Backbone makes a great first impression. This is a noir, narrative-driven game in a world inhabited by anthropomorphic animals, all living their lives in a dystopian city. Playing as Howard Lotor, a private detective who's barely making ends meet, you take on what appears to be a simple job, but it soon leads you to a much bigger, much more sinister plot. The story sets things up nicely, but the further it goes, the more its narrative spirals out of control.
Playing out like a hybrid of point and click adventure and visual novel, you explore various districts of the city, mostly interacting with points of interest and talking to residents. Stealth sequences add a little tension to gameplay, but they're so rare and the concept so under-explored, you'll wonder why they're included. The vast majority of your time will be in conversation with numerous characters as you try to follow the trail of the grisly mystery.
You're usually offered two or three dialogue choices, some of which lead to different responses, but it appears that this is a wholly linear game with a single ending. However you choose to speak with everyone, the story will power on through. Again, the game sets up its narrative with an intriguing initial twist, some genuinely interesting characters, and an expectedly moody tale, but it all goes off the rails from around the half-way point and gets more confounding from there.
We were enjoying the lowlife-detective-gets-in-way-over-his-head storyline, but it takes another turn later on into something decidedly more obscure. The final hour or two throw the whole story for a loop, and to make things worse, it feels as though none of the plot threads are resolved — you're just left hanging, probably with a furrowed brow, while the credits roll. It's a shame, as the music and visuals are excellent throughout, but the presentation just isn't enough on its own, and that's about all it has.