Space Wizards on Mars.
The Technomancer is full of ambition. Its corporation-ruled version of Mars is filled with bizarre aliens, subtle characters and complex politics. How you chart Mars' delicate social structure is up to you, and as a peacekeeping Technomancer, you have the power to stamp your authority on the red planet and shape its destiny.
Filling the shoes of Zacariah Mancer -- a newly-qualified Technomancer -- you are torn between Mars' army and the secret police who are loyal to the governing corporations. Who you work for and how you complete your tasks improves allegiances to certain factions, though at times trying to deduce how these choices affect the world isn't clear until much later. Rather than creating an exciting air of uncertainty and surprise, as the story progressed through the various city-states of Mars, I was left feeling as though my choices may as well have been random.
One thing I was sure of was how my character was progressing. Three separate skill-trees cover combat and stats -- like health and damage and skills -- such as lock picking and stealth. The wealth of options on the three trees mean you can build the character you want. Focus on charisma to talk your way out of trouble, or pour all your points into health and damage if you would rather skip the chatter and head straight for a fight.
Fighting on the Red Planet
Whether you're fighting humanoids or aliens, combat is a muddy affair. Technomancers have access to three different stances. In the rogue stance you're armed with a gun and a short blade, and the talents focus on backstabs and poison. The warrior stance should be the go-to if you're facing large groups of weaker enemies -- the large staff spins and swings hitting multiple enemies. Finally, guardian stance is defensive. The balance between solid damage from the blunt weapons and defense from the shield made this my go-to stance for most encounters.
You can switch between these stances on the fly to adapt your fighting style to any new threats. I wanted to try and experiment more with the stances, but the aggressive, powerful enemies attack so frequently that the attack-blocking shield is absolutely essential. The combat looks appealing with slow-motion dodges and meaty weapon swings creating an exciting tableau, but to play, it was often infuriating.
The enemies attack in groups and feeling overwhelmed is a common occurrence. What's more there is no indication of when the multitude of enemies are going to attack, making dodges more about luck than skill. These are problems, coupled with the colossal amount of damage even the most basic enemies can inflict. For example, I bunkered behind a shield -- getting in the odd swing -- until I reached a sufficiently high level to wipe the floor with everything in an area.
Using a shield made the combat manageable, but it meant I couldn't enjoy two thirds of The Technomancer's skillset. The final aspect of combat is Zachariah's lightning skills. These powers can increase the damage of your weapon or send out bolts of chain lightning. I rarely used the electric powers other than in those rare moments (like electrifying my club) that the enemy was wholly distracted by my team mates, and even then a swing of my club did far more damage.
A Whole Planet to Explore
The combat may be dull, but Mars isn't. The sun-scorched surface is eerie and its inhabitants are dangerous. The aliens you encounter are certainly just that, and you'll find very few humanoid extra-terrestrials. These beasts are imaginative and more entertaining to fight than the human inhabitants of Mars.
The various city states you visit are all varied, too. From the white, clean, dystopian walls of Ophir to the hidden, desert paradise, Noctis, each new location renewed my interest in The Technomancer. As did its inhabitants whose subtle motivations kept me engaged despite some hit-and-miss voice acting.
An Ambitious Adventure
The ambition of The Technomancer is evident in the world, which can look beautiful at times, particularly in the architecture. The characters, on the other hand, betray the developer's limitations. They lack detail and their flat, expressionless faces during conversations and cut-scenes made them seem disjointed and wooden.
I also encountered a number of glitches during my adventure. On a few occasions I became stuck on objects and had to reload an older save, and there were times when the game would crash when loading cut-scenes. One particularly annoying quirk is that the dodge button -- a button you will use frequently. It is also the same button to skip cut-scenes and I would often end a fight only to inadvertently skip the following cinematic.
There are some good ideas in there as well: holding down the right trigger out of combat show a large view of the map while you are running. This makes it much easier to navigate the large cities.
Upgrading your gear is also smartly done. Each weapon or armour piece has slots and you can craft mods to make them better at critical hits or absorbing damage. I liked how distinct the weapons and armour looked, too. I was always excited to see how a new piece of gear would look on Zachariah.
These good ideas and the absorbing world of Mars are sadly overshadowed by the frustrating combat, but it's clear that developers Spiders Studio are on the brink of a very good game. A balanced combat system and a clearer view of how my choices affect the world and the story would elevate this game into a special RPG. As it stands, Spiders are still a developer with vision and potential, but this game falls short of its ambition.
This game was reviewed with a digital copy on Xbox Box provided by the publisher.
Images courtesy of Focus Home Interactive.