Developed by Chaosmonger Studio and published by Assemble Entertainment, Encodya is set in the year 2062. Recently orphaned by the death of her mother, nine year old Tina must navigate the harsh world around her alongside SAM-53, her robotic companion assigned to her at birth. After discovering a message from her father, Tina finds herself on a journey to restore balance to the world and save it from despair.
Encodya is rooted in core themes of the Cyberpunk genre. From megacorporations ruling over society, to the overt corruption in the government, The city of Neo Berlin is about as bleak as it gets. Tina and SAM-53 are forced to deal with the harsh realities of the world head on at a young age.
The story in Encodya is all about commentary on the increasing control that the media and big corporations have over society. The developers go as far to state this explicitly in a disclaimer when you launch the game. However, I didn’t find much subtlety or nuance to any of these themes, as the game often hits you over the head with them, or spells it out entirely for you. This is evident in a lot of the dialogue, like when Tina says something along the lines of “the government is using drugs to control the people” when she sees a drug addicted person hobbling through the street. It’s also hard not to draw the blatant similarities from the stereotypical “corrupt politician” to a not-so-far-in-the-past American President.
One thing that really landed for me in Encodya’s story was the dynamic between Tina and SAM-53. We’ve seen the “little kid with a big robot/pet/monster companion” several times in games and other media, but it still works in Encodya, or maybe I’m just a sucker. This relationship is anchored by some solid performances in both roles. Unfortunately, they’re really the only performances that standout in Encodya. Most of the NPCs and side characters come off as stiff or awkward.
Click, click, boom
As a point-and-click adventure game, Encodya’s gameplay often centers around solving puzzles, finding items, and other typical mechanics of the genre. I found a lot of the core gameplay to feel messy. Though you can always look at your active objectives, the world design does very little to point you in the right direction, or give you clever hints as to what should happen next. Oftentimes I found myself getting stuck where I just started, clicking on every object and combining every item until I stumbled upon the right solution. Luckily, the game does allow you to press the spacebar and highlight items that can be picked up, but I wish it did something similar for objectives.
I enjoyed the way Encodya handled its dual protagonists in regards to gameplay. At any given time, players can swap between Tina and SAM-53, and lead the gameplay as them. Some puzzles can only be solved by a specific character. The character that you’re playing as will trigger different dialogue responses from the NPCs. For example, there was a professor that I had a lengthy discussion with while playing as Tina, but when I swapped to SAM-53, he killed the conversation, stating he couldn’t speak to a robot. It’s an attention to detail that makes the world feel a bit more real.
The attention to detail is present in the art of Encodya as well. The world of Neo Berlin feels handcrafted, with so much always going on. Whether it be a car being carried by a flying tow, or massive ads scrolling by, the developers nail the dystopian sci-fi aesthetic in Encodya.
A grey tomorrow
Encodya truly has some neat aspects going for it. Endearing characters, beautiful art design, solid quality of life features. However, none of those are enough to overcome a heavy-handed narrative and some messy gameplay mechanics. Encodya is a sometimes passable, middling take on Cyberpunk, and an average point-and-click adventure.
This review is based on a digital download code provided by the publisher. Encodya is available now on Steam for $19.99.
- Endearing characters
- Beautiful art design
- Heavy-handed narrative
- Cluttered gameplay
- Awkward voice performances
Donovan Erskine posted a new article, Encodya review: A bleak future