Solve a murder in a near future world by diving into the Wikipedia of that world
This is one of the coolest games I have played.
In Neurocracy, you explore a website called Omnipedia, the apparent replacement of Wikipedia, upon its release on September 28, 2049. Days later, tragedy strikes. Sift through the articles to piece together what really happened.
Neurocracy caught me off guard at first. I opened Omnipedia and was immediately hit by an intimidating wall of cookie privacy settings that seemed to request access to things I had never heard of before. What does it mean by asking to use my "neurometric colloid" for neurometric montages? That sounded like a big deal. But sometimes you have to take things in stride. I opted out of everything I could and continued the game. Later, I made the connection.
Neurometric colloids are a technology portrayed in this game, implanted inside the brain. If you, the player, are supposedly reading a Wikipedia-modeled website in the 2040s, then it is quite possible that you would have a neurometric colloid of your own. The “privacy setting” idea was as seamless as could be for immersing the player. If this were any indicator of the game’s worldbuilding then Omnipedia was just getting started...
You navigate the game like you would Wikipedia by clicking on hyperlinks that lead you to different pages. You can also type in search terms. The central gameplay mechanic used to solve the mystery is the change history feature located on the right side of the screen that allows you to observe edits throughout the timeline. This feature uses red, yellow, and green colour coding to keep track of changes, additions, and deletions which opens a window into new developments and content that is trying to be concealed.
Neurocracy is overflowing with content but designed so the player can keep up with the exposition. Hovering your mouse over words underlined with a grey dashed line spell out the word’s abbreviation whiles words underlined with a blue dashed line provide definitions via a black popup box. You really learn things. It is a great sampler of modern-day subjects paired with more speculative, fictional ideas. This game will not give you a working knowledge. But it does offer a micro bite-sized crash course for topics in real-world discussions about ethics and technology. Learn about AI, neuroscience, quantum computing, genetic engineering, genetics, biology, aquaculture, and even sushi.
There are some articles where if I scrolled down halfway to the page, covered all the dates, and then asked you to read it as if it were a Wikipedia entry, it would take you several minutes before you realized that it was fiction (consider the article titled, "Piscine transmissible amyloidotic encephalopathy”). There is even a convincing reference section at the bottom of the page. If only I could click on those articles. I was extremely impressed with the realism. The game also gives a shoutout to familiar topics such as COVID-19 or Elon Musk’s neurotechnology company, Neurolink. These topics are smoothly integrated into the gameplay and are fun to discover.
It takes a bit to adjust to the slick interface and gorgeous visuals before you stop flipping through articles excitedly and finally sit down to absorb the content inside them. Random curiosity-driven excursions through Wikipedia for me often consist of a mix of thoughtful reading and skimming. The deeper down the Wikipedia rabbit hole, the more I resort to skimming as my brain flits from topic to topic. Omnipedia was the opposite. Conjure up the idea of having so many presents you do not know which one to open first. That was me. I finally told myself to pick an article and read it, and for 20 minutes or so, that's all I did. The next step was piecing everything together.
Story + Characters
The lifeblood of this game. Here is an overview of the surface story:
The game’s overarching story focuses on Xu Shaoyong, founder of Zhupao, a huge technology conglomerate, and the wealthiest man in the world. On September 30th, two days after Omnipedia is released, Xu Shaoyong is assassinated when a security drone open fires at his private helicopter upon his arrival at an airport in China. Along with him was another prominent figure, Yuri Golitsyn, who ran a large-scale energy company. This ripples across the world in complex ways that you must decipher. The assassination narrative is spread across ten days, the tenth day still portrayed as being an ongoing event.
A major theme is the balance of biosecurity and personal privacy. The gameplay is filled with the aftermath of the CMD (Cariappa-Muren disease) pandemic where an entire stock of genetically engineered bluefish tuna was found to be a vector for a prion disease. The resulting CMD phobia only spurred an argument in favor of heightened biosecurity. We see the usage of quantum computing, neural networks, and other technological advances to conduct surveillance and collect vast amounts of consumer and personal data, justifying it for the sake of monitoring biological threats. While part of this reasoning has merit, we see major problems with this approach. Whistleblowers reveal a lack of transparency in data collection and unethical usage of consumer products, often for corporate advancement. Neurocracy takes this a step further asks about the implications of these practices in more futuristic technologies such as brain implants. Cyberattacks are already a familiar phenomenon in our world, but what about brainjacking?
As technological advancements emerge, the realm of ethics only continues to grow. Even Omnipedia is shrouded in controversy. Wikipedia fizzled out and Omnipedia stepped in among criticisms of its supposed corporate favoritism. But by utilizing the revision history feature you can come to your own conclusions.
