'Whispers of a Machine' Review: A Nordic Noir Gone Sci-Adventure That's Surprisingly Good

9/10 - iOS

Let's face it. The future is a strange place. Full of unforeseen technologies, changing societies and the consequences of actions by generations past, it's no wonder film and print are obsessed with it. But take the uncertainties of the future and shroud them in the bleak landscapes and morally complexities of the Nordic Noir crime genre and you end up with a surprisingly good premise for a video game. In Clifftop Games' latest offering, Whispers of a Machine, the developers have created a perfect mash-up of these two seemingly unrelated genres. While the game features some damn good story-telling, with 4,000 lines of professionally voiced dialogue, it also introduces some unique elements to the classic point-and-click adventure genre that transform it into something greater than the sum of its parts.

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Moody environments are a staple of Whispers of a Machine gameplay. Clifftop Games

In the game, players assume the role of Vera, a special agent for Sweden's Central Bureau. Vera has been sent to the small Nordic town of Nordsund to investigate a recent string of violent murders. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where AI technology has been banned. While museums and other cultural landmarks still feature relics of the past, such as farming robot displays, ever since "The Collapse" society has outlawed these kinds of technological advances. In Whispers of a Machine people live a simpler, more primitive way of life.

But this is where things get strange. Although smart technology has all but been eradicated, special agents like Vera are an anomaly. Indeed, all agents of the Central Bureau have been injected with a nanofluid called "Blue" that gives them special augmentations. These augmentations give Vera access to superhuman abilities such as quick bursts of strength, the ability to detect when a witness is lying and more. Neither Vera nor the player are told why these augmentations have been approved for special agents or what their long-term consequences may be. This sets the stage for a massive existential crisis Vera will undergo as she begins unraveling the secrets behind these mysterious deaths.

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Vera's augmentations allow her to detect when a witness is lying and other behavior anomolies. Clifftop Games

While there's plenty to be said about the deep and engaging story-telling Whispers of a Machine employs, the thing that really sets it apart from others games in the same genre is the way it handles choice. While most point-and-click adventures have a linear path that players must follow, with only one solution to puzzles given, Whispers of a Machine actually alters course dependant on how Vera interacts with other characters. During these interactions, players have three different ways they can respond. These responses end up strengthening one of Vera's three character traits: Analytic, Empathetic or Assertive.

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Vera's personality is made of three main traits: assertive, analytic and empathetic. Clifftop Games

Strengthening a specific characteristic isn't without consequence. Sometimes it leads to Vera unlocking a new augmentation. Other times, the ways Vera interacts with NPCs affects their perception of her as a person, and that perception determines if they will help or hinder the investigation. For example, taking a gruff tone with a local handyman means he's not likely to lend you his screwdriver in your time of need, but employing a soft touch will be a turn-off to the hardened local flora expert, Rolf.

The most interesting thing about how these interactions shape the course of the game is that it allows for multiple ways to solve the same problem. For example, if you rub the local handyman the wrong way and he's reluctant to lend you his screwdriver, it won't stop you from unscrewing the air duct in a murder victim's room -- you'll just have to find a more "creative" method of doing it.

Introducing choice and consequence into a point-and-click adventure makes for a much more immersive experience. At times choice can be frustrating because it means you'll sometimes pick up items along the way that you never end up using. But whatever frustration the choice/consequences aspect introduces, it's entirely outweighed by the excitement of puzzling through a problem with more than one solution. Add to this the intermittent use of Vera's augmented abilities, and you get some genuinely satisfying gameplay.

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As vera digs deeper into the murders, dark secrets emerge. Clifftop Games

The developers have estimated a run through the game will take about eight hours, but depending on your familiarity with point-and-click adventures, it may take you much longer. Add to it the replay value for players who want to try to solve puzzles an alternate way, and you've got one of the most substantial point-and-click adventures we've played in a while.

Whispers of a Machine is available now on PC/Mac and Mobile. Players can purchase the PC version of the game on Steam for $14.99. Mobile players can find the game on the Apple App or Google Play store for just $4.99.