It’s been a few years since I last reviewed this game. Backbone was a unique title that was a mixture of RPG, shooter, and strategy with elements of first person shooter. The game was unique in the fact that it used a unique system where you could not only move your unit, but you could also rotate the camera to look behind you. This was controlled via two mouse buttons on your keyboard. No other game I have played has had this system, but I liked it.
To my surprise, I was not familiar with Backbone by indie developer EggNut, although it was mentioned in our April 2018 Kickstarter article. I wrote it off because I was distracted by other things, because a pixelated, anthropomorphic noir crime adventure is the kind of game that screams my name. At the time, only a trailer was available, which showed a promising game with an emphasis on exploration, stealth and action.
We ended up with something completely different, for better or worse. Backbone begins as a typical noir-style crime drama. You play Howard Lothor, a private investigator hired by a pregnant otter who suspects her husband of cheating. Some of you may think that raccoons and otters are not typical noir characters. But I would say that with the advent of anthropomorphic noir detective games like Blacksad: Under the Skin and Chicken Police – Paint it RED! are more normal than you think.
Always starts with a lady. You need to find evidence of his infidelity so she can use it against him in court. The usual scenario of a normal detective game. Things soon spiral out of control when a simple case turns into something bigger and more sinister than he could have imagined. Again, this happens often with dark thrillers, but I really didn’t expect Backbone to go in the direction it did. This isn’t Zootopia. I have mixed feelings about the spine story.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s very well written. Or maybe I should say that the stories we received were exciting. The problem is that Backbone was too ambitious and took on more responsibility than it could handle, or the EggNut developers ran out of time and money before they could fully realize their vision. I think it’s the latter, because the trailer on Kickstarter shows clips that aren’t in the game, but it looks like they should be.
Each area has its own characteristics, for example in the poor area of the Labor District. There are probably some very good underground restaurants here. The ending is rather abrupt, with no conclusion to the many storylines. It would have bothered me less if the game had ended with the words to follow, or if the developers had announced in advance that it would be an episodic game. If so, that would be an exciting cliffhanger, but it’s not yet clear if there will be another episode. At this point, although I enjoyed the trip, I was left unsatisfied.
Gameplay is another area I wonder about. The prologue was first developed and used as a gameplay demonstration. It was a great mix of action, simple puzzles and stealth. None of them were particularly difficult, but each of these game elements complemented each other perfectly. The stealth sections provide some excitement and the puzzles, while not difficult, are quite clever. From what I saw in the prologue, I expected Backbone to be a great game.
This is a very deep understanding of animatronic fish. I bet you’re cheaper than my therapist. Unfortunately, the rest of the game doesn’t feel like a prologue at all. The main game consists of five acts, and each act takes place as a linear point-and-click adventure. By the end of the game, it almost felt like a visual novel. The rest of the game only had one or two puzzles, and the stealth mechanic only appeared on half a screen in one game.
It’s like they forgot to include these elements in the main game. I don’t know exactly what happened, but if I had to guess, I’d say they probably ran out of time and money and opted for simplicity. But not everything is a disappointment when it comes to the final product. Backbone is absolutely beautiful. They really pulled out all the stops for the graphics. Although the game is in a pixel art style, there is a surprising amount of detail in each area, as well as dynamic lighting effects. There are many different places to visit, so you will never be bored in one place.
Welcome to The Bite: a lounge with the most unsavory types. Unless you’re a raccoon. Apparently, you’re too distasteful. Even the character models are fully detailed. The game has no dubbing, but each character is so masterfully animated that you can understand the emotions they convey. This, combined with natural and realistically written dialogue, makes the characters believable. The film contains a fair amount of profanity, but it never seems excessive.
On the contrary, it makes conversations more exciting. Sound design is another area where everything is done to perfection. Like I said, the game has no dubbing, which is odd because that was one of the goals of the Kickstarter campaign. That said, I think the lack of voiceover was the right decision. I think it would have slowed the game down because there are so many dialogue options to choose from. Maybe that’s why they decided to give up.
Good luck answering that, Howard. Backbone more than makes up for the lack of dubbing at the expense of other aspects of the sound design. The sound effects are beautifully done and make the city feel alive. But the real star of the show here is the soundtrack. Artists Danshin and Aruj Aftab have created a completely original score for Backbone that perfectly matches the tone and mood of each area of each chapter. There was one song at the end that seemed a little uncomfortable, but I think that’s mostly because nothing was happening on the screen while she played. The rest of the soundtrack was incredible and created an almost cinematic experience.
This should be a touching moment, but it’s the only one you see in the whole song, fully sung. I feel like recommending Backbone, but it’s hard to do so without knowing for sure if there will be a sequel or not. Switching gameplay elements from the prologue to the main game was frustrating, but not boring. If you realize that most of the game is a point-and-click visual novel, you’ll love it. The main reason it’s hard to recommend Backbone is that there’s so much left unanswered.
I sincerely hope there are many more games to come in this franchise, because the world building and character development is just excellent. If they can bring back the puzzle and stealth elements of the prologue in subsequent games, I have no doubt that EggNut will become a classic. In this regard, I must cautiously recommend the film Backbone to anyone who enjoys suspenseful noir dramas. Be prepared to have more questions at the end than at the beginning.
|Even though it’s done in a pixelated style, it’s beautiful. The incredible amount of detail and animation perfectly captures the emotions of each character.
|The prologue is the highlight of the game, with a fantastic mix of point-and-click exploration, light puzzles and stealth. This claim is misleading, however, as the rest of the game is a linear point-and-click game that approaches a visual novel by the end.
|The sound design is well done and the original soundtrack is much better than I expected.
|The prologue is great, and I wish the rest of the game was designed the same way. At least there’s always an exciting story that draws you in until the end.
|Final decision: 7.5
Backbone is already available on PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One. The test was conducted on a PC with an i7-9700k, RTX 2070 and 16 GB of DDR4 RAM. A copy of the Backbone book was provided by the publisher.
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