Backbone Game Review: In many places in his hometown of Vancouver, private investigator Howard Lotor is not accepted. Not even the trenchcoat or deceptive inquiries are to blame. It’s because he’s a raccoon, and according to dogs, bears, foxes, and other affluent wildlife that inhabits affluent places, raccoons are one step above the dirt.
So, even before the noir kicks in, he is a sad and cynical private dick like any good one from old Hollywood. Backbone freewheels among genres and subjects while using an archaic adventure game design. The story opens with a distraught wife clutching a picture of her missing husband.
There are enough plotlines to sustain a Netflix original, let alone an independent adventure game: a posh bar, the experimental drug rumored to be sold in its velvet booths, missing girls, a conspiracy, cannibalism, and a city whose inhabitants have never ventured outside its fortified gates.
Although you can only move from side to side and press a prompt to interact with objects, this doesn’t feel overly restrictive. This is true even though the puzzles get less challenging after the first act in favor of a richer storyline.
Backbone Game Review
The social stratification and intolerance that exist among the animal people of this dystopian version of Vancouver are exactly the thinly veiled satire that they appear to be. Storytellers of interactive works have always relied on allegory when discussing racist topics, and by this point, we’ve all heard more than enough condescending remarks from Skyrim’s nords and Deus Ex’s anti-augment humans to grasp the notion.
Nevertheless, it is important to restate the concept. In gaming environments, if you happen to be strolling by when an instance of everyday prejudice is taking place, you have the option to either confront it or continue walking past it. In the case of the Backbone, you are required to experience the pain of it while you watch the other people continue to walk. Raccoons have a terrible reputation in this part of the world.
The designer has promised that Lotor, and by extension, the player, will go through the paces in a manner that is somewhat confusing. This is part of the developer’s commitment to the game. The conclusion, which features a striking shift in both the mood and the genre of the story, left me even more confused. Before the end credits roll, what starts out as Raymond Chandler with whiskers transforms into a sci-fi and everything-and-the-kitchen-sink melodrama.
Anyone who was drawn in by the beautiful sprites and atmospheric rain that fell over pixel-perfect cityscapes throughout the first few hours of the game would be absolutely taken aback by the conclusion, and not in a positive manner. This game excels at delivering traditional elements of the noir genre, as well as an engaging location and interesting (though straightforward) puzzles. The author’s choice to stray away from all of that in the finale undermines what came before it and leaves the reader wondering what on earth has just taken place.