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Submission: AI: the Somnium Files (2019, PC) review

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Submission: AI: the Somnium Files (2019, PC) review

Unread postby leccosta » 21 Dec 2019 18:45

AI: the Somnium Files is a sci-fi mystery adventure game made by the same writer and director of the surprisingly good Zero Escape trilogy. So I went into this game with some cautious optimism, even though the trailers weren’t very exciting. Unfortunately, the trailers were right.

At least the premise is nice. You play as Kaname Date, a detective investigating a series of murders where the killer takes out the eyeball of its victims, the same modus operandi of a famous serial killer from many years ago. The twist? You are one of the few investigators trained to enter people’s dreams through a machine to find clues about them or the case in hand. The information you obtain there can’t be used as hard evidence (the suspect would say it was just a dream, after all) but nevertheless can be useful to help someone remember an important fact or push a stubborn witness to spill the beans. This idea of using dreams to obtain the kind of clues that can’t be found on the field is full of potential and I was excited to see where the game would go with it.

The investigation is mainly divided in two parts: investigation and dream sequences. The investigation part is traditional adventure game detective stuff: you walk around the scene, examine suspicious objects, and talk to people. You also have some cool tricks like x-ray and thermal vision, thanks to your cybernetic eye that houses Aiba, your partner A.I. (yeah, I know). Unfortunately, these can only be used when the game allows: “Look Date, this box seems suspicious, use the x-ray vision!” I mean, really? Fuck off Aiba, let me do the investigation. All in all, the investigation part could have been fun but is just harmless and unremarkable instead.

The dream sequences are supposed to be the standout feature, but the game drops the ball hard here. Each dream is a puzzle room that you have to solve by interacting with various objects scattered about. The catch is that you are on a timer, and each object has many different possible interactions to choose from and each one of these cost a fixed amount of time. For example, a picture could have a ‘look at’ or ‘rip’ interactions spending 10 and 30 seconds respectively. Also, most actions have modifiers that affect the next action you choose, like making the next action cost three times more or changing its cost to 10 seconds no matter its original cost. So, to solve the puzzle you have to interact with the right objects and in an order that wastes as little time as possible. Sounds interesting to you?

Well, it didn’t for me. But at least I thought it could be interesting if the solutions were creative. The problem here is that the object interactions are completely unpredictable. For instance, in a dream sequence taking place in a theme park I interacted with a merry-go-round and it started spinning and flew off because… dream logic lol. I lost precious seconds and there was no way to know what would happen beforehand. This completely undermines any planning and makes everything reliant on trial and error so the experience boils down to walking around and interacting with random objects in a way you think the developers wanted. They should have toned down the craziness or made it so that the personality of the dream’s owner is a clue to predict what an object would do. The way it is now, it’s not fun even when you get the solutions right.

The story is a perfectly serviceable sci-fi detective tale. There are some twists in the story too, but they are more of an “Ah, I see” moment than the huge twists in Zero Escape. There are branching paths in the story too, depending on your actions in the dream sequences, and switching between them could’ve been handled better. There is actually an order of paths that you have to follow to get to the true ending and when you get far enough in some of them the story actually freezes aout of nowhere and the game shows you a message: “finish the other paths to continue this one”. This is jarring and a far cry from the author’s previous work where you actually had a reason to switch paths (the knowledge to proceed was in another timeline) and even the act of switching timelines was integrated to the story. Here, you just switch to another branch, no explanation given. This is mildly disappointing but at least the story is enjoyable for what it is.

The characters are pretty standard, with some good and bad designs but mostly OK. They aren’t annoying (for the most part), and some are even fun after some time. Actually, the story has some pretty good branches that veer from the main investigation and focus more on the characters. There is one dream sequence in particular with a character with dementia that moved me. These are worth your time with the game.

The graphics and sound, much like the rest of the game, are average and do their job adequately.

Overall, AI: the Somnium Files is a perfectly serviceable game, albeit one that feels a tad homogenized. Don’t go expecting to be amazed and you’ll have some fun.

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