In recent years there has been somewhat of a growing infatuation of ’80s centric culture and media. From the explosion of vaporwave and synthwave music in the early 2000s to fan projects like Kung Fury attempting to desperately capture the style and aesthetic of the late 80s to early 90s. This fetishisation hasn’t stopped at music and movies, however, as there has been a recent push for neon-coloured, ultra violent throwbacks in video games. With titles like Hotline Miami and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, indie and AAA developers alike have created multiple homages to this time, creating some of my favourite titles in the last few years. While many of these retro throwbacks have been fun and entertaining, they rarely use what we have learned in the past 30 years to their advantage, as many of these games simply present the period as it was remembered; wacky, cool and, above all, kitschy. The game I am looking at today does something new with the time period and aesthetic, however, as it tells the tale of a group of individuals in a cyberpunk depiction of San Francisco, and deals with issues of race, sexuality, gender and humanity. The game in question comes to us from Midboss, was Kickstarted back in 2012 and was produced with involvement with GaymerX. Now kick back, put on your leg warmers, VR glasses and get ready for an adventure in Read Only Memories.
Read Only Memories is a time machine back to the era of games when Hideo Kojima had a job and hadn’t yet created that little known series called Metal Gear Solid. Before Kojima was creating stealth-based action games, he was something of a writer and director for a number of adventure games primarily set in cyberpunk future settings. The more famous of these titles are Snatcher and Policenauts, which are regarded as some of his best stories. Jump to 2015, where Midboss have created something extremely similar to these gritty neon filled adventure games of the past. In ROM, you play as an unnamed journalist who, one day, finds themselves introduced to the world’s first sapient robot, Turing (who is adorable by the way).
After this meeting you are informed their creator, who is a past friend of yours, has been kidnapped and Turing is also now in danger. From here the two are wrapped up in a story of intrigue, murder, augmentation and what it means to be human. Along the way you are introduced to a number of colourful characters, many of which show good representation for gay, lesbian and trans figures. Needless to say I adored the characters present in Read Only Memories, as while the story did take a turn for the predictable at times, it was the character interactions and dialogue that kept me coming back. While there are points of the game’s plot that came off as a little too slow or pensive, the overall journey is a fun, sometimes tense trip through a cyberpunk-noir investigation, ending with one of six strong endings that all work on their own merit.
As an homage to older adventure games, Read Only Memories essentially plays as a point and click with light FPS elements thrown in for good measure. You travel from location to location, attempting to find answers to an ever growing mystery. You do this by clicking on objects, listening to flavour text and talking to people. One point you should know now is that there is a lot of dialogue, and I mean a lot. Almost everything has a description allocated to it, even down to every tree you see. If you’re not a person who can deal with this amount of extensive world building and text trees then this game will get you frustrated very quickly, as the first couple of chapters move at a snail’s pace, picking up later. Eventually you are given a laser pistol, which you use sporadically during the course of the game. This separates the screen into a 3×3 grid, which allows you to shoot incoming enemies. It’s a frantic shooting mechanic that works well, but is under-utilised over all.
In terms of presentation, Read Only Memories couldn’t look more the part. The city of Neo-San Francisco is a vibrant and fully realized metropolis, with various world building text conversations addressing every piece of furniture and plant. The city is coated in a neon synth glow that gives everything a late 80s style, from the light airy daytime streets to the dark seedy nightclubs, everything oozes a optimistic cyberpunk charm. This wonderfully realized world couldn’t have been made without the talented artist, JJ Signal .The same can be said for the character designs, each immediately iconic and memorable, with some extremely sincere and believable gay representation. Oh and did I mention the game’s soundtrack? Any good retro throwback needs to have some good tunes, and ROM delivers ten times over, part in thanks to 2 Mello. As you traverse the neon dusk skyline, the score complements each interaction perfectly, with some incredibly catchy character themes (Turing’s in particular).
Read Only Memories is a truly charming trip down memory lane that captivated me with its unique cast, relatable themes, fantastic setting and score. While dumb over the top retro throwbacks like Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and Double Dragon Neon capture the fun of the 80s, ROM uses the beloved time period and challenges it with modern day themes and conflicts. I loved my time in Neo-San Fransisco, and never wanted to leave its synth heavy, neon coloured streets, especially with an adorable little robot taking me by the hand on an adventure I will not forget for some time.
A unique, fun, queer themed sci-fi journey. Come for the influences, stay for the charm.
Read Only Memories can be purchased on PC now and will release later for PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One, iOS, Razer Forge and Android.
Are you interested in Read Only Memories? Let us know what you think of the game in the comments.