What makes a great role playing game?
Some have said that a solid RPG really only requires three things: a good story, a good story and a good story. And the gamemakers behind The Technomancer likely thought they had that one pegged.
I mean, taking on the role of a special forces operative on Mars who must deal with the planet's political intrigues and dangerous monsters while packing the ability to shoot lightning from his fingertips sounds like it has potential, right?
A Deep, Fried World
Gamers step up to the challenges of the Red Planet as Zachariah Mancer, a rookie who's just earning his Technomancer stripes. These elite officers take care of the law-and-order needs of an underground corporate city called Abundance. And it turns out that most things happen underground on Mars, since the harsh rays of the sun have a nasty tendency to reduce men to mutated husks.
Humanity colonized Mars hundreds of years before, we learn. Over that time span, everything on this flash-fried orb of rock has been subjugated under the control of competing corporate oligarchies. These totalitarian mini-governments fight fiercely for what little water there is and run roughshod over every human they keep huddled under their "protection."
If that doesn't quite sound like a place you'd like to visit on vacation, well, you're getting the sense of things. And even though you're on this version of Mars as sort of a powered-up Jedi with a gun and a bad haircut, it's actually not a great place to visit as a gamer, either.
For one thing, the story side of the game gets more muddled and hard to follow the deeper in you get into it.
Zachariah is called upon to examine vague questions of morality in this nasty place (the moral choices you make shape his good and bad karma), but there rarely seems to be any point to it all. For that matter, there isn't any truly defined sense of good or evil, either. Even the "good" guys aren't averse to a self-serving murder or two. And when you reach the final story reveal, it evokes barely more than a shoulder shrug.
Gameplay itself boils down to running around a huge open world, crafting gear, pursuing violence-drenched quests and battling scores and scores and scores of human foes as well as exotic, multi-limbed beasties. These battles require quick shifts between bludgeons, knives, shields, pistols and powered-up zaps, and they can be a challenge at first. But after a while they morph into a mind-numbing, never-ending repetition of blood-splattering whacks. The game's profusely foul language, peppered with everything from blasphemies to f-bombs, reinforces the game's grating grind.
As Zachariah gathers teammates, there's even a sexual component that feels oddly outside the main storyline. With the right combination of dialogue choices, Zach can find himself embracing and kissing one of several female or male characters and tumbling back (fully clothed) into bed with them. It's just one more problem in an already problematic game.
In the final assessment, The Technomancer's initially intriguing storyline falls badly short of just about any criteria you might define for what makes interesting RPG. And it falls badly short when it comes content criteria, too. What we're left with is just a great big open and empty world … in more ways than one.