others.  If they are a jerkwad, then they are left friendless and will be greeted with worse ending, possibly a premature one.  Except I do not know why these decisions exist, as there is rarely if ever any incentive to being rude to others.

Even then, the idea of exploring these choices through a repeat playthroughs and the exploration of alternate endings is a rather daunting concept due to how the game does not adopt any way to skip text, or customize text speed.  In a dialog heavy game, this really does kill the experience, especially considering how the dialog speed is meant to match the voice acting, and does so very well.

Yes, as may come as a surprise, 2064: Read Only Memories has voice acting, and it is actually kind of impressive given the game’s perceptible low budget, and based on the quality of the voice actors brought in.  All of which make a concerted effort to bring the colorful cast of Read Only Memories to life, and do so almost shockingly well.  Every voice actor seems knowledgeable about their character’s past, personality, and general demeanor, and really get that across in their performance, making the characters that much more appealing, and the world that more cohesive.  

It certainly was a presentational highlight for me, because on the more visual end of the presentation front, I am a bit confused about what the developers were going for.  The gameplay of Read Only Memories is clearly inspired by a litany of point and click or PC adventure games from the late 80s and early 90s.  However, the visual style seems to be harkening back to a time ever before that, with a low pixel density and more reserved color scheme that is more evocative of 8-bit visuals.

I bring this up because it feels like Read Only Memories is being limited by its choice in presentation.  Because of this choice, environments and characters are less detailed, and it can be more difficult to make certain details out, as backgrounds can often be a mess of jumbled neon colored pixels.  I don’t mean to pry, but the original 1988 version of Snatcher, one of this game’s more obvious inspirations, managed to convey more detail in its world despite being developed for 8-bit computers.  

I can see a lot of potential in 2064: Read Only Memories, but after going through it to completion, I was a little underwhelmed.  While the concepts it explores are interesting, many of them feel underexplored or underdeveloped, and the immense sense of escalation the game undergoes during its conclusion left the story feeling uneven in the end.  While I can admire its ambition and its general flavor of social commentary, I was never taken in by its world, and the characters, while interesting and well portrayed, are not given quite the amount of focus to have them stick with me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.