Jazzpunk is a first-person exploration game not unlike last year’s Gone Home or The Stanley Parable, but that explanation does little to explain the deeply absurd personality contained within. We’re talking about a game where examining a pizza box lying in an alley ports you to a nightmarish pizza world, an eternal bed of cheese and pepperoni as the ground beneath your feet. Where everyone speaks machine-warbled, comically accented nonsense in a purposely anachronistic world with a healthy dose of Cold War paranoia thrown in. You’re generally free to wander the game’s manic topography at your leisure, kick back and enjoy the utter silliness unfolding on screen.
The end result is something like combining a William Gibson novel with a David Zucker film, and that’s mostly a good thing. In the two or three hours it takes to get through it, you’re hit with seemingly endless goofs, often with unique gameplay attached to them. That aforementioned pizza land gives you some hand-to-hand weapons to wield and za-zombies to hack away at. A later detour slaps you into an old-school first-person shooter deathmatch arena…called “Wedding Qake,” complete with a multi-tier cake machine gun and other matrimonial touches. There’s never a fail state, and scant few of its gags take more than a minute before sending you back out to hunt for another. Even when the jokes don’t land, there’s little time to lament it. Listening to NPCs’ deluge of bizarre one-liners is the most popular pasttime. Any unique looking character will talk if pressed, and many have dozens of ridiculous quips before you’ll hit a repeat. A robotic jazz musican espouses, “I love .dat. I record on .dat!” A cowboy with psychedelic aviators mumbles about how he misses his pickup truck and how his grandfather taught him to “be a Texas Instruments man.” The story – or sequence of events, or whatever one would call this sojourn – can’t really be gelled into a cohesive thread, and that’s just the way Jazzpunk likes it. This is an unapologetically surreal and sporadic adventure you loiter in, and I mostly found it a pleasant trip.
That lack of connective tissue does mean that Jazzpunk is less memorable a journey than you might think, though. After the last scene played out, I struggled to find something to take away from the computer with me. I jibed with the game’s humour well, but most of it is there-and-gone before you’re onto the next one. That free and energetic personality is the heart of the game, but it also conspires against its lasting power. After plumbing the areas fairly thoroughly the first time, I saw no real reason to return, but those initial couple of hours prodding its wild world are worth your time, even if they might not stick with you. Go in dark and enjoy the ride while it lasts.