Sci-fi can often transport us to romanticized futures wherein equality and tolerance is just as ubiquitous as fair social justice. Rarely, however, is science fiction so bravely pertinent, let alone emotionally affective, as 2064: Read Only Memories. Originally released on PC in 2015 by indie developer MidBoss, the cyberpunk point and click adventure game translates admirably to PS4 pads with all new voice acting and redesigned puzzle sequences but the core story, fortunately, remains the same.
Hayden, a brilliant scientist at the world’s largest cybernetics corporation, has gone missing. A Relationship and Organizational Manager or ROM named Turing, the first ever sapient A.I. and Hayden’s own creation, has statistically assessed that you, a journalist barely scraping by doing soulless product reviews in a shabby Neo-San Francisco apartment, are best equipped to find him. Aside from easily being the most relatable game I’ve reviewed in recent memory, much of 2064: Read Only Memories vibrant pixel-work and low-fi inspired aesthetic should be relatable to any who have played late nineties adventure games like Snatcher or have even seen a scene from Bladerunner. Talk, touch, examine, or use a bevy of cutting edge items like “smart” headphones or a carton of spoiled milk (my personal go to tactic) to solve puzzles, the gameplay of Read Only Memories is decidedly traditional but every cleverly written description, or cheeky attempts at dialogue with an inanimate object, relentlessly charmed and immersed me into the cyberpunk future of 2064.
San Francisco based developer MidBoss liberally borrows from the geography of the actual city to build the world of Neo-SF in your pursuit of Hayden and the truth behind Turing’s creation. Sutro Tower marauding like an anachronistic sentinel above Market Street’s neon-hazed horizon, to the crowds of automatons ambling about Golden Gate Park, the game’s inclusion of real-world landmarks juxtaposed against almost half a century of imaginative technological progress lends a layer of uncanny surrealism to 2064’s setting. When complimented by composer 2 Mello’s mix of brooding to rave-inducing tracks, the atmosphere of Neo San Francisco maintains a balance between mystery and irreverent satire directly pointed at our own culture. The game’s environments, while not sprawling nor very numerous, are diverse in design, successfully capturing the cartoony character of the real life city with its own charm and dangers, cloaking the seedy cyberpunk menace underneath an often glistening, climate controlled, surface.
Hunting down Hayden requires the help of more than just Turing and thankfully the world of Read Only Memories is populated by characters as diverse as its cityscape to enlist in your search. The team behind MidBoss is the same that founded GaymerX, the premiere international LGBTQ-focused gaming convention, and their tradition of championing diverse representation and freedom of identity is embodied within the game. From a gay Pakistani bartender with a shady past, to an orange cat-eared human hybrid woman, the cast of characters you interact with throughout the journey are dynamic in characterization, defying race and gender stereotypes popularly portrayed in media storytelling.
It’s not just Melissa Hutchison’s peppy bluntness or often poignant arc as Turing that helps bring the cast of characters to life either. A motley crew of cult gaming personalities, professional voice actors, and other talents from diverse background round off Read Only Memories robust representation. Voice acting is the most prominent new addition to 2064 and though some of the performances, particularly sidelining NPCs, are inconsistent in delivery compared to the more veteran VA talent, even the most minor characters make an impression with memorable quotes, stark designs, and sometimes ulterior desires of their own. One moment you’ll be consoling a man bemoaning the death of his froyo stand and the next you’ll be holding a conversation with a brain-augmented polar bear. The abbreviation of ROM implies Turing will manage your relationships but I quickly found myself growing a network of contacts that I not only cared about but frequently relied upon to solve the game’s various puzzles.
Buying the right drink to coax your way into a VIP lounge or borrowing a cops ID after some quick subterfuge, Read Only Memories puzzles are, for the most part, standard fare for the adventure genre, almost always intuitive and entertaining but notably simple. It’s all a sendup to classic adventure game design, don’t expect any elaborate mind games nor, thankfully, any obtuse logic that requires frustrating guesswork. 2064 balances modern gameplay accessibility with the sensibilities of its inspirations. With the exception of a few interactive puzzles that change the game flow from point and clicking to gridlocked shooting and other one-off mini-games, the formula consists of the same techniques from the nineties: using your small collection of items or talking to leads in multiple choice dialogue options. All of these conversations furnish their respective character’s personalities, further developing Read Only Memories greatest puzzle: Turing’s struggle with its newfound sapience.
Much of Read Only Memories makes use of humor to forge meaningful bonds with its characters but Turing’s search for meaning within its complicated existence speaks to the provocative philosophical themes at play here. Don't let the anime references and vivid neon pixels fool you, as much as 2064’s tone may appear lighthearted, the city of Neo-SF is an ideological quagmire erupting with ethical questions. Are we rapidly creating before asking why, or if we should? Should we really augment or hybridize ourselves and, if so, do we lose our humanity in the process? What distinguishes humanity in a world of sapient machine intelligence? Over the course of roughly ten hours, the game’s six chapters are humble in regards to these subjects, never attempting to necessarily answer any questions and only providing scenarios adding to the conversation. Less as a cure-all to solve any dilemmas, and, rather, a tonic to stir, Read Only Memories doesn’t provoke action but thought on the future by challenging the status quo of the present.
The ultimate truth of 2064: Read Only Memories is that Turing is more curious, more emotional, and more human than the in-game player and the game delves into what determines the difference, if there is any, enabling Turing the freedom to define itself and the player with it. I can’t recall the last or any game that gave me the freedom to select preferred gender pronouns, he, she, they, it, or even cat and I thoroughly appreciate that. Thanks to mature writing, or deliberately immature to the effect of confident comedy, the characters and often provocative subject matters are treated with respect. I never once felt burdened by political philosophy or overwhelmed by potential thematic heavy handedness. The game doesn’t preach to you, nor does it obstruct its solid point and click gameplay in anyway, rather, Read Only Memories is inviting, ceaselessly charming, hospitable to people of all genders, ethnicities, and accessible to pretty much everyone with opposable thumbs (hint: with the PS4 touchpad, you don’t actually need opposable thumbs to play!). This accessibility is the greatest strength of 2064: Read Only Memories, freedom of choice within the scope of its far-reaching ideas. Choose to treat characters better and they will help you find the truth, choose to befriend Turing and you’ll be treated better, either way you play, by one of the game’s multiple endings, it's hard not to feel a little romantic about the future.
Hayden Robel is Biya Byte’s Senior Editor and if he ever goes missing he’s probably just polishing his Neo Geo collection or recording the most SUGOI anime podcast, while writing entirely too long short stories far too infrequently. If you can follow the rambling raconteur, try it @HaydenRobel on twitter. Thanks for reading!