I received a free review copy of this product from https://keymailer.co.
As an independent reviewer, this does not influence my opinion of the game.
Crime has always evolved with technology. With the proliferation of the internet, we’ve got catfishing, online fraud, and hackers all vying for our information and money.
These crimes will only become more creative as we live more of our lives online. So too, methods of detection need to move with the times.
Enter Gamedec, short for game detective, the cyberpunk game from Anshar Studios. Originally released on PC in 2021, it’s just come out on PS5. While this review is of the console edition, much of my review is relevant to any platform.
In Gamedec, you play a game detective charged with investigating crimes in a futuristic Warsaw City, delving deep into immersive game worlds.
While Gamedec has a very strong opening, the second half of the game undoes some of that promise. This uneven storytelling lets down an otherwise excellent detective setting, with a narrative-driven story devoid of traditional combat mechanics.
Wake up Fredo
When a wealthy son of a game developer won’t wake up from his game, you must figure out why he’s trapped in the virtual world. It’s not long before you find yourself in the immersive world of Twisted and Perverted, a sadistic pleasure world, trying to track down Fredo. Yep, it’s all Fredo’s fault.
My hackles immediately went up when the game began by sending me there. Women usually get short-shrift in these violent worlds. I get that a cyberpunk noir will have dark elements, but I wasn’t sure how far they would push the graphic nature of the worlds.
Thankfully, the fact it’s an isometric RPG puts distance between the player and the events themselves. There’s sexual imagery, but nothing truly explicit, and to the credit of developers, when opportunities for sex come up in-game, there’s a genuine respect for consent.
Where Gamedec succeeds is in thinking up futuristic crimes, and ways to solve them. The crime behind Harvest Time illustrates that even the most cheery farming games can hide hidden abuses of power. You’ll track down the answers by talking to NPCs and interacting with the environment, drawing conclusions from the information you uncover.
It’s not a matter of exhausting every dialogue tree in order to discover clues – choices matter in Gamedec, but not as much as you think. Yes, you might lock out conversations with your dialogue choices, but the story will continue regardless. For those who wish to open up more of the story, pay attention to both the text and the type of person you’re talking to. Some people will respect forthright conversation, others will be reticent to share without a caring interview technique.
Conversations and actions are often timed; taking too long can cause the deaths of others or to miss vital information. This immediately pressures the gamer and significantly raises the stakes in Gamedec.
Where this timer is used most effectively is on the Knight’s Code level, where you must infiltrate the Hon Clan, limited by days tracked through the sounding of a bell. Go over these time limits and you’ll be punished. But making mistakes can also lead to other potential story opportunities.
Uncovering the secrets of each level reveals potential deductions from which you must choose what happened. If you only scratch the surface of the investigation, then you’re likely to miss out on deeper inferences. But even then, sometimes you won’t get all the answers – certain choices will lock out others, and sometimes you just need to make your best guess. If you get stymied in the game, it’s likely because you need to make conclusions in order to progress dialogue with NPCs. For perfectionists like me, this might mean leaving some stones unturned.
While I started not making many saves at all – call me a purist, but I like to play out the consequences of my actions – it becomes more vital down the track as you hack devices. Once wrong choice and you’ll be locked out of the machine, or worse, cause it to short-circuit. True Detective mode provides the additional challenge of no saves, reminding me of the other indie cyberpunk detective game, Lacuna.
Trust me, I’m a professional
The character creation menu offers several diverse and exciting choices, with interesting archetypes. I chose a pre-made character – Raya Singh – but you can also make your own within the options available. This diversity extends to the NPCs, with a variety of ethnicities and genders represented in-game. Despite playing as a female character, there were a few moments of gendered language where I was addressed as male, which could be easily fixed in a patch. I suspect there’s a hell of a lot of dialogue trees in the game and some may have slipped through the cracks.
You’ll earn aspect points depending on your dialogue choices, which can open up professions on the skill tree.
Like many of these narrative driven games, your style of play might lock you out of learning new skills. I had to force myself to choose decisive dialogue just to get some points in the area, even though I had over ten points in both creative and analytical categories. It felt like I was taking a Myers Briggs game test, but it locked me out of potential storylines for playing too much like myself.
This is an overall frustration of games where the skill tree forces you to play a certain way, rather than the way you’d like to play. It’s not just Gamedec – Disco Elysium, as marvellous as it is, encourages you to pick skills to pass tests, rather than create the character you want to play as.
But these professions are not your run-of-the-mill day-jobs. Having the Scalpel skill will allow you to make medical diagnoses and commentary on the situation, where the Infotainer allows you to influence a situation using your media following. It’s near-essential to have the Cheater profession to explore later levels to the full, so make sure you pick it up as soon as you can.
One flaw of Gamedec is the complex hacking system. You’ll come up against several machines, and need to puzzle out how to access them. This takes a lot of reading, deduction, and careful investigation. But there are points in the game where I was simply guessing, not being able to even deduce how the system worked. While I never want puzzles handed to me on a plate, it would have been helpful to have more indicators, breadcrumbs, and clues embedded in the game, to give players the satisfaction of figuring things out.
This confusion permeates the game in later chapters, where the story needed to be grounded more for the player in order to appreciate some of the more esoteric developments.
Down and out in Warsaw City
The graphics are gorgeously rendered in 4K, showcasing the variety of worlds explored in Gamedec. The game travels from a Japanese inspired MMORPG to the western farm frontier of Harvest Time to that of a futuristic Warsaw City. As someone who doesn’t know much about Warsaw, I would have liked to see more of this Polish futurism. What does it look like? What makes it unique? Apart from the username pierogi…
I also appreciated the well-illustrated NPCs, whose images conveyed a lot of personality alongside the dialogue. There’s limited voiceover here, but what there is conveys character in short, atmospheric lines.
As with many games ported over from PC to PlayStation, they are slightly fiddly on the action buttons. At times I couldn’t select the right choice on screen, because the buttons were too close together. It’s fine on a PC when you’ve got a precise mouse, but on PlayStation you’re reliant on the joysticks to navigate these choices, which are sometimes finnicky indeed.
Another UX issue is the never-discoverable exclamation mark. The game will alert you to new information in the codex, a vital tool for solving the story, but it won’t tell you where the new information is, meaning you’ll need to click through multiple menus trying to track down a single piece of new information. Most of the time, I gave up.
The end is nigh
⚠️ Spoiler alert for the end of the game
Like many of the great cyberpunk stories, Gamedec plays with memory and technology. But my favourite levels were the earliest ones before things got very meta, like tracking down the child labourers in Harvest Time. This combination of technology and gaming having real-world consequences and real-world crimes, was the perfect balance I look for in cyberpunk storytelling.
But it turns out that you’re actually in a virtual world within a virtual world. Similar to the Matrix, you’re trapped inside, and the programming is trying to get out. When you think you’re tracking down a cult who worships the Tree of Knowledge, it turns out that this tree is symbolic of the overarching program editor. This move from the real to the virtual lost my interest a little; I wanted to continue uncovering the web of corruption in Warsaw City.
The reason for this giant simulation is like any good cyberpunk – capitalism. Real people are trapped in simulations for market testing on a massive scale. Cyberpunk is always political, and Gamedec takes fair aim at the people who make games, while acknowledging that you’re playing a game.
But as many of us suspected, the future isn’t all fun and games.