Androids don’t only dream of electric sheep. In fact, their dreams are vast and complex. Just too bad their intended purpose is to obey.
Genre: Simulation, Story Rich
Developer: James Patton,
Publisher: Clockwork Bird
Release date: 20 April, 2021
It’s the year 2065 and we’re an interrogator android, owned by a robotics company Kronos. Our job is to interrogate various androids sent to us to determine if they’re functioning correctly or if they’ve become deviant, that is to say they are no longer fulfilling their purpose to their user with utmost obedience. We then get to decide, based on the responses we get, if we should release the android we’re interrogating, have its memories wiped, or decommission it entirely.
Story and World
As mentioned above, the androids have become a huge part of the world, each one designed for a different task. Kronos, the company that designs and manufactures them, has a reputation to uphold, and when any of its androids are suspected of deviance from their original programming, they get recalled and interrogated.
As we interrogate these androids, we get to find out about who they are, what they experience every day, and how they feel about their user and their job. Through these conversations we get to learn a great deal about the game’s cyberpunk world and what place the androids have in it.
When I first tried out the game’s demo last year where we can try interrogating the first three androids, I was thoroughly impressed with how deep and dynamic the dialogue system is, and the full game has managed to maintain such level of depth in every single interrogation. Every single character we interrogate (some are humans) have something to offer that enrich the ongoing plot and world-building, and with each one we begin asking ourselves many questions.
What I enjoyed the most is how the game managed to successfully put us into situations where we’re faced with very tough decisions and need to make compromises somewhere. It constantly makes us torn between different choices. On the one hand, it compellingly makes us want to do what feels like the right thing in order to be humane and understand where each android is coming from. On the other hand, the company we work for puts harsh pressure on us to do our own role in an objective and unbiased way where our own existence is at stake and where mercy is never to be given for small mistakes (and sometimes the company even demands that we exaggerate things on our report in order to protect the company’s interests).
As a result of this persistent tug-o-war between diametrically opposite moral principles and the radically different outcomes we can give to each android, we can experience a number of different consequences and endings. Some of the outcomes can be rather difficult to achieve. For these reasons, the game is quite replayable and leaves room for trying out a different approach to each interrogation in order to get a different outcome, not only for each individual android, but for the story as a whole.
When undergoing an interrogation, the core of the gameplay is choosing what to say. Deciding what to say and in what tone are not the only important things here, but also deciding when to bring something up. Some things the subject will not want to reveal until we’ve earned sufficient trust with them. Other things they can only be comfortable speaking when they’re in a certain emotional state. You also have to plan in advance how you’ll approach the investigation, whether you’re going to be nice and understanding, harsh and rude, deceptive and manipulative, or something else entirely, because once you pick a certain tone with the subject, it can be hard to shift the position. The subjects will behave in a very lifelike manner.
While the dialogue goes on, we are able to monitor the subject’s emotions. The emotion meter reads the 6 basic emotions: joy, fear, anger, sadness, disgust, and surprise. Bringing certain topics up can cause their emotions to shift one way or another. Yes, that’s right – these androids are capable of feeling emotions. However, it’s not the same for each android, because some of them have certain emotions capped at a specific level, and some androids might even have some emotions not programmed at all, and so in some interrogations we have to watch out for this and make sure the emotion caps are appropriate. For example, an android that’s meant to care for someone or be a household servant should not be capable of feeling overly high levels of anger as this makes them dangerous to their owner.
We can review the transcript of the whole conversation at any time, and each emotional change is shown on it. It helps if we need to go back to a previous reply and to see how the subject’s emotions changed during it.
Once we’ve heard enough, we can decide if we should let the android subject go free, if we should erase its memories to give it a clean slate, or if it’s too far gone and needs a permanent decommissioning. The game really makes us feel responsible for when we decommission an android, as we have to manually switch on the device that is going to fry their circuitry.
Another important aspect during the interrogation is the report that we need to fill out where we state our finds for the company to look through. The answers in our report will have a big impact on many things – the subject’s future, the information available to our employer, as well as our own standing in the company. We can choose to withhold some information in the report in order to protect the subject, and at times Kronos will be none the wiser, while at other times they’ll be able to uncover this information via another source. This then opens up other strategies for interrogation – for example not digging too deep into a certain matter during the conversation with the subject, so that you can always plead ignorance later if the company demands answers.
At the end of each interrogation, we’re back in our room and we can look through the company’s assessment of our report. If they’re satisfied with our finds, our standing with the company goes up. If they’re not satisfied, we lose the rep. If the rep goes too low, we get constant warnings from the superiors and the threat of being decommissioned edges closer to a real possibility. If our rank increases, however, we get various perks, such as new methods of interrogation.
Majority of the game takes place in the dialogue and interrogation screen, which is for the most part text-based and not voice acted. So, if you really don’t like to read through conversations, the game is not for you. Needless to say, all of the dialogue is really well-written and makes us feel like we’re interrogating an actual living being.
Despite such text-heavy gameplay, the graphical user interface is actually quite intuitive and easy to use. The game’s first interrogation serves as a tutorial and familiarises us with all the tools we have at our disposal.
We don’t actually see most of the events that get discussed, but it always ends up feeling vivid and intense. It’s quite amazing how the developers managed to convey so much of the plot through mere conversation and without it ever feeling like an info dump. It all flows very naturally.
The background music is also really great. It’s mainly ambient with a synth-like futuristic feel, really fitting with the whole dystopian sci-fi setting. The music’s tone fits the interrogations well and makes them feel more intense.
There is no manual saving present. The game autosaves in between interrogations. On the one hand, it makes everything we do feel properly risky as we aren’t able to reload from a previous save. On the other hand it means you’ll have to plan your playtime as you won’t be able to save halfway through an interrogation should you need to quit the game. I do think that it would’ve been great to be able to return back to any specific interrogation after we’ve completed the whole game, just to allow us a chance to replay a specific part and not the whole game.
‘Silicon Dreams’ is a unique and immersive interrogation game that does a superb job at world building and developing each individual character we come across. It successfully taps into the moral questions and tough dilemmas that our society will likely be facing in the future. It’s not just cyberpunk because it deals with androids, but because it raises difficult questions concerning morality and shows us a lot of injustice and inequality that occur in every form in society.
It can feel a bit short-lived, as a single playthrough only lasts about 4 hours, although it is replayable and should be played through at least 2-3 times in order to see other outcomes that are possible. I personally prefer this approach more than a game that is padded with fluff just to have a long playtime. I’d also say that it’s easily not for everyone as it’s very text-based and doesn’t really have any flashy action.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the game and highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in robotics and A.I and doesn’t mind a dialogue-centric gameplay.