It really feels like Void and Meddler's Steam page is selling a different game than the one I played. "In a city where genders and species melt into each other, maybe she’ll find the long lost touch of humanity missing from her life," it reads. "The idea behind Void & Meddler was to create a game that looks like its creators, two musicians nurtured by noise rock from the 80's, synthwave, road trips and cyberpunk literature."
What you get instead is a game that feels like the developers stopped playing adventure games in the 90s, those heady days of cat mustaches, of needing to buy a pie at the beginning of a game to use on a yeti at the end. The puzzles are obfuscating, the kind that require you to know that you have to search the fridge multiple times to find an item, or click a non-descript background element, or you, like me, will spend 2 hours wandering around. Until I just got fed up and loaded up a walkthrough.
It's a game that feels like it has a lot to say but it doesn't want to say it, expecting you to pick it up from the world and the way it's presented, a fine concept to be sure, but one that only works in a few places. It introduces a gender-neutral term of "ey" (which may exist in real life and I've just never heard it before) and has a sign in the background that introduces a third gender sign, a quip from the main character that she only has threesomes when there are at least 3 genders involved. It's also a game world built almost entirely by people who are already tired of the world and everything they've seen in it, giving you no opportunity to learn what's going on. You walk into the subway and a character looks like a giraffe and apparently that's normal? Is that a human who looks like a giraffe? A giraffe that is smaller and humanoid? Does it mean anything in this society? Is it accepted or just a weird thing some people do in rebellion?
No answers. Not even a hint of one, just your character, Fyn, reacting like it's normal. But Fyn's a piece of garbage - I found nothing to enjoy about her character, a young punk with screwed up memories looking to end it all, who thinks music is the thing all life's worth stems from and collects zines and thinks of clubs as a way to go be part of something greater than herself. She's a college-aged alt punk, with nothing but a parade of gigs and sex and drugs to make her feel; what a surprise that we meet her as she finally decides her life is empty of any real meaning or real memories. Someone could show up looking like a fleshy Cronenbergian monster and she'd just be bored.
The thing is that the writing is so florid and vague I hadn't even caught that she was planning to kill herself until I read the Steam page again. It's written in such a pretentious way, Fyn's sentences unending and flowing, saying nothing and only now and then dropping a surprisingly beautiful turn of phrase before returning to narration that goes nowhere and gives nothing but more of a look into her nihilistic mindset, building her character more as a mood instead of a real person.
This describes a lot of the problems with the game entirely: it's a world built on tone instead of detail. It takes the aesthetics of a cyberpunk world and succeeds with aplomb, presenting a dirty world of neon grime. You hit the spots you expect – a busy street of towering billboards advertising "TransLove Memories", an unending wall of cars buzzing by; an arcade and club; a sushi restaurant in an area named for a notable concept in William Gibson's seminal Snow Crash.
The only thing it really describes in a way I found interesting was the way memory worked, free to extract and download and feel yourself in other people's minds and experiences. The place it became most fascinating was when you enter a convenience store and find a shelf just labeled "Memories." In one of her rare actual pieces of exposition, she describes them as cheap, manufactured memories, not even from real people, sold for cheap tourist experiences without even needing the buyer to travel to the place. It's a moment coloring the future as a place where memory itself has been cheapened and commoditized. Total Recall hinted at similar ideas, but it was expensive and more involved. A cheap gewgaw from a gas station makes the whole thing ring emptier, a world where life experience is worth a couple of bucks with a Big Gulp.
Perhaps in a world where the personal is worth nothing, we would all become dour shells of a human looking to end it all. Such thoughts don't make Fyn any more likeable, and don't make it any more forgivable that the game has no real characters or exposition to lead you through. I understand why she sucks, but that's still the problem: she sucks.
It winds up having a look and bothering to introduce an idea, but doesn't pay it off or give a reason to come back for the next episode. There's no cliffhanger at the end, and not enough happened to give me a reason to want to sit and wait, for who knows how long, to learn Fyn's fate. Other characters littering the world are nothing but tools for her to use (despite her constant refrain of "I don't like to use people"); the world is pretty but nothing you haven't seen before, and really the best part of the game is the grinding, killer soundtrack. I'd definitely recommend you just get that instead of the game itself.