Do Digital Sheep Dream of Silicon Humans?
HIGH Successfully helping the android cause.
LOW Being rewarded with thousands of angry androids.
WTF Not being able to return to a previously-played chapter.
Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner aesthetic has influenced countless pieces of media since its release. Among its many scenes, there’s one that sticks out to me — it’s right at the beginning, when the director imagined the Voigt-Kampff test used to determine if an individual is a human or a replicant (basically, an android.)
The idea behind Silicon Dreams goes beyond a mere recreation of this iconic test, since the character running it is actually an android themselves, built by the Kronos corporation with the objective of analyzing ‘faulty’ androids and deciding their final fate. Would it feel right to retire a fellow android? Does Kronos have the right to judge and condemn what is essentially a “thinking machine”? Humans who’ve helped these rogue androids will also be examined by this process, and the player will then have even stickier decisions to make.
At its artificial heart, Silicon Dreams is a visual novel where the player will mostly sit behind a desk and interact via an interface with a complex lie detector machine, which measures the changing of emotions in the subject — joy, fear, anger, sadness, disgust and surprise. At the end of the examination, the player will have to compile a report for the Kronos company and ultimately decide the fate of the subject.
If an android, this might consist of release, maintenance (and memory wipe) or “retirement.” In the case of a human, the player might decide to hold the person for questioning or let them go free. Naturally, these decisions will greatly impact the course of the game, along with our standing with Kronos which — when going below a certain threshold — will result in our termination.
Choosing the right topics and questions during the test will, in turn, open up more topics that can be delved into. Some questions will be locked behind emotional “walls”, which can be pried open by inducing a particular reaction in the subject. For example, using birdsong to evoke joy or animal sounds for fear. The subject’s trust, on the other hand, is not measured by the machine and the player will have to tread carefully, otherwise they might clam up on certain topics and stop answering altogether.
While each question will modify the subject’s feelings, it’s up to the player to figure out the right combination of manipulations to unlock certain topics. Each choice has serious consequences, since the corporation analyzes the player’s choices and measures them against the final results.
The ultimate plot of Silicon Dreams analyzes several current issues like artificial intelligence, rights of minorities and the role of the corporations in our daily lives. It isn’t afraid to show how they relate to things like being treated as inferior, or how such concepts apply to basic human rights. It also offers different points of view on each matter, while also allowing the player to make their own choices.
Graphically, Silicon Dreams is efficient and offers a clean interface, even though it’s not what I’d call particularly interesting. One barely sees the characters being interrogated except for a close-up of their eye’s pupil in the corner of the screen. It makes sense in a way, since the player isn’t supposed to become friends with the subject. However, such a situation does not make for interesting visuals.
Apart from the visuals, a major problem in the design during my review period was that it was not possible to manually save. Silicon Dreams only saved automatically. This meant that if the player made too many mistakes and incurred a ‘game over’, they’d have to replay the entire game from the beginning. (This was also an issue if one wanted to see other endings!) Luckily this issue has since been addressed by the developers with a post-release patch.
Silicon Dreams asks important questions that address our nature as human beings and the rights of minorities, while also providing its own interesting brand of sci-fi narrative while avoiding shallow slogans and easy resolutions, and it definitely comes recommended for those wanting something more engrossing and relevant than the average visual novel.
Disclosures: This game is developed by James Patton and Clockwork Bird and published by Clockwork Bird. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 4 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: The game is not rated by the ESRB, but it contains moderate violence and some mature themes. Even though there are no violent scenes shown, given the themes involved in the narrative, I would recommend it at least to a teen audience.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game does not feature spoken dialogue. Text cannot be altered or resized. In my view, the game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: The game is controlled exclusively via the mouse. There is no controller diagram. the controls are not remappable.