2064: Read Only Memories is a game about artificial intelligence. Indeed, it's a game about both the interpersonal intricacies of machine sapience, and its broader societal implications. It's also a game about gentrification, and the way capitalism chews up and spits out disadvantaged people. It's a game about all of these things, while also being a game about solving crimes with a cute robot companion.
The city of NEO-SF is brimming with contradictions. Massive multi-national tech corporation Parallax lords over a colossal integrated web service, while rogue hackers attempt to find faults in the system. Genetically and cybernetically modified people fight for basic rights, while the mega-rich flaunt their grotesque wealth.
In the midst of it all, Hayden Webber – a machine intelligence engineer for Parallax, and an old friend – builds the first sapient machine. Clearly someone isn't pleased with Hayden's ambitions, as he's soon kidnapped. His creation, Turing, contacts you and convinces you to help find Hayden and bring his captors to justice.
In gameplay terms, this means the usual vintage adventure game mechanics: exploring, searching for clues, interviewing contacts, and pursuing leads. There are occasional puzzles and action mini-games to change up the pace, but for the most part you'll be selecting dialogue options and parsing various rooms for clues.
The sapient robot Turing acts as a walking encyclopaedia to aid in your search, providing useful information about the city and its inhabitants. Moreover, depending on the way you treat them they can also become a good friend or a reluctant partner, such is the way with all the inhabitants of NEO-SF. Say the wrong thing and they'll likely refuse to co-operate, lending every interaction a sense of gravity and tension.
Unfortunately, it isn't always clear how a choice may affect the story. Indeed, there are a handful of interactions in which an ostensibly throwaway decision changes the course of the narrative in an unalterable way. Occasionally ambiguous dialogue options exacerbate this problem; the exact tone and delivery of a line isn't always obvious, leading to unintended consequences.
In spite of this, the story remains intriguing and engaging throughout its roughly 8-10 hour run-time. As with any good crime yarn, there are ample twists and turns, and most of the characters' motives remain a secret until the very last second. Speaking of which, Midboss' freshman effort sports an incredibly diverse roster. A variety of races, gender identities, and sexualities are represented here, and the experience is all the richer for it.
NEO-SF is a fascinating character unto itself. Clearly taking cues from increasingly gentrified tech cities, it plays host to both extreme wealth and extreme poverty. The colourful retro style helps accentuate this disparity, while making nods to neo-noir and cyberpunk animes. There's a distinct culture on its streets – one that embraces technological advancement, while also remaining wary of the ways it can be used to subjugate people. This creates an atmosphere which is charming in its futuristic romanticism, but with an undercurrent of menace.
The game also cultivates this atmosphere with a consistently excellent soundtrack. As with the visuals and gameplay, the score is a lovingly deliberate throwback peppered with modern accoutrement. Velvety synth orchestras mesh with chunky beats to create memorable and emotive tunes. It also uses leitmotif to great effect – each character and location has a separate theme, often present in several different arrangements to effectively punctuate emotional beats as required.
2064: Read Only Memories tells a haunting story in a stylish way. Its diverse roster of characters, intriguing world, and masterful soundtrack make for an engaging experience from beginning to end. While there are some minor storytelling and structural hiccups, it nevertheless successfully combines a classic genre with modern trimmings.