Whispers of a Machine has been on my to-play list for a while, but my Playstation 5 got in the way. It’s a scifi detective point-and-click adventure from the developers that created Kathy Rain. I played it this past week, so let me share my two cents.
In the not-so-distant future, AI came, then went down in a mysterious apocalyptic event, and a new post-AI world emerged. CPU’s are outlawed, and only simple automatons are legal.
Vera is a rooky special agent from the city, sent to the small town of Nordsund to investigate a murder. Vera has been augmented, not with clunky things like mechanical appendages, but with a substance called Blue. It gives her special powers that help with her work.
One murder had turned into two murders just as she arrives, and her investigation quickly becomes more complicated. As the story progresses she is sucked into the battle between AI worshipers and the forces opposing it.
Vera is the main character. She’s recently lost her boyfriend Alex and is still processing his death. It doesn’t become quite clear what happened to him, unfortunately. During the game you get to explore Vera’s character and her views on AI. The game walks a clever line between making the player choose, and telling a story.
The town of Nordsund is small, but you get to interact with a number of its residents. You report to Stina Rooth, a retired colleague who is now a councilwoman in the town. Your second main set of contacts are the police force of the town, through Constable Gabriel and his uncle, Commissioner Kurt Andersson. Then there are the doctor/mortician Dr. Persson, and the owner of Valter’s Robotics, Valter. All in all, the town is very believable. One of the things that make or break a point-and-click adventure is how ‘real’ the characters feel. And Whispers of a Machine does a good job at this, as did Kathy Rain.
The point-and-click interface has not changed significantly in thirty years. You have a view of the world and your character, and you click locations of interest in that view. At the bottom (or top) of the screen is a bar with your inventory and other types of commands.
In the case of Whispers of a Machine, they added your augments as a mechanic. You start out with three augments: a scanner, super-strength, and a biosign monitor. These three integrate into various puzzles. During the game, you gain more augments. What augments you get depends on your personality, and you determine your personality by choosing different answers in conversations. It’s quite a clever mechanic and adds flavor to the game.
All in all, the game is fun to play, and the detective story is engaging. But, like with Kathy Rain, the ending is anti-climactic. I won’t spoil the game, but the story throws up a very lofty ‘big idea’ about AI’s and their dangers, but that doesn’t go anywhere. Why humanity destroyed AI doesn’t become clear either. The motivations of the murderer, and the link to the rest of the story also felt unsatisfying. And finally, the trauma of Vera’s boyfriend Alex which is supposedly driving the character arc can’t really carry the story’s weight.
In short: this is a fun game, but the ending was unsatisfying.