As for the characters, I found them to be intriguing even if we only learn about them through the pages of a website. (Spoiler - click to show) Connie Muren's death was especially saddening given her commitment to her work although her posthumous comeback against Spencer Hagen was quite moving. The characters themselves were just as interesting as the story.
The best part. I could say that about most things in this game, but the visuals really are a defining feature. This goes beyond the visual interface which already boasts of a clean-cut design with a blue Wikipedia reminiscent logo at the top left-hand corner of the screen. Neurocracy also features plenty of artwork of people, logos, locations, and technologies commissioned by artists. As is the case with Wikipedia each page only has a few visuals, but the quality of the art makes each piece shine. I can recall at least one article that had a small video imbedded in the page, which was a cool surprise.
Thoughts on structural design
After a long while I reached the point where I had viewed and analyzed a large chunk of the story’s content and wondered what to do next. I went online to learn more about the game, only to make a startling (to me, at least) discovery: (Spoiler - click to show) the player’s investigation is independent from the gameplay. I thought that the act of going through the content, of digging deep, would have some payoff within the game. A payoff beyond the deductive reasoning that occurs from article to article. Excalibur comes to mind.
Excalibur is another excellent and ambitious interactive fiction game. It is made with Twine and designed to look like a wiki fandom page for a fictional TV show by the same name. You read the articles to spot the controversies behind the show while pondering fandom culture and the dynamics of shared memories of media content. It too is open ended, but the twist is that content surfaces as a result of your explorations. For instance, reading about certain material results in more material being “posted.” The pinnacle moment of the game’s interactivity (go play the game) comes later, but even after that, the game never ends. There is no winning or losing or a congratulations for “completing” the game. You dive below the surface, and the game quietly acknowledges your participation.
I was anticipating something similar for Neurocracy. But Neurocracy is not Excalibur. They are two different games. And quite frankly, this game does not revolve around me. I decided to see it from the authors’ approach. Originally, the game was released episode by episode in 2021 to the public where players were encouraged to take notes and share theories with each other while waiting eagerly for the next episode to be released. That is the true investigation of game’s story. You take the investigation out of the game and into the audience. Meanwhile, I play all of it in one go a year later without any attention to this structure. There is also something to be said about accepting that sometimes games do not intend to give you all the answers. That in itself is part of the experience. And on that note, if anyone wants toss around theories, do not hesitate to comment on this review.
I must admit, the game’s design cleverly maintains the illusion that you are in fact sitting at your computer in 2049 leisurely browsing Omnipedia. Having the game act like a game would risk breaking this. Briefly, I wondered if there was an angle with the neurometric colloid privacy permissions. If you had such a thing would your browsing experience with Omnipedia be different? I opted into the privacy to setting to see if it changed the gameplay. It did not, but that type of experimentation is also part of the fun. The game entices players to invent ways of interacting with it.
Ultimately, (Spoiler - click to show) my sadness was about not being able to learn more about certain subjects. I was deeply disappointed because I was drooling for more. I felt like I had barely scraped the surface of this story’s vivid universe. As I described earlier, blue words with an underlined dash have popup definition boxes, but later in the story, some words turn into links with their own pages. I had my eye on several character names and terms that I hoped would become articles. Learning otherwise was a bummer, but it also made me appreciate the sheer volume of content- writing, artwork, user interface- went into this game to produce over thirty detailed pages of glossy, futuristic wiki material. It remains, without a doubt, one of the coolest games I have ever played. That is nothing to sneeze at.
Now that you have (finally) reached the end of this review, all I can do is recommend playing Neurocracy. It will blow you away. Its story is fascinating and deep, the artwork beautiful, and the interface is effectively convincing. You do not need to be an interactive fiction fan or a sci-fi fan or a Wikipedia fan to enjoy this game. And even if you don’t, the game’s discussions about the intersections of technological advancement, personal rights, and societal ethics will still linger in your mind as you draw parallels from today’s world. I thank the game’s creators for creating and sharing such a fascinating piece.
(As a formality, I found and accessed the game through its listing on IFDB which took me right to the game’s website.)
You are Bubble Gumshoe, a private eye tasked in solving the murder of Gum E. Bear in Sugar City.
The game begins at the crime scene. Gum E. Bear's corpse is in the alley. Officer Donut is nearby. From here, the city is at your disposal.
