Review: Backbone

  • Release Date: 8th Jun 2021
  • Version Played: Xbox Series S
  • Completion: Story completed

A detective game featuring anthropomorphic animals, with a beautiful pixelated visual style, Backbone definitely starts out on the right foot.

The game opens with you, a racoon detective, taking on a case involving a cheating husband. The club he’s suspected to be in doesn’t allow racoons, so you have to find ways into it. You have dialogue options which won’t alter the plot, but will alter how people will react to you, along with what options are available to you. You will also encounter a few puzzles, including one where you have to move objects around to work out a code.

Everything about the opening act is wonderful, the characters you talk to are interesting, everything looks fantastic and the feeling of a detective is spot-on. There’s no “fail state” but it feels like you’re solving a case. It’s a brilliant start to a game, and showed a ton of potential.

If only it kept it up. I get the impression that there was a lot more planned for Backbone, and that this first section was carefully crafted to show its potential, then when it came to developing the rest, they simply didn’t have the budget for it.

The next few chapters are still good, held together by some great characters and good writing, as well as the mystery of what you discovered from the first case being interesting, however it feels more like a visual novel as you just move on to the next location, have a conversation and move on. Everything feels more scripted and it doesn’t feel like you, the player, is actually working out anything, just following instructions, although at least it feels like your conversation choices matter and affect how people perceive you, even if it does have no impact.

Then, just as it seems like things are getting interesting and the mystery is starting to unravel, the game gives you another big twist, only this one really does not land. I won’t spoil what it is, but it feels like the game is derailed at this point, and from this point, it feels like your conversation options matter even less than they did before. There’s also no more exploring of new areas, it’s pretty much “press A to continue” at this point. Then the game just seems to…stop.

The big twist itself would have worked, if it were the halfway point of a story, as it feels like there should be a lot more. There’s some new things set up right at and some aspects of the original mystery are just forgotten about. It further solidifies the idea that the developers ran out of money, as the game ends.

It’s a shame, because the early stuff is fantastic, and the visuals, music and songs throughout remain a treat for the senses. There are some segments that let you sit back and enjoy the spectacle, and the story definitely seemed like it was going somewhere…it just never did.

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