App Reviewed on: iPhone XR
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Whispers of a Machine is billed with a lot of attractive buzzwords. This “Sci-Fi Nordic Noir,” (yes, all of those words are capitalized in the pitch), is a murder mystery presented in a classic point-and-click adventure format. As exciting as this might sound, though, Whispers of a Machine is layered so thoroughly with concepts, ideas, and systems, that none of them end up standing out or feeling particularly purposeful. This is particularly disappointing on the mobile front considering this port has some annoying technical issues.
Small town whodunnit?
In Whispers of a Machine, you play as Vera, a badass special agent who's been shipped out to the small town of Nordsund to investigate a string of murders. Seeing as this is the far-flung future, Vera's investigative skills are enhanced with what are essentially nano machines (referred to as “The Blue”), and it's up to you, the player, to use Vera's powers to solve puzzles, interrogate the residents of Nordsund, and figure out what the heck is going on.
Small town, fish out of water mysteries feel like a well-worn template for point-and-click adventure games, but the format works relatively well in Whispers of a Machine. The game gives you a lot of leads and loose ends to tie up, but keeps everything in a small enough locale that you never stray too far from the path you're supposed to be going down at any given time.
The developers behind Whispers of a Machine, Clifftop Interactive, are the same folks who make Kathy Rain back in 2016, and it really feels like it. Little design tricks, like a notebook to keep track of all your topics and persons of interest, are lifted whole cloth from their first title and placed into this game. That said, there's a whole bunch of other stuff added into Whispers of a Machine and not all of it is particularly welcome.
While the core of this game is still very much tapping around an environment to find items that let you advance a storyline, Whispers of a Machine also features things like a quasi-morality system and power-based puzzle-solving. Both of these systems are interesting and provide some opportunities to change your story, but they also complicate the flow of the game itself and can often leave you wondering what the heck you're supposed to do next. To exacerbate things, there is absolutely no hint system in Whispers of a Machine whatsoever, so if you get stuck on a puzzle, you just have to experiment and bumble around to try and find your way forward.
Some of the issues with Whispers of a Machine might be more forgivable if the game itself really delivered on the narrative front. Without spoiling anything, this game goes all-in on telling the age old sci-fi story about the dangers of technological advancement while also foreshadowing every twist in the game so that you see everything coming from miles away. To get in their Nordic flavor, Whispers of a Machine uses a Nordic naming scheme for people and places, but otherwise doesn't feel particularly Norse (or Noir, for that matter).
To be fair, it's possible that I missed some of the nuance in Whispers of a Machine's world, but that might be because the port of this game to iOS is not so hot. On any devices that have an aspect ratio wider than 16:9 (i.e. iPhone Xr or Xs), the picture is cropped to leave large black spaces on the sides of the screen. This makes the pixel-hunting gameplay here even harder than it is already on a small screen. If that weren't enough, Whispers of a Machine is an absolute battery killer. It heats up your phone quickly and then proceeds to drain the battery in a way I haven't really experienced with other adventure games on mobile.
The bottom line
Whispers of a Machine stumbles on just about all fronts. It has a lot of systems that commingle in a confusing way, a story that feels both unconfident and hackneyed, and–to top it all off–the mobile port leaves quite a bit to be desired. All around, this is a pretty disappointing outing, especially considering Clifftop Games has already proven they can make great adventure games on mobile.