While the game has a smaller map than I expected it contains engaging scenery. This would be a good choice if you want a mystery game without tons of rooms. Much of the gameplay is geared towards talking to other characters but some snooping is encouraged. The game utilizes the smell and taste command for specific objects which not only assists in your investigation but pairs nicely with the fact that everything is made of candy. And in case you get stuck there are pointers at the top of the screen.
The humor in the gameplay comes from the candy-themed interpretation of a modern-day world. Experience the grunge and exotic nightlife of Sugar City. Adult bookstore? Not what you think. (Spoiler - click to show)
You weren't aware that toffee could bend that way.
Jawbreaker projects a gob of syrup into a nearby spittoon.
Despite the bizarreness of a candy constructed world, the game takes Bear’s death quite seriously. In clinical detail it provides a forensic overview of the crime scene:
Gum E Bear lies face-up on the floor, a gelatinous crater in his chest. A faint trickle of his liquid centre flows from it, pooling on the ground. A scattering of gummy chunks lie nearby, projected from the exit wound.
The fact that the victim is made of candy adds a comic effect to an otherwise gruesome scene. It is a new take on a murder mystery and draws the player in.
Without a doubt the story is a creative premise. I was into the story and characters right from the beginning. Imagine taking your Halloween candy and transforming them into anthropomorphized characters. It was fun to visualize. But things did not turn out like I expected. Not necessarily the content of the plot but its structure.
At one point I desperately needed hints beyond the in-game pointers which I could not find. The game uses the “Accuse” command to make the accusation and end the game. Eventually, I decided to use it randomly to see if I could stumble across the winning ending or at least bits of information to point me in the right direction. And I did. (Spoiler - click to show) I regretted it, actually.
The following has extreme spoilers. I want to discuss the outcome of the mystery because I feel strongly about it, but it will ruin the game for you if you do. Please play the game first.
(Spoiler - click to show)
Unfortunately, I learned that most of the gameplay is irrelevant to solving the case. It made me wonder if I did in fact exhaust every puzzle. Perhaps there would be no more hints to give even if they were available. This saddened me because it meant that most of the content that I thought of as important turned out to be more or less a red herring.
This is a detective murder mystery story. The start of the game tantalizes the player by saying, “Explore the area, gather evidence, conduct interviews, and ACCUSE the culprit once you've determined...” which sets the stage for some investigative gameplay. But it turns out that the investigative theme is quite shallow.
I am giving you one more spoiler warning. Turn back if you have not tried attempted to play the game.
(Spoiler - click to show)
What frustrated me was the flimsiness of the evidence used to nail the murderer, Officer Donut. Gum E. Bear was shot by a handgun which can be found in the dumpster. Apparently, Officer Donut is the murderer because he has fingers to pull the trigger of a gun while everyone else lacks the necessary digits to do the same. Sure, Candy Kane, Jawbreaker, Don Toblerone, and Big Hunk do not have fingers. But what about everyone else in Sugar City? We see people (candy people, I guess) everywhere. Do they all lack fingers? I thought that the game would make you work to solve the murder, to find the evidence. Instead, you do not even need to leave the alley to win the game. You just accuse him, and the game does the rest. That saddened me.
I was surprised that the handgun was the only evidence used to solve the murder. There were so many clues that I was trying to investigate. The main “puzzle” I was trying to solve was about the red liquorice candy woman in the bathroom stall. If you open the stall, you see that she is consuming sherbet, which is an addictive substance. It is also the same substance found on Bear’s face. The subject of addictive substances is present throughout Sugar City. A theme for the story, maybe?
Big Hunk, the club bouncer, says, “’The streets are swimming in nose sweetener. Twenty bucks there's someone doing it in the toilets right now. I'd stop it if I could but I've got my hands full out here.’" I thought there was a potential puzzle here. If I managed to get the patrons to leave, Big Hunk could investigate. Perhaps then, and this is where I started to speculate, the player could share their findings about the broken bathroom sink.
The sink has remnants of a strawberry flavored (remember when I said this game uses the taste and smell verbs? yuck) liquid that is present in Bear’s body. Sure, that would just confirm that Bear did in fact trash the bathroom which we knew from Candy Kane. But then maybe that would lead the game in a new direction. I was excited about the possibilities although I probably got ahead of myself.
I am going to wrap up this spoiler-intensive ramble with some questions. I did enjoy this game and will be eager to give it another go if it turns out that I missed things. And I hope I did. If anyone has answers, I would love to hear them.
1: Is there any goal that you have when you talk to Don Toblerone? If yes, is it conversation related or is it solely for acquiring a pack of candy cigarettes?
2: Is there a use for the candy cigarettes?
3: Is it possible to unlock the door/gain access to the VIP lounge?
