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Most Recent Platinum

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:platinum:  529

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Backbone

 

Summary: 

 

A pixel-art Narrative Detective Adventure with a sci-fi, dystopian slant, Backbone, from Eggnut Games, takes the basic staples of old detective Adventure games like Gabriel Knight, but adds a modern slant, in the vein of latter-day Telltale - minimising the mechanical and puzzle elements, and instead focussing on atmospheric storytelling and branching dialogue.


The narrative is a curious one to say the least. It begins as pure, hardboiled detective noire - and is pretty on point... more so than most games which dabble in the genre manage. The game is unusually - almost oppressively - bleak: in setting, in tone, and in plot.  While the City Backbone takes place in is populated by anthropomorphised animals, this is a far cry from Chicory or even Night in the Woods. This a a grimy, seedy world, populated by down-and-outs, have-nots, and those simply scraping by. Drugs, prostitution and crime are rampant, and the city operates on an extreme caste system, with Apes as the elite ruling class who live in the opulence of obscene wealth and power, iron boot on the face of the proletariat. 
The noire overtones are closer here, in fact, to the abject hopeless noire of 1984 or Bladerunner than the somewhat sanitised versions of Raymond Chandler more traditionally seen in videogames. 


In fact, both 1984 and Bladerunner are interesting as parallels for another reason too - because they are ostensibly Sci-Fi noire. Backbone takes from that specific strain of the genre far more than one might initially expect. Without going into spoilers, the game actually takes a fairly sharp turn in its second half, where the more hard-boiled detective elements give way to a pure dystopian sci-fi angle... one that can feel jarring, (deliberately so,) though admittedly, never quite feels as absurd as it might, simply because the dour, sombre tone of the whole game is measured and retained effectively throughout the genre bait-n-switch. 

That bait-n-switch is a very unusual thing in games - and truth be told, Backbone does something with its narrative left-turn and mechanical gameplay shift that has been seen in other games more as a reflection of troubled design, or mishandled deadline management, where games feel like they abandon one genre in favour of another simply as a band-aid. However, I am confident that here, the turn is absolutely planned and executed as intended - and worked for me. While I was initially turned off by the game's abandonment of its initial mechanics - and apparent direction, in favour of a new one - the more I progressed, the more it came to feel like a fluid, deliberate design, used to effectively wrong-foot the player, in a mirror of the protagonists situation.

The game goes further than that even, doing something pretty wild in terms of narrative towards the end - (I guess this is a very mild spoiler, though I won't give any specifics) - in true noire style, the main protagonist - Howard Lotor - is revealed to not only not be the linchpin of the narrative, but in fact, to have simply been a small cog in a very large narrative machine. 
The portion of the broad story to which he was privy, is also the only part of it we as players are really privy to. We see only a little more than he does, and so the narrative feels very much like it "goes on" beyond the game. 
Personally, I loved this idea, it found it both fitting for the noire style, and bold as a narrative device... but the fact remains - it has the potential to leave no small portion of the audience unsatisfied - particularly after the narrative already took a hard left turn from detective noire to sci-fi noire at the mid point.


Mechanically, Backbone is very simple. There are a few very slight puzzles, and several "stealth" sections (that are, frankly, so insignificant and simple as to border on superfluous,)  however, that isn't the draw here. What is, is the dialogue and the narrative. The actual conversations and dialogue trees are varied, and genuinely interesting. There is no hard "Paragon / Renegade" dichotomy in play - Howard can be many shades of himself, but rarely is he in a position to be fully one or another, and the dialogue does feel more flowing as a result. This is noire - it's not exactly "natural" dialogue (I'd contest that none of the dialogue in the Maltese Falcon, or The Big Sleep, or Chinatown is "naturalistic" either,) however, it does feel freeform enough to give the player agency, yet genre appropriate enough to have the ring of truth.


While the broad narrative does not change significantly depending on conversational choices, the individual conversations certainly do. In terms of fitting into the grimy noire-fiction genre, it hits the nail squarely on the head, but without feeling like a pastiche of the genre. Howard Lotor doesn't feel like Sam Spade, or Jake Gittes, or Phillip Marlowe because he is doing an impression of them - in fact, his dialogue is fairly distinctly different from that filmic archetype - but he does feel like them within the game fiction, simply because the plot, pacing and themes of those noire anti-heroes and their worlds are well transposed. 
Howard is not good in a fight. He takes more punishment than he gives. He is street-smart, but not a genius. His personal life is messy, but not a mess. His apartment and office is a mess, but not a sty. 
He is realistically noire, without being a caricature of noire. 
In fact, were he not a bipedal racoon in a raincoat, I might be tempted to describe him as one of the most realistic noire protagonists I've seen in a videogame.


