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The Technomancer (PC) artwork

The Technomancer (PC) review

"Techno babble"

I find myself in a weird position. Had you asked me what I thought of Technomancer at the start of my fifty-hour run, I would have called it a clumsy collection of rage fuel.

After being introduced to the harsh new world of Mars, you graduate to the rank of electric-welding super soldier. You are now one of the elite protectors of your cyberpunk city which, in keeping with strict cyberpunk laws, is called a corporation. Your induction calls for you to visit an ancient ruin constructed by the first settlers from Earth, to learn the secret of your new order. The only problem is that pesky raiders have infested the site, looking for stuff to steal and sell on the black market. Their presence shouldnít be a problem, though. Theyíre low-level thugs and youíre a badarse warrior who shoots lightning from his fingers. So youíll likely swagger into the ruins, looking forward to a series of easy fights designed to ease you into the experience. Your death is swift and brutal.

Thereís little you can do to prevent this outcome. Youíre accompanied by your mentor and trainer, who isnít a rookie like yourself, but a veteran Technomancer and survivor of many front-line wars. Heíll get slaughtered, too, mainly because youíll be using him as an ineffectual meat shield while you fumble around with combat. And hereís the weird bit about that combat: itís not like itís broken. Itís always a clumsy but perfectly viable system, once you build up some levels and bulk up some traits. But early in the game, youíre left to flounder and die.

There are three distinct styles you can swap between mid-battle. They all borrow from that wonderful industry trope where sci-fi games set in universes capable of intergalactic travel still fight with medieval weaponry thatís been blinged up a bit. Itís made clear that the preferred weapon of your faction is the staff, which is certainly the more visually impressive fighting style, letting you flip around like a lunatic between combos which, at this stage of your training, are far too easily interrupted. If you want to harden yourself up, you can go in for the option of a whopping great metal shield complete with futuristic bludgeon, which gives you some reprieve from the endless onslaughts you face. Or you can do what I did, decide bugger to all that and pick the dishonourable style that gives you a poisoned knife and a handgun, letting you stand back while your teacher is beaten to death and you plough half a dozen weak bullets into peopleís faces before your worthless sidearm overheats.

The Technomancer (PC) image

These early portions of the game are pitiless. Your fights come in little bubbles of people, and youíll either find yourself saving after every encounter or scraping through the same fights over and over again. Itís a wall. I wonít pretend otherwise. And itís going to be the last thing a lot of people remember about Technomancer. The entire period is weird; itís not like your many deaths are Dark Souls-like, where you just need to get better at the game, nor does the combat engine cripple you. The problem is that you simply seem to own base stats significantly lower than the rest of the world's population. Slowly, youíll start to chip away at that. By end-game, I was destroying the same raiders that had effortlessly caved my skull in by unleashing a single electrified area attack.

But they never entirely stop posing a threat. Technomancer offers you a dodge command that you had better get used to using no matter how powerful you are. Rolling out of the way of an incoming attack to stab your adversaries in the back or electrocute them as they stumble past soon becomes the preferred tactic. Mars rarely runs out of new things that might try and murder you, either; the shadier part of your corporation houses rogues and thieves - but you are also at war, a long running dispute over water. Then there are the legions of mutated monsters roaming the endless wastelands. Also, there are some pricks whoíd just quite like to kill you. Life on the planet is a constant struggle.

That's mainly true because you soon find yourself walking the lines between corporate loyalties in the midst of a power grab. Whatever side youíre not currently fighting for keenly wishes for your demise. Technomancer tells a decent tale, one that often casts you as the victim and then asks you what you plan to do about it. The answer is usually that you plan to complete a fetch quest and beat people up, but thereís enough political intrigue and moral ambiguity along the way to keep things moving. Thereís shades of good in what you do or who you align with, even going so far as to present the chance of a non-lethal playthrough, leaving all your assailants writhing or unconscious on the floor. Or screw that, you can kill them by draining their body of serum, which functions as currency. But thereís rarely any reason to do this when you can strip defeated foes of equipment to sell, with that potential income vastly outweighing the measly rewards associated with a mass murder spree.

The Technomancer (PC) image

Most of your gains will be spent on Technomancerís surprisingly deep crafting system, which lets you use various crap found or purchased to weld onto armour and weapons for boosts in fields like critical hit, base defence and insulation against enemy electronic attacks. This, too, is often tied to levels. Low-level scrubs have access to the equivalent of duct tape, but advancing your craft skills means neglecting other perks like lockpicking, scavenging or diplomacy. Though you can still bolster lacking attributes with a quick costume change (that lab coat gives you a +1 science boost!), or by having decent relationships with your traveling party. The better you get on, the higher the buffs they grant.

Itís an okay system, which is fitting because Technomancer is an okay game. Thereís enough going on to hold your interest, your reward if you manage to power through its frustrating beginnings. The setting is great, and some of the standalone moments are, too. Iím in a weird place, then, admitting that I ultimately liked my adventure on the water-starved red planet. That's a million miles away from where I stood to begin with, when going through the same funeral dirge of game over screens and severe beatings made the slow crawl towards combat relevance a chore. My patience was eventually rewarded with a game I quite liked. Thatís hardly a glowing recommendation, though, I agree. Itís up to you to decide whether it's quite enough.

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (September 24, 2016)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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