I love retro future. I love massive spaceships capable of intergalactic travel running on Microsoft Basic. I love the most exotic of far flung entertainment being projected using crummy eight inch CRTs.

I’m predisposed then, to 2064: Read Only Memories, a game that presents a far flung cyberpunk world of sentient artificial intelligence, but where wifi connections cause issues and YouTube is still prevalent.

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The same can be said of its presentation, which is distinctly early 90s DOS in flavour, sprite work and chip tunes combining with voice acting (added to this 2064 edition) that screams early CD-ROM game. The whole game is, in fact, very much reminiscent of the sound novels that were prevalent in Japan in the 80s and early 90s.

While thankfully a lengthy verb list is absent, the character rich branching murder mystery that plays out owes much to 1983’s Portopia,  and a gamut of other visual novels up to Snatcher and Policenauts. It’s not so much moment to moment play you’re here for, but instead a mysterious narrative with a cool sci-fi approach.

ROM concerns itself with making the player consider humanity and what it truly means to be a human being. In 2064 society, everybody’s moved past issues of race, gender and sexuality, but where genes can be spliced with those of animals, and cybernetic upgrades are prevalent, transhumanism is much more worthy of protest. As with much of science fiction, ROM’s message is one of holding a shiny chrome future mirror to current society; people always find something new to be intolerant of.

Your constant companion on this adventure is the aptly named Turing, what appears to be the first truly sentient android companion in a world where most keep machines as robotic assistants. With social tension being what it is, it’s not entirely surprising that Turing’s development would be kept under wraps, nor that his creator would suddenly disappear. Escaping his maker’s captors, Turing heads to the one person he deems statistically most likely to help without being killed in the process, which is to say, you.

What ensues is a process of heading to locales, getting some kind of lead on your investigation, and moving on to the next place. Very little is demanded of you here; you can put down your notepads and not fear extensive backtracking. While puzzles are present, with extra and reworked ones in this 2064 edition over the original Steam release, none are ever more demanding than, say, ordering a sweet sounding drink at a bar to appeal to a person of appropriate gender (girl or guy, it’s up to you, but both directly ask for something sweet, and the drink menu all but says ‘HEY, THIS DRINK IS FULL OF SUGAR’).

Changing traffic lights to trap a fleeing taxi is one of the few times that you really feel harried in the game. The story forks depending on your performance, too, which is neat.

Changing traffic lights to trap a fleeing taxi is one of the few times that you really feel harried in the game. The story forks depending on your performance, too, which is neat.

It’s left to the writing to carry the experience, and luckily this is a well crafted page turner. Or, well, button pusher. Its turns are easy to see coming, but dialogue feels punchy and natural. Voice acting, newly added to the 2064 version is strong, the occasional awkward accent aside, and there’s a nice balance struck between humorous cracking wise and the gravity of the situations you find yourself in.

There’s a tricky balance in adventure games of this ilk in giving an illusion of agency without aggressively signposting key story choices. The Telltale ‘X will remember that’ factor interrupts dramatic flow and breaks immersion, while there’s nothing worse than having dialogue choices that play out the same way no matter what you elect to say. ROM suffers early on from stilted and linear conversations while it tries to flesh out its world, but the further you get into things, the more organic it feels. Once the game feels comfortable that it’s world is established, conversations are more natural, and as questions asked demand more introspection, your choices bear more weight on the way to the game’s multiple endings.

Occasional time sensitive puzzles, and a weak mini game or two aside though, there isn’t much to make you think quickly on your feet, or change pace from steadily thumbing through dialogue and exposition. The trick though is that it’s all good dialogue and exposition, making ROM a fine digital paperback romp.

3/4 Pops: Exceptional A significant cut above the crowd. Though flawed or otherwise not necessarily for everyone, it does things other games in the genre do not, or tries something new with a great deal of success.

PS4 version tested
Review code supplied by Midboss

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