Video games have put us through a lot of machine-on-machine action – it’s always cool to watch robots duke it out, right? This time around, Silicon Dreams instead presents us a battle of the wits between your character, D-0527, and the various androids he is assigned to investigate. Your own feelings about advancements in AI and technology will be put to the test in this futuristic thriller.
Riding high on the cyberpunk wave that has taken over both AAA and indie games, Silicon Dreams fleshes out a future run by ruthless corporations and an unenthused public. Developed by Clockwork Bird, the game explores a world of dystopian android unrest like Detroit: Become Human in the style of the bureaucratic puzzler Papers, Please.
Silicon Dreams is available for PC on Steam, for your regional pricing.
Story – A Playable Voight-Kampff Test
You play as an android unit, and this disposition is an important factor for the player’s actions. There are dialogue choices that are distinctly human in speech patterns. It was interesting to see how these world’s androids blurred the line between machine and human in this manner. It slowly unfolds that Kronos Robotics has been pushing their humanlike technology to the limit, to the point that androids have been adapting human “flaws” and distrust towards their creators.
The writing in the game is excellent – succinct, straightforward but rarely predictable. The way the subjects react and interject while you are planning your next move adds pressure on your investigation and decisions. The subjects that you are interrogating represent different kinds of lives in this dystopian future. They feel distinct from each other, and their writing helps present their plights and personalities that make them memorable in their own right.
Throughout the game, the player switches from their office desk and their room (which changes according to your performance). However, I feel like facts could have been communicated better from the beginning. The worldbuilding through the subjects that you interact with is sufficient for you to understand the world, but it could have been brought further. There are some emails that help you piece together more of the world and a singular news headline that graces your monitor at the end of every mission. It would have been interesting to interact with other robots or have more environmental storytelling present in your office or room.
Gameplay – Emotional Engineering
The questions offer a wide variety of approaches that you might take in dealing with the subject you are interrogating – you will hardly give a yes or no response. While your task may seem straightforward at first, various social, political, and emotional motivations may make things more complicated than expected.
The order of your questions matters greatly in the result of the interrogation. This is different from visual novels that clearly indicate which statements will be choices that affect the outcome. You might be tempted to exhaust every question to get information, but even asking small questions could negatively affect your subject’s emotions and close off a whole line of questioning. Everything you say and do in the whole process matters, which is an excellent way to emulate a cross-examination.
I also enjoyed that outside of the questions you ask, other factors come into play. Some cases are accompanied by additional evidence that you need to thoroughly review. You need to remember messages you received from various departments in the corporation, and you will find that bureaucracy means making one stakeholder happy and the other quite angry. Sometimes, you will need to use extreme methods or lines of questioning to get the information you want, and it’s not always approved by your owners. You may come across characters you are compelled to help, but you still need to save your own skin, err, metal exterior. It is interesting to see who you are willing to please and disobey to get to your goals.
Another one is the invisible trust system. While Kronos has managed to quantify emotions like Joy and Sadness, Fear and Disgust, Anger and Surprise, they haven’t quite understood trust. And so, you will need to find ways to get your subject’s guard down to get to the answers you need. You can get their trust by engaging with them in a manner that makes them feel comfortable (straightforward, empathetic, flatterer, etcetera) and even by hitting a switch that will undo their restraints.
The fact that you can’t try the same questions again and try to manipulate the subject’s emotions is an intriguing way to get people to strategize how to handle the interrogation. The fact that your review of the conversation is very limited forces you to pay attention to every detail that is being said. It would be nice to have the option to pick chapters to replay so that you could repeat a chapter you enjoyed or pick up where you last failed.
The mission comes to a close when you fill in the report, which you need to study critically in order to answer correctly. Because of this, I feel Silicon Dreams succeeds not just as an interrogation game, but as a detective game. It doesn’t hold your hand while you try to find the answers you need, and there are grey areas that you need to deliberate on as you submit the report. You feel like you really can determine the subject’s fate – and even your own.
Audio and Graphics – Menus and Graphs and Buttons, Oh My
When dealing with a lot of information, visual novels need to present data in an intelligent manner, so their players don’t get lost. Silicon Dreams triumphs in creating a user interface that is organized, not overwhelming, and a pleasure to look at. The buttons and tabs at the side keep all the information you need organized. Even the question web works well and updates you with new topics once you manage to unlock them.
There is a certain atmosphere that Silicon Dreams tries to push in its presentation. The clean graphics get the job done, but it is obvious that the main focus of the game was on the computer UI and tablet and not really the environment. During your interrogation, four monitors allow you to see your subject, and for some reason one of their eyeballs. Interestingly I noticed the pupils dilate whenever the interrogation leads your suspect into a frenzy, but that’s about it. The art style doesn’t allow you to see facial expressions, so you’re left to trust the chart that updates each response. While the game still works even if the “cameras” are merely cosmetic, they could have added a lot of atmosphere to the game.
Another thing that felt absent from the game is strong sound design. There is some non-diegetic, suspenseful techno music, but some variation and intensity would have been a welcome addition while you strategize your next move in your line of questioning.
Silicon Dreams was reviewed on PC with a key provided by Future Friends Games.