27/11/2021

๐Ÿฆ Backbone | XBOX SERIES X | Review | 6/10 | "One small step for noir, one giant misstep from Backbone" ๐Ÿฆ @backbonegame #IndieGames #IndieGame

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The word noir conjures up so much joy for me, I absolutely adore it - if I see the word in a description of any piece of media, it's almost guaranteed I will consume it.

In theory, Backbone was so far up my street, I could have bought a three-bed terrace house there and lived a very happy life… or so I thought.

Backbone is set in a dystopian Vancouver, you play as Howard Lotor - a depressed, poor, and down on his luck private detective. You then take what seems like a typical case of a cheating husband and are tasked with finding him and proving said affair, this then spirals into a much larger case of deceit, corruption and - of course - cannibalism.

All characters in the game are anthropomorphic animals - Howard is a racoon and thus deemed lower class, for example. The way the animals are used in this game is really clever and praise to the developers as there are a ton of different animals in the game - even in backgrounds, they could have easily saved time and resources by using the same animals over and over but the extra care and attention taken adds to making the game feel rich and alive. 

The visuals and settings are some of the most bang-on I've ever seen in a game, everything evokes the mood the game is trying to capture - from the rain-soaked streets of the downtrodden to the rich, decadent and lavish streets of the upper class. The pixel art style used is wonderful, I loved every second I spent looking at this game and I couldn’t wait to see the next location. The atmosphere was perfectly noir in the rain, the cynicism, the lighting - everything felt right, and I was completely immersed in the world, simply one of the best settings and moods in gaming.

A 2D adventure game, the gameplay is simple and that is both good and bad. The simplicity is helpful and streamlines the process - pick up an item, walk over to where you need to use it and it is automatically used. The game presents you with a lot of options when talking to other characters but - like a lot of games - what you say really doesn't matter, it all leads to the same conclusions.

Now, admittedly this doesn't bother me as much as I know it bothers other gamers - it is nice to have even minor changes to the story from these decisions. If you played the prologue version of Backbone,  the game has a stealth section and some puzzles, weirdly the game drops them after this chapter, it streamlines the narrative but it feels weird to include them in the prologue then just drop them from the main game.

This is now the part of the review at which I do ‘the spoiler dance’ as I want to talk about the big misstep but don’t want to spoil the game, so be warned. 

Backbone is about 4-5 hours long and in the last hour, the game takes a monumental narrative and genre shift. When doing a massive shift in such as this - at worst, it needs to be as interesting as what came before but really it should be more interesting to justify the change, what Backbone shifts to just doesn't work, it builds up great potential for a sequel but does come at the expense of this game. Some people may love the direction the game takes but for me, personally? I found it jarring and uninteresting.

For some reason it also dismisses the previous mystery that it had been building up for the last few hours, it treats it with such unimportance and with a few lines of dialogue, it’s brushed to the side -a real shame.

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