The bar for character driven, episodic games is at its highest point in a long time. Thanks to what feels like a zillion Telltale series and the surprise success of Life Is Strange, breaking up a game into individual pieces is about as Zeitgeist-y as you can get. This means any game not meeting – or at least reaching for – the same standards as the aforementioned trendsetters will likely find itself doomed to obscurity. Despite it being beautifully presented and grasping at some really interesting world building, archaic adventure game puzzles and an underwhelming script look set to ground Void and Meddler before it even takes flight.
Void and Meddler takes place in a neon-tinted cyberpunk vision of London, wherein ‘genders and species melt into each other’. As a scrappy punk called Fyn, your adventures will regularly see you meeting face to face with Cat-people, cyborgs and geriatric giraffe-ladies. It’s a nice example of a fictional universe not dumping copious amounts of exposition on you – Void and Meddler throws you into its trans-humanist future, and expects you to follow along.
Void and Meddler really nails its setting, thanks to some lovely character designs, a sawtooth-heavy soundtrack, and some gorgeous environment art (think: Jamie McKelvie drawing a Blade Runner game in 1999). The problem is, Fyn is not a character you want to be anywhere near, let alone play as for two hours of your life. She seemingly has no tangible goal in life, other than to potter about finding drugs and sushi, and randomly engaging in squabbles with innocent bystanders.
At one point in the game, you can complete a puzzle by unleashing a torrent of abuse at a recently jilted lover, until his head literally fries. You’d think Fyn would have some pressing, life-threatening issue at hand that required her to do something so horrid, but she really doesn’t. Frying a man’s brain allowed me to distract a security guard, so I could turn off an arcade machine… so I could inject an old punk man with some drugs and experience a shared hallucination. If that makes no sense to you, it makes even less sense in the game.
It’s nice that there are multiple paths to complete each goal. At any point in the game, there are several means to one end, but ninety percent of them adhere to adventure game logic so obtuse it’d make Beneath a Steel Sky blush. I’m talking about connections and patterns of thought no rational human being would ever cook up, which isn’t aided by the game’s needlessly overwrought interaction system. Rather than giving you a simple ‘interact’ button, Void and Meddler utilizes four different commands: look, talk, take and switch on. Most of the time, only one of these achieves anything, and the others are met with the adventure game staple: “I don’t need that.” It seems unreasonable to ask players to carry out each command on every object in a space, and to expect them to have the inhuman foresight required to predict that Fyn might need to use an octaver guitar pedal later on in the game.
On top of this, Fyn seems intent on boring the player to death with overly self-indulgent monologues, and pseudo-philosophical cyberpunk poetry. There are some fairly interesting dialogue exchanges with other, less detestable characters, but as soon as Fyn is alone she begins waxing lyrical in the purplest of prose. Coming off the back of Life Is Strange, it’s annoying to spend time with an adventure game character as wayward and seemingly amoral as Fyn.
This means that Void and Meddler closes out its first chapter stylishly, but it gives very little reason for its audience to care. Remember Me-esque commodified Memories’ are the Macguffin of Void and Meddler, but Fyn seems really rather blasé about finding these memories, and that rubs off on the player. Perhaps Fyn’s plight would feel more urgent were it voice acted, because the writing on its own isn’t strong enough to achieve anything special in standard text boxes.
Ultimately, Void and Meddler feels more like a two hour chore than the bright, flashy cyberpunk tale it first appears to be. Fyn trudges unbearably slowly between each area – she can only run in a few select locations – which makes backtracking even more annoying if you’ve forgotten to pick up an item in a previous location. There’s definitely plenty of conceptual weight behind Void and Meddler, but shiny lights and giraffe people won’t carry it through another two episodes or so.