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Backbone overview. Chimera warmed up on my chest




George Orwell, in his legendary book Animal Farm, uses a farm with talking animals as a metaphor to use as an example to tell about the problems of our human society. Independent studio EggNut uses the same idea in their debut game Backbone, and even successfully at first. True, in the end, in their hands the modern version of Animal Farm turns into a weak episode of Rick and Morty.
Backbone overview.  Chimera warmed up on my chest

Raccoons among us

Backbone is set in incredibly stylish noir-pixel Vancouver, home to intelligent anthropomorphic animals. A sarcastic raccoon detective named Howard takes on another adultery case, but the investigation leads him to an underground den, where the hero inevitably becomes a witness to a terrible crime and finds himself in the very center of a web of criminal intrigue. Uncovering a series of mysterious deaths, avoiding the clutches of powerful enemies, and saving the city from a hidden threat is not an easy task for a loser detective in a drinking binge.
Backbone makes an absolutely gorgeous impression from the very first minutes. Stunning drawing of locations, an abundance of small details, music beating right in the heart - this is not a game, but a real balm for the soul, eyes, and ears. And although the pixel art itself is, in general, quite standard here, the artists manage to breathe new life into the well-worn style. Thanks to working with effects, lighting, and decorations, I want to look at almost every screen for a long time, and this desire does not let go until the credits.
Backbone overview.  Chimera warmed up on my chest
Backbone overview.  Chimera warmed up on my chest
Backbone overview.  Chimera warmed up on my chest
It would seem that the plot does not lag behind - the story of Howard clings from the very beginning. Although the developers themselves describe Backbone as a two-dimensional adventure, there are very few mysteries here: most of the game consists of dialogues, and, I must say, reading them is a pleasure. The characters turned out to be bright and charismatic, and their lines (especially the protagonist) ooze irony and caustic gallows humor. Moreover, the topics of conversation themselves also arouse sincere interest. The further Howard's investigation goes, the deeper the player learns about the structure and background of the world - and suddenly it turns out that the Backbone universe has much more nuanced than it might seem at first glance. Gloomy tones and a depressing atmosphere gradually take on quite concrete forms, and in dialogues, it increasingly comes to really difficult things. On class inequality
In addition, Backbone sets off the darkness and action scenes in time with moments of peace and quiet. A touching call from a mother, heart-to-heart conversations with homeless people, short dialogues in a taxi between locations. One playthrough of Backbone will take only five to seven hours, but thanks to the competent pace of the narration, the story feels rich, and the characters are alive and real.
Howard, as befits a noir detective protagonist, is gloomy, ironic, and incredibly charming

The hand that feeds

With such a strong narrative and aesthetics, the game can easily be forgiven for its most noticeable flaw - the gameplay. Rather, it's almost complete absence: outside of dialogs in Backbone, there is practically nothing but walking to the next dialog. There are exactly four exceptions in the whole game - two puzzles and two stealth segments are so primitive that they are more like learning before something big. But nothing "more" is foreseen.
To be fair, this is a common problem with storytelling games. As a rule, it is smoothed out by a branching plot or, say, by gameplay within dialogues - the need to get someone to talk, to successfully lie, to interrogate a suspect. However, Backbone is prohibitively linear. Although in dialogue the player chooses almost every line Howard utters, there is literally no conversation in the game that leads to any (even the slightest) plot fork. The outcome of all dialogs is predetermined by the script, and you cannot change anything. When you notice this, story involvement is noticeably reduced: why choose your words carefully and worry about how Howard looks in the eyes of the other person when such details do not matter?
Russian roots of Backbone developers still make themselves felt at times
Yes, the total lack of gameplay and the harsh, linear storytelling can be forgiven if the story is really good. The trouble is, Backbone is only half "really good". Approximately in the middle of the game, the authors decide on such a sharp plot twist that they themselves can not cope with control and fly into a ditch. This twist doesn't just change the player's perspective on what is happening - it literally changes the mood, idea, and original genre of the game. The second half of Backbone feels like the ending of a completely different story: with new characters, tonality, rules. Only Howard and the scenery around remained the same - the world did not seem to have changed, but now you look at it completely differently.
This in itself is not bad. Perhaps the developers expected to shock the player, surprise him with an unexpected change of scenery. True, you usually expect from such surprises that they will at least benefit the narrative, but this is clearly not the case for Backbone - here the writers cut off one story to switch to another, and in the end both remain unfinished. The fate of the characters is unknown; Chekhov's guns, which were hung on the wall in the first act, never fire. The second act hangs even more guns on the same wall, but they don't get any development either. Some storylines and character arcs literally break off in mid-sentence, and the heroes will not achieve even the most basic of their goals. A similar fate awaits statements on social topics: Backbone does not give any answers, does not bother with reflection, does not clarify.
Backbone overview.  Chimera warmed up on my chest
And attempts to find answers on their own only expose numerous plot holes. Upon closer examination, the motivation of some of the characters seems strained, the aspirations and complaints of the heroes simply do not find real reflection in the game world - and this is what many of their actions are based on. Including very controversial ones.
This ending doesn't just serve as a bad ending to a great story - it devalues ​​it entirely. Characters who seemed smart and brave turn into idle talkers and hysterics. An attempt to engage in social criticism turns into annoying propaganda, and a promising intrigue results in an offensively ridiculous ending. It's hard not to wonder if the developers themselves understood the story they wanted to tell.
As a result, Backbone is painfully, treacherously disappointing. At first, she really falls in love with herself, but you will not even have time to notice how the plot breaks off the chain and rolls into an indistinct mess, and the cute characters will become completely different. Without an interesting narrative, gameplay problems and linearity stifling immersion immediately catch the eye. But even despite all this, I still urge to give the game a chance - for all its shortcomings, the merits of Backbone really deserve attention.
Just be prepared for the fact that at some point the authors of the game will not cope with their own ideas.
  Pleased
Backbone overview.  Chimera warmed up on my chest
  • visual row;
  • amazing music;
  • characters and dialogues;
  • storyline and setting.
  Upset
Backbone overview.  Chimera warmed up on my chest
  • depressingly empty gameplay;
  • oppressive linearity;
  • a sudden, ridiculous ending;
  • almost all storylines will go nowhere.
  How we played
In what: The key is provided by the publisher.
What: PC.
How much: about 12 hours for two passes.
  Achievement of the editorial office
Backbone overview.  Chimera warmed up on my chest
"I was ready"
Follow the game from the Kickstarter campaign, and therefore know the main plot twist in advance.
  About localization
The game is entirely in English, but the developers are already working on Russification.
Backbone overview.  Chimera warmed up on my chest

Verdict
It's easy to fall in love with Backbone at first sight, but it's easier to hate it after the end credits. What the developers did well is definitely worth seeing in person, but it's better to leave the walkthrough somewhere in the middle - so as not to spoil the experience.

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