These days point-and-click (P&C) game fans will be aware that there are a number of developers out there doing great work to flesh out the depth of this seemingly very simple format.
Most recently Critical Hit reviewed Unavowed , a P&C urban horror tale that blended traditional mechanics with a character-based RPG system reminiscent of the best Mass Effect games. In doing so the game opened up myriad approaches to navigating its story while stacking it with an impressive amount of replay value.
Whispers Of A Machine, the latest offering from Clifftop Games (the developer behind the detective adventure Kathy Rain), attempts something similar. It too overlays its basic P&C mechanics with some rather nifty features, dovetailing nicely with the murder mystery that provides its central narrative. But beyond that, the game also takes note of the player’s choices, branching off in different directions depending on which paths they choose.
In other words, Whispers Of A Machine adapts according to how it is played. Not only that, the game does this so subtly that players are unlikely to notice until they give it another run-through.
Whispers Of A Machine is set in a not-too-distant future in which some sort of event has resulted in most humans living a low-tech existence in a rather run-down world. This collapse in living standards was probably caused by some sort of clash between humans and Artificial Intelligence since AI is now banned and anything containing a CPU is illegal – unless, of course, it’s under the purview of the authorities. Humankind hasn’t been forced back to cave-dwelling or living in a wasteland, but a palpable atmosphere of despair pervades throughout.
The game’s central protagonist, Vera Englund, is a cyborg detective called into the town of Nordsund to solve a murder. In short order, one death becomes two and then three and Vera finds herself chasing down a killer whose motives may be more complex than she originally suspected.
Given that story is still the feature that drives the P&C genre, one has to dance around plot developments and characters in any review of a game like this. It’s perhaps fitting to focus on Vera who, through the player’s choices, becomes a better representation of their footprint on the narrative than exists in most games.
Vera begins the game packing three augmentations; she has a biometric reader that allows her to monitor heart rates (useful to spot if someone is lying), a scanner with which she can ‘see’ DNA traces left behind by individuals she’s already scanned and saved (fingerprints, footprints and the like) and a strength boost that does what it says on the tin. The substance powering these augmentations is called ‘The Blue’, and as time progresses it introduces new abilities depending on how Vera approaches the investigation. It’s here that Whispers Of A Machine tosses its second curveball.
In their dialogue choices with NPCs, players can take an ‘analytical’, an ‘empathetic’ or an ‘assertive’ approach. Depending on how they choose, Vera developers certain abilities. The plot is broken up over a four-day time period and on Day 2, Vera will have a new power, which could be the ability to issue an electronic jolt or spot hidden details with enhanced vision, depending on how the player has interacted with the folks Vera has run into. This in turn means that the series of puzzles Whispers Of A Machine has in store will require different approaches based on the powers that have been unlocked.
The game uses an autosave function throughout, so players are essentially locked into their choices from the get-go. If you fancy taking different paths, they’re only available in a replay. That’s not so much of a chore, mind; Whispers Of A Machine is a relatively short adventure, clocking in at around 4-5 hours. That having been said, the game’s story is quite lightweight, and its world is quite empty so there’s not a hell of a lot to draw players into it a second time – unless, of course, they’re completionists.
The story, while intriguing and very well voice-acted, flirts with some of the philosophical questions raised by its world, but doesn’t really address them with any depth. This surface reading is also echoed in the town of Nordsund, which feels feels less like an urban dwelling than it does a movie set – there’s a dearth of people in the town, aside from the NPCs Vera has to interact with to move the story forward.
If this sounds like griping it’s probably because at its outset, Whispers Of A Machine seems chock full of potential for both its story and world. As it is, the game is a pretty straightforward and entertaining detective story. That having been said, P&C fans are urged to check it out. It may be a bit brief and some of its potential may be unfulfilled, but what it does – subtly behind the scenes – it does very well indeed.
Last Updated: June 5, 2019