Not so MMO: Gamedec review

ByJose A. York

Oct 12, 2021

Imagine a future where game developers make house calls, like when you call a plumber into your house to check the pipes. These developers assess, diagnose, and troubleshoot gaming chairs where people lie down, put on a virtual reality headset, and transport themselves to a whole new plane of existence. This is the basic premise of gamedec, a futuristic crime novel infused with RPG elements that eschews combat for fact-gathering and puzzle-solving. Mixing the aesthetics of the world of the ascent with the story-driven gameplay of Disco Elysee, gamedec uses new concepts to weave an intriguing story of murder mystery…until it unfortunately fumbles at the 1 yard line.

The basic gameplay loop of gamedec is simple: receive a job, enter a game world, investigate inside said game world, solve the mystery. I travel the dark urban alleys of the hedonistic Twisted and Perverted, the farmlands of Harvest Time, and the celestial fortresses of Knight’s Code. Each of these worlds are fully realized, with their own HUDs to add to the whole “entering a virtual world” experience, although I can only work on a small part of each. Harvest Time even lets me start my own farm and harvest pumpkins, castigating the concept of free games in the process. It’s a nice little bit of satire that made me chuckle a bit.

The gameplay is all about talking to people, gathering clues, and using those clues to progress the mystery to conclusion. Exploration is also key, as searching every nook and cranny to gather the clues needed to continue is paramount. The problem with the exploration aspect is that the game doesn’t show where the clues are very well, leading to a situation where I’m stuck in an area for hours requiring a interaction in order to continue, but having no idea where the needle in the haystack lies. Along the same lines, the game also doesn’t indicate when all of an area’s clues have been found, so the only way to progress may be to make a choice in the deduction menu, even without all of the clues filled in, but I have no way of knowing.

I can unlock specific dialogue options though, through the RPG item in the game’s skill tree. There are four different attribute points I can unlock through conversation, which can then be reversed to unlock nodes on the skill tree. Much like the hints though, I’m not entirely clear on how to earn certain points other than “seeing a symbol while talking to people”. I’m trying to access a certain node in the tree, but one of the four attributes escapes me and I don’t have a clue how to find it. It’s a deterrent to pursuing a full upgrade tree, honestly, and it frustrates me that earning those points isn’t easier.

Despite these frustrations, each of these mysteries is great fun to figure out. The worlds created in Gamedec are interesting, the people in them are written with lively and fun dialogue, and the stories themselves are pretty cool. A few characters spawn from world to world, and seeing how they change character in each world made me laugh. I found myself legitimately interested in solving these mysteries, and in turn solving the overall storyline encompassing it all.

However, suddenly the game takes an extreme left turn, moving away from the focus on mysteries and problem solving and dropping me into a labyrinthine maze. I no longer need to gather clues or explore a world, I now have to follow certain color-coded paths in order to find the next plot points. In the script this change works and gives an interesting twist, but in practice the maze is such a work that I find no joy in it. I had invested time and energy into the digital worlds presented to me before – not to mention the world outside of the headsets – so why did I back away from them in the back half of the game? The mysteries were the best part of the game, and by the time you realize you won’t have any, it’s too late.

gamedec

At the end of my nine-hour read of Gamedec, the main feeling swirling in my head was one of conflict. I was very high in the early chapters of the game, venturing into the digital worlds and piecing together these great mysteries, but as the credits went on, all I could think of was this major tonal shift halfway through . If the game stuck to the investigation part of the game, introducing more worlds and thus building an exciting climax, I would be thrilled with the game. Now I wonder if anyone else will see the game because of how boring this maze section can be. I would have liked to go back to Gamedec and play again – mainly because the game tells you what you found and what you didn’t find after the credits and I saw a lot of “you didn’t find” in my report – but this fucking maze makes me think.

I want to fully approve gamedec, and to a point yes, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the drastic change in the direction of the game. Until then, the investigations are mysterious and fun, telling a legitimately interesting story. After that, the game feels like it’s going into hyperdrive, not stopping until the credits roll. If this universe is ever revisited, I hope there will be more investigative stories and less weird color-coded mazes. In the current state of affairs, gamedec is best described as a promising title with uneven execution.