Backbone: Prologue

Backbone is an upcoming point-and-click film noir mystery game, set in a densely atmospheric city and following the suspenseful investigation of private investigator Howard Lotor as he takes on a case that might lead to his doom.

Publisher:EggNut
Platform:PC (Steam)
Genre:Film Noir, Mystery
Type of game:Point-and-click

Concepts: Backbone is an upcoming game for PC by the indie developer team EggNut. This review covers a free playable demo of the game, titled Backbone: Prologue, available on Steam. Set in a dystopian noir-inspired setting which mixes historical eras and anthropomorphic characters, it seeks to create a densely atmospheric backdrop for a mystery. You play as Howard Lotor, a bitter raccoon private detective, who is hired on a case to uncover the whereabouts of a missing man. The playable demo lasts about an hour and a half, and gives a good sense of what lies ahead for our hapless investigator.

Design: The game’s aesthetics are fantastic. Using heavy, moody fogs and rainfall and a vibrant soundtrack including some genuinely beautiful blues tunes and even one excellent vocal performance that takes place in a nightclub, this is a game that oozes style.

I tend to be rather skeptical with games that incorporate an entire cast as anthropomorphic animals, fearing that they tend to be rather trite. Backbone seems to avoid much of the baggage that comes with this style – there is a large cast of characters, of a various range of species. It handles the inclusion well, avoiding stereotypes (how many times have we seen entire racial groups rendered down to little more than animal species in such works?) and instead offers us something new. This is a great and pleasant relief!

Mechanics: Backbone is a point-and-click adventure game which utilizes keyboard controls to navigate the character and buttons to interact with the environment, similar to that of the original mode of control for Grim Fandango but set against a 2D backdrop. There are no mouse controls in the Prologue version of this game. Despite this, the control interface is very intuitive – you are able to control Howard as he moves around the city and speak to characters readily enough.

However, there are issues with the game’s controls feeling sluggish at times. While this is generally fine and non-disruptive, there are moments when I experienced significant frame rate issues. This was rarely a bother, however at one point in the gameplay I was required to use stealth to move past several characters. This proved extremely frustrating and awkward due to the controls lacking much in the way of fine tuning.

Writing: Any film noir detective game must rely heavily on dialogue – interviewing suspects, cross-referencing alibis, analyzing clues and so on. In general this is carried out very well. Backbone: Prologue’s narrative follows Lotor as he seeks out a missing person, eventually tracking his last known location and infiltrating a seedy nightclub in the hopes of discovering the truth. What he discovers is an impressively well-developed and dark underbelly to the world, with its own crime families, drug runners, underclasses and more. The game also ends with a rather excellent and unexpected twist, which keeps the player hooked for more.

There are, however, several issues with the actual dialogue itself being somewhat unclear at times. I suspect that this may be down to struggles to translate part of the dialogue into English. Some stronger proofreading may be required at parts.

Playability: Despite some small issues as outlined above, Backbone plays like a charm for the most part. You feel thoroughly involved in the game, with its intricately crafted characters (each of who seem to possess their own distinctive animations and walk cycles) and well-designed backdrops. The game gives you a useful database to record clues and information, which I imagine will be very useful in the final release.

Conclusion: I find myself genuinely wanting to like Backbone: Prologue. The gameplay is lovely, the story involving and the noir style utterly compelling. I genuinely love so much of this. Yet despite that, there are concerns with the controls and the occasional hiccup in translation that I would genuinely love to see finely polished. I sincerely hope that we get to see the game unfettered from this and allowed to grow and develop into its own unique creation. Backbone is definitely a game to keep an eye on, and I hope that we get to see a lot from it in the future!

Concepts:18/20
Design:19/20
Mechanics:12/20
Writing:17/20
Playability:18/20
FINAL SCORE:84%

FINAL THOUGHTS: A vibrant and enchanting noir mystery that I hope to see realize its full potential.

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