Our Rating: 7/10
The term “modern black,” also known as “neo black” or “post-black,” is used to describe a wide range of styles. Much of it boils down to a sleuth or private eye using a grayscale filter to tell stories and solve mysteries. Backbone begins similarly – albeit without the grayscale filter – but the way it ends is far more accurate for the genre, with the setting and themes tweaked to suit.
Here’s a dystopian scenario for you. The game refers to Vancouver, British Columbia, as “the city.” It is home to a diverse range of anthropomorphic animals, all of whom are ruled by apes. In addition, the city is encircled by an impenetrable wall, and no one knows what lies beyond it.
You take on the role of Howard Lotor, a private investigator who also happens to be a raccoon. Howard, who is used to dealing with cases involving women who suspect their husbands of infidelity, finds himself in the middle of a plot when his target is slaughtered. As a result, he is pitted against a crime lord and the town’s aristocracy.
That’s how Backbone begins, after all. Later in the story, the story takes a sharp turn into dark territory, completely flipping the narrative on its head. It’s still about finding freedom in a cage, but it’s a far cry from the perspective of “a simple detective facing a monolithic foe.” This kind of fatalistic thinking isn’t uncommon among black people, but he’s a little crazy.
The gameplay is a simple point-and-click adventure. You’re usually stuck on a single axis and can only move between the two extremes until an interaction prompt appears. Then you can interact with others by speaking with them, opening doors, and pressing buttons. This is a simple way to keep things from becoming a pixel hunt.
Nothing will go unnoticed because everything is labeled with an icon. There are a few stealths in the game, but they aren’t as common as the first act suggests. It’s also incredibly simple, consisting solely of staying out of sight and distracting the guards with items found in the environment. The stakes are low, but I suppose it’s a nice change of pace.
Backbone graphics are a unique blend of pixel art and 3D backgrounds. At first glance, it’s difficult to tell that the game is in 3D, as everything is presented from a single perspective, and it may appear to be nothing more than clever use of parallax layers.
A closer examination of the background, however, reveals some intriguing lighting effects and volumetric fog. With windows populated with people going about their business, there’s a lot more detail than you’d see in a typical pixel art game. Overall, it’s a nice title, with the world taking center stage.
The audio, on the other hand, isn’t particularly good. Don’t get me wrong: the advertised soundtrack is good and fits the theme, but only when the show airs. You spend the majority of your time alone.
When you click on the dialogue options, there is no voiceover; instead, you may be listening to fans on your computer. The sound is sparse even when you aren’t in a conversation. There was no traffic noise, no distant chatter, and no activity hum. When you’re sure there are footsteps, they’re so muddled in the background that you wouldn’t notice them.
The silence was probably caused by a bug, and perhaps it is. It’s just odd because Backbone has atmospheric music, but it doesn’t appear to be used very often.
Backbone concentrates on his story in the center, and he does so admirably. Many of the characters are relatable, the dialogue choices can be challenging, and there is plenty of time to immerse yourself in the world’s background. It’s an excellent point.
The criticism of the plot is that the majority of the love is shown in the first act, which is free. There’s a level of polish and complexity here that the rest of the game lacks. I believe the entire story was told in an intended manner, but it was polished to a brighter glow at first, which faded later. Not in an offensive way, but just enough to be noticed.
Backbone is a stylish game, but it isn’t particularly noteworthy. It’s a good time with a good story, but it’s pretty routine otherwise. Although the visual style is excellent, the audio design is uneven. Backbone has a lot of good qualities; however, we don’t think it’s done well enough. For the most part, it’ll be enjoyable to play, but the EggNut sequel has piqued many interests.