Backbone is a stunning, atmospheric point and click noir out next year on Steam, and I had a tinker with the playable demo.
This was a title on my ‘to-do’ list for a while, but never prioritise it as it’s not out until 2021. However, when looking through the Steam Game Festival line-up, I noted the playable demo, so had to give it a try.
The visuals are impressive as they have the appearance on an old-school point and click and ‘rough around the edges’, but the lighting effects and colour palette are gorgeous.
You play Howard Lotor, a racoon private investigator who assumedly takes on smaller jobs, but there’s no doubt a Chinatown-like case just around the corner.
The controls are mostly with the keyboard to move your character, with E interacting. However, with certain objects, you can hold down the left mouse button and drag items along.
With the settings on 11, the text appears sharp, and Howard moves smoothly and the vibe, in general, is wicked. A key ingredient missing for me was the sound. There wasn’t any ambience, no voice-acted lines, cliche detective-like score, just the occasional background bird or two which was far too subtle for my liking.
Eventually, the odd tone kicked in as anticipated, but it’s a little too nuanced, still, there’s a dialogue tree when interacting with NPCs and it’s quite a thorough, and well-written script.
After taking on your first case of alleged infidelity (I’m writing this while playing the demo and I don’t buy into this being a simple case), you head out into the streets, and man does it look good. The music has now perked up, and I realise I was a little hasty.
Maybe my sub-conscious is comparing it to Sam & Max Hit The Road, but I’m noting a lack of personality in Howard. He’s pretty reserved, as I suppose is the territory, but usually, these hardened private eyes have a kink, quirk or weakness that’ll get the better of them. Let’s see if this demo alludes to any more…
Interactions in the Backbone demo are straightforward another as there’s no depth of field when it comes to where Howard can go as he’s either walking left or right, crawling with a tap of the ctrl key, or sprinting (but why sprint when you can take in the city vibe?).
The crawl feature is introduced early on to avoid a conversation with an NPC, but it is later a critical element to play when using stealth tactics to sneak past ‘baddies’. It’s nothing complex, but it adds a bit more action to a point and click (where Backbone is more of a hybrid of the genre as you don’t actively move a cursor about).
One interesting thing is you can die/fail a task, but it’s an instant reload back to the last checkpoint, which is automatic.
Just before the end sequence is a door puzzle, I noticed a possible way to solve it straight away and thought that it would be a great idea, but too complicated for most gamers. Instead, I looked for a good 10 minutes how to figure out the four-pin code to unlock the door and realised my instincts were correct, and the initial clues were brilliant.
Unfortunately, as you can drag items around, I did so with everything on screen for this particular challenge and rearranged it in a different order. I managed to locate the four digits required, but in the wrong order, so I spent a bit of time trying various combinations.
What began as a very nice looking game that lacked a bit of character, spiralled into a narrative that had me gripped and I soon forgot that I was playing a demo.
Once past that trickster puzzle and the end of act one, it was only a couple of minutes later that the credits were rolling. DRAT! Well, if that’s encouragement enough, give this a go yourself and add to your wishlist as Backbone is a must for point and click fans.