2064: Read Only Memories Review: Chmod 0000 Please

This title has style and flair, but heavy-handed writing and lack of substance and identity make the experience suffer.

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I wanted to love 2064: Read Only Memories, I really did. I'm a huge fan of Snatcher, William Gibson, and the funky pastels of the Commodore 64 color palette. I missed the game in its first iteration when it was just Read Only Memories, so I was excited to hear that a "director's cut" of sorts was coming to PlayStation 4. This new release, 2064: Read Only Memories, contains everything the original game did plus voice acting, additional animations, and new/revised puzzles. I can't attest to how much improvement was present in this new edition of the title, but I can say that it wasn't enough to make me like it.

Play It Again, Hideo

2064: Read Only Memories isn't without its charms. The graphical aesthetic has a unique pastel palette to it, making the graphics softer and unique compared to other Cyberpunk works. Most "retro" titles throwback to NES or SNES-type graphics, but 2064 reminds me more of an MSX 2 or Sega CD title, and I loved the '90s Japanese-influenced character design. The setting of Neo San Fransisco features a ton of hand-crafted environments, and most, if not all, assets for each area are completely original as opposed to the easier method of copying and pasting pre-made sprites.

However, one major issue with the graphics has nothing to do with fidelity. In an attempt to even further duplicate Snatcher's classic gameplay, 2064 cheats itself by containing its characters, menus, and the environment in a small section of the screen. The other half of the display is taken up by subtitles and text, which could have easily been avoided if MidBoss just presented the text in the same manner that LucasArt SCUMM games did, by having it color coded above the characters speaking. Homages aren't fun or useful if they involve limiting the gameplay to below modern standards, especially standards that were forged over 20 years ago.

Sound Over Substance

The voice acting, introduced in this new version of the game, is adequate to good, depending on which character is speaking. Melissa Hutchison, who played Clementine in Telltale's The Walking Dead series, is woefully underutilized as the ROM Turing, and really voice acting was a waste of time for this game for reasons I'll get to below. Additionally, the synthy chiptune-esque soundtrack is well characterized for this title, but nothing that commands any particular notice.

Here's Why You Suck

It's not 2064: Read Only Memories' superficial details that make the game intolerable. It's the very structure of the title that is flawed. The narrative of Read Only Memories is based around a robot called a ROM, or Relationship Organizational Manager, named Turing, that is more special than the other ROMs because he is sentient. Who you are is unimportant, you play a journalist, and your tenuous connection with Turing is that you used to be friends with its creator, Hayden Webber, who has been kidnapped. For some reason, Turing calculated you were the most likely of Webber's associates to be of use in finding Webber and recovering him safely.

Now prepare to be lectured for the entire game. Your first meeting with Turing has it insulting you continuously and belittling you for your human inferiority. I suppose this might be meant to be charming, but it's not. Turing is pedantic in the extreme, and I would have told it to leave my apartment, but you don't get that choice. 2064 is much more a visual novel than a point-and-click adventure, and you're shoehorned into almost every choice you make. Most of the characters you meet including Tomcat the hacker and Jess, the activist are very quick to lecture you on why every decision you make is wrong.

Don't Think, Just Listen

MidBoss meant for 2064 to be very "inclusive," and I'm fine with that. However, "inclusive" takes on a new meaning when playing this title. Inclusive in 2064 means that you have to be 100% open to everyone's needs and feelings other than your own at all times. Neo San Fransisco is full of gene splicers and cyborgs who modify their bodies first for genetic improvement, then for fashion. A law was passed before the game began that limits certain genetic traits from animals from being applied to humans, and from preventing certain types of hybrids from reproducing, though individuals can choose to have their ova and sperm frozen before they undergo the hybridization process.

There's a group called the "Human Revolution," which acts as a background antagonist during the game that opposes the rampant genetic modification and later machine sentience that they feel threaten what it means to be "human." You have no choice in 2064 but to go along with whatever the primary characters in the story tell you. You don't get to decide as the protagonist what side you want to take. You are going to agree that people should be able to have venom glands implanted in their bodies and that they should be allowed to attempt to have children even if after gene splicing your DNA is no longer close enough to being human to produce healthy offspring.

A big issue with 2064, in general, is that the player isn't given access to the "whys" of the world they inhabit. Why was this law actually passed other than classic bigotry? Why should I want the characters I'm forced to interact with during the game to get their way? A good narrative makes you aware of the full motivations of both sides of a conflict so that you can soundly make the decision to side with the protagonists. However, the "protagonists" were so busy belittling on me; I didn't care what happened to them. Especially Turing. Also, you never get a chance to really question the ethical quandaries of humanity creating a new race of sentient creatures. You're either a great guy if you like it, or a monster if you don't.

2064: Read Only Memories finds itself obsessed with the idea and style of counter-culture without questioning why culture should be "countered." For example, in one scene Turing smugly tells you that Los Angeles passed legislation that anyone could put up street art on any building without permission from the owner or the city government. The title contradicts itself by basically stating that individualism is the most important thing in the world, as long as the writers of Read Only Memories agree with you. Otherwise, you're a bigot, a square, and your property should be painted on, and you should just deal.

What It's Like When You Play As an NPC

The primary problem with 2064: Read Only Memories is that there's absolutely no need for the silent protagonist. The story would have worked much better with Turing as the main character, then you could have learned about the world of Neo San Fransisco through the eyes of a newly sentient being, then all the missing narrative detail could have been logically explained away. Instead, I played my faceless, nameless protagonist in the way I quickly learned the game wanted me to. I was incredibly selfless to the point of insanity and made sure that any opportunity to self-flagellate was taken.

I'm tired of being led to believe a game is going to let me choose my destiny, and 2064: Read Only Memories is guilty of pulling me along and making me "create" a character I couldn't stand. When you're presented with a nameless protagonist, one of the perks of not playing as a defined character is being able to imprint your choices onto that character. Instead, I got the worst of both worlds. Not only was my character a generic verbal punching bag, if I tried to make them anything but that I was chided by the cast.

It Could Be Worse

2064: Read Only Memories is a great game for anyone who agrees 100% with what its heavy-handed, politically-charged plot forces down your throat without question. However, like a political conversation on social media, 2064 is long-winded, overly aggressive in its message, ill-presented, and accomplishes nothing.

I'm for equality, and I'm for freedom of expression, but what I'm not for is a lack of critical thinking. We're all human, and if there is to be equality, then we all have to be able to share the same rights. 2064: Read Only Memories doesn't deal in consequence or compromise, just your side is right, and their side is wrong. I will say the visual style is engaging, and it would have been nice to see the screen space open up a bit and let that aesthetic shine. However, I will say it's worth a playthrough for fans of the genre and cyberpunk enthusiasts if only for the nostalgia and artwork.


Disclaimer: Jason Faulkner worked at Destructoid during Jonathan Holmes' tenure as Editor-in-Chief of that publication. Jonathan Holmes voice acts "Froyo Guy" in 2064: Read Only Memories. This prior association has had no bearing on the author's review of 2064: Read Only Memories.

This review is based on a PlayStation 4 digital download code provided by the publisher. 2064: Read Only Memories available on PSN and Steam on 1/17/17, for $19.99

Contributing Editor
Pros
  • Pastel cyberpunk, so hot right now
  • Nicely realized Sega CD/MSX 2 Snatcher aesthetic
  • If you don't think about it, the story isn't that bad
Cons
  • Narrative is pedantic and patronizing
  • Total lack of player agency
  • I can't stand any character in the game
  • Little to no explanation of causality in the game's backstory
  • Screen space is underutilized
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