Gamedec Preview — The Crimes Are in the Computer

Gamedec puts you in the shoes of a hard-boiled video game detective. You'll have to use your wits instead of your fists to get you through this case though.

August 13, 2020

Gamedec is an upcoming isometric RPG from the team at Anshar Studios. You play as a Gamedec or game detective who is tasked with solving various crimes taking place in the virtual world. Recently, I was able to sit down with a pre-alpha build of the game and try out an early level. You can check out some of my early impressions on our YouTube channel or read below for some more in-depth thoughts.

At its core, Gamedec is a narrative-driven RPG. The demo version begins with some very basic character creation; however, this isn’t like your standard action-based RPG. You’re not putting points into skills like “small guns” or better health. Instead, Anshar takes quite a few cues from Disco Elysium.

Both games attempt to replicate the free-form storytelling you would find in a tabletop RPG session. Skills aren’t combat-based and instead it’s all about the different ways you can converse with the people around you. In Gamedec, you don’t earn skill points by gaining experience. Instead, you’ll level up as you engage in different conversational tactics in your mission to solve a case.

It is, as you might expect, difficult to really tell how much depth the system has in a short demo. That said, it’s clear that Gamedec is set to provide a unique experience for players looking for something a little different in their RPG games.

Obviously, with it being a beta, you can’t be surprised when things are a little fiddly. Even in the small mission available in the demo, there are several different branching options for you to move through. It wasn’t always clear what was unlocking which branch and how. That said, it appears that, even in a short mission like this, you’ll have plenty of different options to choose from.

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For example, in the demo, you are investigating what happened to a rich man’s son when he went into the virtual world. Through your conversations in the real-world, you open up a few different virtual worlds to visit. I made it all the way to the end of the mission and only saw one of the worlds. And, even if the game does force you to eventually go where I did, there are seemingly multiple paths to find the end.

That’s important for a game that deals only in conversation. Obviously, games with fake branching paths (think Telltale games) can effectively provide an illusion of choice. However, it’s the truly great ones that actually let the tale branch out.

I’m interested to see which camp Gamedec falls into. My early time with the game suggests it will sit more in the illusion of choice camp. With several worlds to explore, a fully branching story seems next to impossible. Disco Elysium was able to get so much out of its story because it was confined to one area. You didn’t need to be filtered to new places. That let ZA/UM really delve deep into its characters and lore.

Gamedec, on the other hand, doesn’t seem like it’s set up to do that. That said, I don’t know if it has to.

We already know games that only provide an illusion of choice can be great. Just look at Telltale’s The Walking Dead series. And, Gamedec boasts a feature that I think could make it stand out even more.

Certain conversations in Gamedec make use of the equivalent of a likeability bar. Basically, as you talk to specific characters, your standing with them goes up and down. Both sides of that meter unlock new secrets for you to uncover. So, while I was nice to the rich kid’s friend from the first mission and learned his in-game handle, you might take another tact and learn completely different information. Not only does that add replay value, but it means two players are unlikely to have the exact same playthrough.

That, combined with the conversation-based skill system has me pretty excited to check out Gamedec when it launches later this year. I’m not sure if it can match the critical highs of something like Disco Elysium, but it will provide RPG players with an intriguing take on what narrative RPGs can be.

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