Backbone Review – A NOIR DETECTIVE FEVER DREAM
After Capcom announced the much-requested, western release dates for The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles back in April, I felt the overwhelming urge to jump into another mystery/point & click adventure to tide me over until July. And Backbone looked to be the perfect candidate; with its noir-inspired setting, brooding, jazzy atmosphere and striking, speciest undertones. You couldn’t ask for a much more intriguing story concept!…
Though after the dust had settled on Backbone’s campaign, did Eggnut’s debut release thrive on its unique foundations?
Well unfortunately, and I hate to say it – this game was a huge letdown.
Excuse Me, I’ve Lost The Plot Somewhere!
Following in the footsteps of washed-up racoon detective, Howard Lotor, the game starts off with a relatively straightforward, missing-person case. But not too long after, the tale quickly evolves into a large-scale conspiracy with a copious dose of sci-fi elements towards the end. However, even as the plot takes several interesting twists and turns throughout its 4-5 hour runtime, it hardly ever satisfied my expectations. Nor hit the emotional heights of similar games like Phoenix Wright and The Zero Escape series.
In the fourth act, Backbone goes completely off the rails and suddenly starts ditching critical plot-points, heading in a direction that’ll leave the audience facepalming in frustration. Even more so with the game’s abrupt ending… I honestly don’t know what they were trying to convey here. The forced social commentary on racism and classism felt a little too ham-fisted for my liking as well.
In regards to the characters, the overarching issue with the main cast is the underwhelming development of its essential, core relationships. Instead, Backbone chooses to jump from story beat, to story beat without first establishing a real connection to drive the audience along. I also didn’t like how characters would constantly drop F-bombs and other expletives left and right. I usually have a high tolerance for that type of language. But in this case, it stood out a little too much for my tastes.
Backbone’s Dark, Gritty… And Empty Presentation
That being said, the ensemble cast is well-written; easily playing off of Howard’s sarcastic, dry sense of humour. None of the dialogue ever feels out of place either, keeping in line with Backbone’s serious, yet light-hearted tone. I love how Howard has to mentally psyche himself up to do something ridiculous, or how his friend Anatoly takes several jabs at his lone wolf act – it’s great. These little touches help bring the world of Backbone to life.
In the opening locale of Granville, anthropomorphic rodents, bears, lions and other creatures roam the streets. Each with their own set of backstories, motivations and social status. And this is where the game shines brightest – pushing that gritty, no-nonsense atmosphere. Not only does the downtrodden, yet stunning pixel-art capture a bleak world on the verge of collapse, but it doesn’t take long for the world’s residents to start succumbing to Backbone’s elements. Animals will often resort to violence, fall into poverty and homelessness, or consent to all sorts of foul play, just to keep their heads above water.
Howard is no exception to this rule either. He hits some really low notes throughout the story and does take a fair amount of soul-searching to find his purpose. And I must say, I really liked how the story would often linger on these moments. Allowing the audience to immerse themselves in the reality of the situation, whilst the sombre, jazzy tunes of composer, Nikita Danshin take centre stage. Unfortunately, a few key scenes have an oddly apparent lack of music, where the eerie silence felt almost deafening. It seemed like a huge missed opportunity to zero in on some of these critical segments where no music simply wouldn’t cut it… At least the music’s still great!
Backbone Left Its Gameplay At Home
Talking about missed opportunities, the gameplay is the biggest offender of them all. It’s strange because the prologue sets such a different tone to the rest of the game. The beginning area has you solving puzzles and approaching certain obstacles from different angles… But events like this never occur past the first act. It almost comes across as false advertising, in all honesty. I could imagine the crowd-funders of Backbone’s Kickstarter would be sorely disappointed with how the project’s turned out.
Besides the mountains of text and dialogue options, Backbone doesn’t have much else going on, full stop. There are a few occasions where Howard needs to sneak past some security guards and other workers. Although, these stealth sections are way too easy to solve and fundamentally carry no real sense of danger either. Plus, they’re usually finished in under a minute or so, as the AI is pretty dumb (or blind, one of the two). During normal gameplay, even though the player can run around the map and is kindly provided with an easy-to-access objectives panel, the overall mechanics of the game are just straight-up unsatisfying.
After all’s been said and done, Backbone makes you feel empty. What could’ve been a noir detective masterstroke, turned out to be a frustratingly hollow experience that misses the mark in several key areas. The game does have its moments and the writing is largely on-point, but it ultimately lacks the content and polish of similar games in the mystery/adventure genre.
Backbone has an engaging story for it’s short, 4-5 hour runtime. However, its final few acts totally drop the ball. Even worse is that the puzzle-solving gameplay of the prologue is completely discarded in the following chapters… For a reason I’ll never fully comprehend. Backbone dons the trench coat of a noir detective but underdelivers on many of its fundamentals.
This game was reviewed using a download code provided by Raw Fury. The Beta Network uses affiliate partnerships, however, this does not influence reviews or any other content published. The Beta Network may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links that are on the website.
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