“I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.” – Raymond Chandler
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Available on: Steam
NOTE: This review is based on the game’s free prologue, with the full title due to release in 2021.
Backbone is an upcoming noir detective adventure in which the player takes on the role of Howard Lotor, a raccoon and private eye. Inspired by classic RPGs, Howard must sneak through diverse districts of a now walled-off dystopian Vancouver, sniff out clues, interrogate witnesses, and choose which leads to follow.
The game implements a variety of game styles and mechanics, resulting in a point-and-click, walking simulator, RPG hybrid that also includes reactionary branching dialogue, puzzles and stealth mechanics! The result is refreshing and immersive.
The puzzles within the game require a little thought and effort but aren’t overly challenging. It is possible to fail the stealth sections but this is relatively unpunishing and the sneaking is quite easily managed anyway. The conversations include well written and entertaining dialogue with an eclectic array of NPCs, all of whom will remember your dialogue choices making for realistic and often challenging return visits.
Narrative and Styling
Backbone tells a gripping detective story brimming with mystery and intrigue. The narrative features some dark and mature themes such as prostitution, racism, murder and drugs, helping give the player a real sense of the city’s sleaziness. The aesthetic also contributes heavily to this, adding a moody, smoky feel with its detailed pixel-art scenes, vintage, hazy lighting and contrasting colour palettes.
There is no voice acting in the game but the quality of the writing makes up for this and it is easy to get a sense of the different characters. The soundtrack is typical of the noir genre and described by the developers as ‘doom-jazz’. Though the music remains consistent in overall sound, it varies to match the tone of the different scenes and can really help create the overall atmosphere, unlike the sound effects which are minimal and have a much subtler impact.
The prologue for Backbone does a fantastic job of making the player want to know more, with red herrings, bread crumb clues and cliffhangers. Despite being a thoroughly enjoyable experience, it’s difficult to feel satiated and I am now impatiently waiting for the game’s full release!