It’s interesting to consider how the role-playing genre has grown over the years, changing expectations around what somebody can expect from one. These days, an RPG usually consists of a relatively big fantasy or sci-fi world, a deep narrative, and a combat system heavily dependent on various numerical values. Gamedec—a new release from Polish developer Anshar Studios—more or less hits those first two specifiers, but there’s no combat or stat points to speak of here. For some, this lack of focus on gameplay may come across as a drawback, but we’d encourage you to try it anyway. There’s a fascinating world to participate in here if you have the right mindset.
Gamedec places you in the role of the eponymous Gamedec—a ‘game detective’—who works various cases tracking down missing persons, solving murders, etc. These cases are all based on the work of Marcin Przybyłek, a Polish author who wrote a five-part collection of original short stories set in a technologically advanced universe. Each case has you jumping between Realium (the real world) and various digital games—like a cute take on Harvest Moon—using a special chair that sends a person’s mind into the game.
Though character development is kept to a minimum, it’s quite enjoyable to immerse yourself in the nuances of each story and take in the various larger-than-life personalities you come across. Beyond this, each case has plenty of interesting twists and turns as you get deeper into the investigation and start shaking the wrong trees. All this is wrapped up in a player-driven narrative—the choices you make in your investigation influence its outcome, and there isn’t really any way to ‘lose’, even if you consistently fail to put all the important pieces together.
Those of you who enjoy short story anthologies (much like the source material this is based on) will find plenty to love here, then. Though a grander, overarching plot eventually comes into focus, each little narrative tackles fascinating topics like transhumanism in simple ways that leave each subplot feeling like it had something worthwhile to contribute to the experience as a whole. In a world where the lines between the real and the virtual are so blurred, there’s a lot of room for telling interesting tales; Gamedec does a great job of fully taking advantage of its premise. It’s nothing revolutionary, and there isn’t anything here that’ll really blow you away, but we found ourselves enchanted by many of these stories.
One minor issue that we noticed here and there, is that sometimes it feels like the script hasn’t been written with player-driven choices in mind. Perhaps an NPC responds with a statement that clearly wasn’t meant for what your character just said, or maybe they talk of a character or event that you haven’t discovered yet as if you have. Narrative logic hiccups like this don’t necessarily ruin the experience, but they do occasionally take you out of it—the script feels like it could use some tightening.
Gameplay can be most likened to classic point-and-click adventure games, as each case revolves around you talking to NPCs, examining the environment, and slowly building a list of clues and important insights that you then use to deduce what happened. Each case is broken up into a handful of segments where you’re attempting to answer a central question, and there are usually a few potential answers you can choose from for each question. You can guess the answer at any point, but it’s advisable that you take your time to collect as much information as possible to make an informed decision, as you can’t take back your deduction once you’ve locked it in—the story then advances and goes to the next segment of the case.
Within each part of a case, a lot of your success will depend on how effectively you can navigate a conversation to get the information you want out of witnesses. Not everyone likes the gamedec or is willing to be forthcoming about what they know, and this tension is represented in some conversations by a simple bar that fills up depending on the questions you ask and the answers you give to their questions. If the person likes you enough, the bar will fill up one way and you may unlock a key piece of information or be given an easy way into a location you were attempting to infiltrate.
We appreciated this slight focus on performance in interrogations, as it forces you to be mindful of how you’re engaging with each NPC as you put yourself in their shoes and give them the answers they want to hear. More importantly, it gives conversations actual stakes when you aren’t just brute forcing the dialogue trees—it’s very possible to say the wrong thing and have that person permanently closed off to you. This may mean you’ll be out any potential clues or insights they may have offered, and though you can still make your deduction without them, you never know what information may have influenced your decision.
To help give you a slight sense of progression and to boost your odds of successfully extracting information, there’s a whole ‘job’ system that works to expand your character’s repertoire. Your character can be things like an influencer, a hacker, or a thief, and each one corresponds with exclusive dialogue choices in conversations that help you coast through easier. For example, you can either go through a long conversation with someone to hopefully convince them to give you the code for a safe, or you can use the “Sleeves” (Thief) dialogue option on the safe to just break into it yourself.
The jobs are all connected to each other via a tree and you unlock new ones by spending color-coded personality points that you earn in conversation. A forceful response to a neutral question, for example, will probably net you a red point, while a more wholesome one bags you a green point. Each job costs a certain amount of points to unlock, but the flip side is that the jobs are additive. You could feasibly unlock the whole tree if you’re strategic in how you harvest points—thus benefitting from all the dialogue options that would grant you—but in most cases you’ll have to be a little more discerning as it’s rather difficult to consistently predict which points you can net from dialogue choices.
We appreciated this light take on a class system, as it imbues Gamedec with replayability for future runs while also giving you something to work towards beyond just chasing yet another examination or interrogation. Plus, the variety offered by the additional dialogue options helps to make conversations simply more interesting, as your character is usually stepping into a slightly different persona when they assume the role of a specific job.
We do think it needs to be said that Gamedec isn’t a ‘fun’ game in the same way that many other games are. From a raw, moment-to-moment gameplay perspective, you’re basically just reading lengthy walls of text and then walking a few steps over to read more lengthy walls of text related to something else. Approaching this with the same mindset as one may a visual novel is recommended, then; the stories themselves are compelling enough to be worth the effort, but just be aware that there’s not much actual ‘playing’ taking place here. In many ways, it’s more akin to a choose your own adventure novel than a standard RPG.
Regarding presentation, we’re happy to report that Gamedec does a great job of conveying the high-tech, low-life themes that are so central to the cyberpunk genre. Models may be simplistic and textures are relatively low-res, but each scene is meticulously detailed. Whether you’re sifting through the bright apartment of a CEO in High City or scouring the grimy streets of a BDSM MMO, each environment nails its aesthetic and does a great job of immersing you in your character’s struggles. We did unfortunately notice some graphical bugs here and there, such as models in the environment occasionally popping in and out of existence. Nothing game-breaking, but we would have appreciated a little more polish.
Gamedec is the kind of game that calls back to a much simpler kind of RPG. You won’t find any creative combat systems or instances of killing god with the power of friendship here — this is much more akin to a point-and-click adventure game with loads of dialogue to get through. If you have a particular love of science fiction or cyberpunk in literary form, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here; if you’re into RPGs for crunching lots of numbers and fighting cool foes, you won’t find much. If you think Gamedec sounds like your kind of thing, we’d definitely suggest giving it a try. Aside from occasional graphical glitches and dialogue non sequiturs, Gamedec does a great job of achieving what it sets out to do.
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