Backbone is, it must be said, an unusual game, in the sense that it feel mechanically thin, (it undoubtedly is,) but it's hard to really hold that against it, because the areas in which it really shines, are also the areas with the least mechanical involvement.
It feels good to put together the clues of the case in the early part of the game - but really, this is fairly guided. There isn't an LA Noire style potential for failure - or an Outer Wilds style potential to miss elements - the broad structure of the case will be known to the player by the time the game ends, even if they fluff every single dialogue, and look like a prize idiot in every conversation - however, how much they really understand of the world around the case - of the reasons - often come down to how they conducted themselves. Who they spoke to. How they spoke to them. What they learned, or what lines of enquiry they focussed on. 
As such, the short puzzles, or minor stealth elements are presumably made so simple purposefully. Backbone isn't a game where failing a stealth section or being stuck on a puzzle would be in any way fun, and so they exist simply as narrative device - to show the tools of Howard's trade to the player, rather than to actively challenge them.
Actually, some of the games best moments of atmosphere and storytelling - where it really comes together perfectly - are often in sections where the only mechanical involvement is in holding right and walking... and so the odd lack of depth in the occasional stealth / puzzle elements don't feel particularly detrimental.


In terms of audio - there is little in the way of sound effects, and no spoken dialogue... but the score is - and I don't say this lightly - the best element in the game. It is wonderful. A strange mix of traditional brooding jazz tones and noire themes, with occasional shifts to (very evocative) vocal tracks, or more modern, slightly electronic elements, and it works perfectly in every instance. 


Visually too, the game is top-notch. It is, of course, pixel-art, so there is no real technical prowess on show, but some of the ways little technical flourishes are used on top of the pixel-art are subtle, but really effective. Raindrops on the camera, or water in the environment, or lighting effects and interesting parallax scrolling techniques really make the environments pop. Character design is good for sure - creating a rabbit one feels genuinely sorry for, or a racoon that is visibly suffering drug withdrawal is tough, and is done well - but city and environments are where Backbone really shines. They are very evocative, and while little is really seen of the broader city, the few locations there are all feel distinct, yet part of a grand whole, and do a fantastic job of evoking the run down bleakness or obscene opulence of the different locations. 


There is one genuine downside to the game, however, that I really didn't appreciate, but must be mentioned here: The Trophies. 
The Trophies in Backbone... are a bit of a mess. 
The game itself functions perfectly well - I experienced no glitches or technical issues on that end, however, the trophies seem particularly prone to issues. This is problematic, in the sense that so many of them require specific playthroughs, and have multiple, not-always-clear requirements. 
When coupled with the tendency for trophies to fail to unlock due to issues with save files, that is a recipe for frustration - and I required a full 5 or 6 playthroughs to unlock the platinum. 
The game is short (around 2-3 hours,) and conversations in it are quite interesting and relatively variable based on dialogue choices, that is still stretched far beyond the game's ability to sustain.


Unfortunately, that makes this a rough one in terms of recommendations to others, particularly on this site - I think Backbone is a really interesting, genuinely good game... but for the trophy hungry, and the completionist among us, they should know that the road to the platinum will likely contain some real annoyance at times.


Overall, Backbone is a smart, interesting and very engaging mystery, which keeps the player involved throughout and keeps ahead of them with plot twists that feel genuinely interesting, narratively bold, and both original, and within the genre to which it belongs. 

It is a great example of pixel-art as evocative art-style, and features stellar music... and while the trophies do make it a little rough as a recommend, I'd still advise anyone with a taste for noire to check it out.

 

(For original review and Scientific 1f609.png Ranking see HERE)

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L375edf.pngPS4

 

:platinum: #398: Platinum Hero

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Both Vita and PS4 are done, at least for the NA region. A pretty cool beat em up for an easy platinum experience. Actual learned moves, flashy combat, more selectable characters, a pretty slick art-style, and a cute ending.

 

But it does get pretty samey and repetitive near the end. There are some special moves you can cheese, and the checkpoints are SOMEWHAT fair, so there plat is common for a reason.

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40-platinum.png#155

Subnautica: Below Zero

 

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Platinum Trophy
Collect all other trophies

 

 

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:platinum: Overwatch

The only trophy I've had to boost and probably will ever boost. I tried for yearsss to get it organically but had to get the last handful with some help. Glad I was able to get it before OW2 in October. Hopefully, we'll get trophies there but I think it might just be for the campaign :P

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:platinum: 256

 

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LOST WORDS: BEYOND THE PAGE


 

Pretty easy and simple game, it was perfect for my girlfriend that isn’t very good with video games, but little by little I’m trying to bring her to this wonderful world that are videogames 😅

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