Sunday, June 23, 2024

Born Punk: Hopeful Cyberpunk

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Born Punk is a pixel art, point and click adventure game made by developer Insert Disk 22, with a Kickstarter launching February Fifth, 2019. It’s an indie game, set in a cyberpunk dystopia…hold on, hold on, bear with me now! I know cyberpunk dystopias have been done to death, but let’s finish the description first, okay? It’s about an alcoholic cyborg…let me finish, no need to worry yet! Who gets a mysterious connection to a rogue AI.

…okay, so I admit, that’s not the most original sounding plot ever. But let’s be fair, a lot of stories sound very similar if you reduce them to their bare bones. For example: a young male befriends a tiger but nobody believes him. Am I talking about Life of Pi or Calvin and Hobbes? And we’ve all heard the comparisons between Harry Potter and Star Wars. Tropes and archetypes are not bad in and of themselves, it’s how you use them that matters.

So, with that in mind, and also keeping in mind that this game has not been released yet so I’m just going off of the press kit, the trailer, and the demo they have on, what does Born Punk do with its tropes? Well, the press statements and website promise a hopeful, positive cyberpunk, where just because the world is a dystopia when you start the game doesn’t mean it’s doomed to forever be such, and that you, as the main character Eevi, can make things better. Is that what will actually happen? I don’t know. But, I can tell you what impressions I got from the brief demo.

The best way I can sum up the feeling I got when playing the Born Punk demo is by comparing it to three things. First off, from a visual and mechanical standpoint the game feels like early Lucas Arts games, particularly the first two Monkey Island games and Sam & Max. Not just because it’s a pixel art point and click, but also in the font used for subtitles when characters speak, or when certain menus pop up. The user interface (UI) is rather reminiscent of those games too, though more streamlined.

Secondly, from a tonal standpoint what it most reminds me of is Edna & Harvey: The Breakout, another point and click game from Daedalic Entertainment. There’s a hint of darkness, of things not being quite right, but also a dedication to the concept of just having fun, demonstrated when the first puzzle of the game is to find your missing robot hand, because somehow you got so drunk the night before that you lost it. One of the items is a literal red herring. And when you wake up your cat, it (in a scene that will only be in the demo) sits up and speaks in a deep voice for a Q&A with the creator of the game, allowing you to ask questions about the game, its setting and mechanics, and its hopeful future. A regular game would have that be some generic text-box, maybe some videos, but they chose to have the cat be possessed by the creator of the game to speak directly to the player! Having a not gruff but not completely zany female protagonist helps too.

And finally, from a thematic standpoint, it reminds me of the works of BioWare or Telltale (hopefully without the crushing collapse of the latter or the divisive fanbase of the former). This is an ambitious game. The full plan will involve multiple branching paths, new dialogue options triggered by viewing non-plot essential items, a deep lore, full voice acting, character choices with consequences, etc. All things that aren’t groundbreaking in AAA gaming, but impressive for an indie title, and especially for a point and click indie title.

Will this game be good? I hope so. The demo has left me optimistic. Not even cautiously optimistic, just plain, flat out, optimistic. I enjoyed playing around with it, and I genuinely wish I was in a better financial situation so that I could back it, because we need games like this. Not just ones with female protagonists (though we do need those) or ones that at least want to deliver a deep story (though we do need those too), but one that plans to give a message of hope and optimism. It’s nice to see a story that’s not grimdark, especially in a setting like cyberpunk. So while it’s entirely possible that this game will fall flat on its face, I sincerely hope that it doesn’t.

So, some links!

Images Courtesy of Insert Disk 22

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