By Josh Speer / September 24th, 2018
|Title||2064: Read Only Memories INTEGRAL|
|Release Date||July 26th, 2018|
|Age Rating||M for Mature 17+ – Blood, Violence, Suggestive Themes, Strong Language|
I consider myself a liberal and fair-minded person. So my goal with this review of 2064: Read Only Memories INTEGRAL is to be even-handed and approach things like I would any other review, despite some inherent differences in the game itself. I should mention that when I asked for a review copy, I didn’t know all that much about 2064, other than it being a cyberpunk adventure game that was somewhat focused on the theme of gender. While all of those elements are there in the game, the scale with which they are analyzed caught me by surprise. The basic story of the game revolves around a robotic ROM (Relationship Organizational Manager) named Turing who is looking for their creator. What follows is a story of robots, humans and hybrids that is very invested with ideas of gender and social inequity. Was 2064: Read Only Memories INTEGRAL a captivating cyberpunk story? Or should I have looked before I leaped into this world?
The story begins when a adorable little ROM named Turing breaks into your home. He’s there because someone took his creator, Hayden, and since you apparently have a past with the creator, Turing thinks you could help find him. There are many familiar plot points that follow, such as dangerous corporations, the meaning of sentience and what it means to be human. As for who you are, I wish I could say, but the developers made the odd decision to make your character a faceless avatar. The only distinct quality is that you’re a journalist, but other than that there’s very little meat to the bone. One character even references a sister you’re supposed to have, but you never see or talk with her during the entire story. At the start of the game, you even choose what gender you want to associate your character with, as well as what pronouns to be used in conversations. I was a bit taken aback by this, but was invested enough in the cyberpunk premise to patiently see how things unfolded.
2064: Read Only Memories INTEGRAL is an adventure game, meaning almost everything that takes place will occur by interacting with items on the screen. You move the cursor about and can look at things, touch them, talk with them or interact with them using items in your inventory. Pretty basic stuff for the genre. There are also a couple of mini games during the course of the story, which involve some unique controls. One has you controlling stoplights to box in an escaping culprit. Another has you use symbol fragments to make the one shown on the screen while hacking a computer system. I found these to be a nice change of pace from the basic gameplay, though there’s a lot I enjoyed about that as well. Every time you interact with something, you’ll get a colorful description of it, either from yourself or from Turing. The latter is what I most enjoyed, since this quirky little robot has very defined and sometimes strange opinions about things. It was fun to mess around with objects just to get a rise out of him. And I use that pronoun because, in my mind, Turing was very much a masculine character, albeit more of a little boy than a fully grown man.
Which brings us to one of the predominant features of Read Only Memories. The game constantly challenges your understanding and what you accept about gender norms. Many characters will use undefined pronouns, such as “them” or “their”. Others will outwardly appear one gender, and then be referred to as another. It can get a little confusing, but for the most part I was okay with it at first. So long as the game has a strong focus on worldbuilding and characters, I don’t mind things like that. My issue is that I feel Read Only Memories focuses so strongly on the gender discussion that a lot of the characters and plot building suffer as a result.
I want to emphasize that I did enjoy many of the main characters of the game. TOMCAT is a brilliant hacker with a southern twang, Lexi Rivers is a hard boiled lady detective with augmented eyes and Jess is a prickly hybrid advocate. My issue is that, for many of these characters, this is about as well as I got to know any of them. Don’t get me wrong, each one has small moments that reveal hidden aspects of their personality, but I never felt as though I got to really know them. It was even worse for the more minor characters, such as Starfucker and Oli, Ramona or Melody, who we only got rough sketches of. Turing was by far the most well-defined character, despite being an artificial intelligence, and I really grew to love him. Unfortunately, I never got the same level of development for the rest of the characters.
Also on the topic of gender, I started to notice a trend which was a bit frustrating. I’m of the disposition you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. As such, I prefer it when people convince me with a sound argument instead of attacking me for my beliefs. I feel this was skillfully done in another cyberpunk adventure game, VA-11 HALL-A. In Read Only Memories, I feel as though heterosexual characters are always denigrated. It’s not necessarily outright, but when you realize that the plight of the hybrids and augmented humans is a metaphor for the plight of the LGBTQ community, it’s hard not to make the comparison. Take Jess for example. She had to become a hybrid because of a serious health scare, and she is constantly and vociferously complaining about “genotypicals”. Another thing I realized as I got farther in the game is that all the characters who are portrayed as heterosexual are either idiots or villains. There’s no real middle ground. Given that I identify myself as a heterosexual male, I found this a bit offensive. More importantly, I feel the developers risk alienating potential audiences given this approach. Which is a shame, because there’s a genuinely interesting story here, with some truly heartfelt moments. It’s just hard for them to have the same impact when you’re being constantly confronted with bias from the developers.
I should note, despite my complaints with the game, aesthetically it’s very pleasing. I was quite impressed by the quality of the pixel art. All of the characters, be they human, hybrid or ROM, have a lot of personality just in the way they are animated. Everything is colorful and vibrant. Special shout out to the range of pixelated expression on Turing’s spherical face. Musically, the game has lots of good tunes, though nothing that was a real standout or earworm. When compared to a game like VA-11 HALL-A, Chasm or The Messenger which are full of catchy tunes, I was left a bit disappointed. However, I can’t dispute the quality of the voice acting. Every character has their own presence and sound, with nary a flubbed line. That really helped draw me into this world.
One thing unique to 2064: Read Only Memories INTEGRAL is that there are some additional features. You can play through the PUNKS side story, focusing on the antics of Starfucker and Oli before you encounter them in the main story. There’s also the Endless Christmas epilogue, which in no way lives up to its name. Finally, you can check out the concept art and music from the game, which is a pretty neat feature. Sadly, the two side stories are very abrupt and don’t do much to increase my enjoyment of the game.
I end with mixed feelings for 2064: Read Only Memories INTEGRAL. On the one hand, I love the visual design for the game, and really grew to appreciate the character of Turing. That said, I feel all the other characters were hasty sketches instead of fully fleshed out characters. Combined with a gender discussion that usually feels like it’s condescending or attacking heterosexual characters, it’s hard to be fully enthused by things. I realize my opinion is only one side of the coin, and I know there are legitimate complaints by the LGBTQ community. Life can be difficult for everyone, especially a community that is often cruelly marginalized. That said, I feel there are much better ways to make your plight heard besides yelling at other people. For $20.64, you’ll get at least 10 hours of content and a compelling story, but it’s bogged down by some questionable decisions by the developers. I wish I could wholeheartedly recommend this for what it does well, but as it is, I feel it’s only targeting a very niche community of gamers. Here’s hoping future projects by MidBoss use more honey and less vinegar.
Review Copy Provided by the Developer
2064: Read Only Memories INTEGRALAdventureCyberpunkgenderMidBossnintendo switch