4: Is it possible to acquire a quarter to buy a newspaper from the newspaper box?
5: Is there any content involving the taffy factory?
6: Or are all these red herrings?
I did not realize this at first, but Bubble Gumshoe is a female character. We do not have much in terms of backstory, but I loved the character description that says, “You're a street-smart broad with a hard sugar shell but a soft centre.”
The characters, both main NPCs and background characters, are cleverly named with humorous personas. The only downside is that character dialog is limited. Often you are unable to ask a broad range of questions about the murder. Or even their own work or themselves. But they are still fun and interesting to interact with.
As I started to play the game the experience was going at a solid four stars, but this slid as the (Spoiler - click to show) weak implementation of the player’s investigative choices began to emerge. This did not just affect the gameplay’s depth, but it also dragged the story down. Made it less dynamic. But the humor and creative premise makes it worth a try. In fact, the humor still makes me laugh. And with a protagonist named Bubble Gumshoe, well, you have got to play it.
Please excuse this analogy, but I say this earnestly: Playing this game conjures the idea of planning elaborate, decorative cookies. Stay with me. You have the frosting, and sprinkles, and whatnot planned but you run out of time and only complete the basics without the extras making it into the final product. I am not suggesting that the roughness in the game was because the author ran out of time. Instead, it merely seemed like a well thought out piece that lacked the finish that would have made it a fantastic piece. But kudos for a fun game, nonetheless.
You are a deputy summoned to investigate a murder in a casino. The game begins when you arrive at the casino. The manager tells you that a prominent guest has been murdered and that it would be appreciated if the investigation were conducted as quietly as possible. The FBI are planning to arrive the next day and would like you to narrow down a suspect.
The game is light on puzzles. They mostly involve traveling to different rooms to interview people and compare their statements. There was one puzzle about finding cheaters in the casino, but they were often found right in the lobby which made it easy to complete. This also seemed to be a bit of a side quest because you can ask the security guard if you could find more cheaters in exchange for chips. The game lets you play blackjack (and you do not even have to win) although (Spoiler - click to show) its only purpose is to attract the attention of Kat who simply gives you more information about the casino guests.
The game makes an effort at building atmosphere. There will be random characters wandering around to make it more like a busy casino. You have access to over a dozen locations including a poker table, blackjack table, bar, kitchen, private rooms, lobby, and other areas. This is roughly an hour-long game but can be completed in less time in replays.
Redstone is a custom choice-based game that uses menus to create a parser-like effect. At first the point and click was slow, but you get used to it quickly. The game tries to streamline the gameplay by summarizing your findings with the “Think” command and marking off which discussion topics you have used with characters to avoid repetition. It is also cool how you can “undo” with this format.
For each location there are boxes that say "Examine," "Go to," "Talk to" (if there are people to talk to), "Think," "Inventory," "Look around," and other commands that may be unique to the situation. This all works together to create a parser-like experience. For instance, clicking on “Talk to” lets you choose which character in the room you want to interact with. On a slightly more complex level, if you use the “Examine” command and find something worth taking, then the game will implement the “Take” command. Play the game and you will get the hang of it.
The visuals are a bit rough-around-the-edges and yet they are consistent enough to create a solid appearance that carries it through. The art, though occasionally crude, I found to be oddly likable. And there is a lot of art to experience. (Spoiler - click to show) One little inconsistency that stood out to me is Kat’s dress. Kat is described as wearing a slinky red dress even though the drawing of her shows her in a dark navy dress. That kept bugging me. But that aside, I really did enjoy the art.
It is an interesting story but none of it is particularly thrilling or exciting which is too bad since murder + casino tends to have no shortage of flair. The main issue is that it could have capitalized on some of the plot developments. The main one was when (Spoiler - click to show) Simon leaves his room and tries to sneak out. If the player goes to his room to find it empty the game has no reaction. No "Simon is no longer here" or "Simon is missing!" All we get is:
John Simon's room
You see a bed and a dresser.
No drama or suggestions to the player that this is a new plot development. There is not even a note under the “Think” command that acknowledges this. I was expecting a “Simon is nowhere to be seen! You should catch him while you can!” That would have been a great opportunity to turn up the heat. Instead, it just assumes that the player will notice that he isn't there and to respond accordingly. In other words, it is easy to put two and two together (Simon snuck out evade the investigation) to figure out what the game wants us to do (detain him in the garage) but there is no atmosphere to this development.
I would summarize this one as a finished piece that offers some quality gameplay if you feel like playing a murder mystery game. I recommend anyone interested in the genre to play it especially if you are looking for parser-like gameplay in a choice-based format.