Silicon Dreams Review (PC)
One giant retina dominates the right side of my screen, alongside an emotion tracker. Potential questions fill the center, including a number linked to previous answers or some careful emotional manipulation. And, once questions have been asked and emotions tested, I have to decide if a human being or an android is in a little holding cell on my screens and what fate should befall them. This is not quite the Voight-Kampff test but it comes closer than anything in the videogame world has.
Silicon Dreams is both developed by published by Clockwork Bird, available on the PC via Steam. The game creates an interesting take on a future world and uses interrogation as the core gameplay mechanic. Think of the “Blade Runner” world but with even more focus on android exploitation.
The experience takes place in a near-future setting in which androids are widespread and close to humans in capabilities. They are also tightly controlled and subject to recall, maintenance and destruction if they act outside of their defined role. The player starts off as an evaluation android for Kronos, the company that dominates the field and has a lot of power both over its hardware and society in general. He needs to ask and decide, choosing fates and deciding what an android can be. As with clear inspiration Papers, Please not everything is as it seems when the story starts. The reveals for both individual cases and the overall narrative are pretty good, as is the writing for each case.
The main mechanic is simple: ask questions and then fill a questionnaire. The details are complex and create interesting choices and situations. A small number of topics is initially available for each new subject, alongside background details and maybe some supplemental info. As the conversation moves forward more options become available (some of them locked behind particular requirements) and each answer elicits emotional reactions. They are tracked and evaluated, giving players a sense of how those interrogated feel about the world. A transcript is always available at all times, as are options to influence the state of the subjects.
A form with questions from Kronos can be accessed at all times to fill in answers and, finally, to decide how the subject should be handled. The company clearly wants to protect its interests and exercise its power. The player can choose loyalty or undermine its creator but if their evaluation metrics fall too low the game ends and cases need to be played again. Silicon Dreams offers plenty of moments when it clicked on the transcript just to get some relief from thinking about the case at hand.
Some questions have no clear answer and some situations have no good solutions. I made choices that I am not proud of to make sure that I stayed on the good side of Kronos. There are moments when I felt great at the smallest attempt to change the world, even if my actions eventually seemed to amount to almost nothing. The world is intriguing, complex, and filled with commentary on contemporary issues. It works great both as science fiction and as a setting for a good game.
The biggest problem I have with the game is repetition. I failed relatively quickly the first time through, which meant I had to work through cases I knew very well with no way to move through them faster. I liked engaging with the mechanics even after the sense of discovery is gone but some players will react with frustration. I think the interrogation and the unfolding narrative are enough to keep gamers engaged. To keep everyone playing a no-fail mode would be a great addition for a patch.
Silicon Dreams has a limited presentation built around the questioning mechanic. The interface allows players to get information quickly and to make their choices about cases with access to all the details they need. I would have appreciated a little more originality in the interrogation screen design but the Blade Runner inspiration works well. The music is subdued, allowing players to focus on their tasks, but swells up at the right, emotional times.
- Interrogation mechanic
- Well-written stories
- Many dilemmas to solve
- Limited gameplay
- Can become repetitive
- Presentation issues
Every fan of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” or works influenced by it will find something to love in the tight experience that Clockwork Bird has designed. There is also plenty of space for them to expand both the story and the mechanics in meaningful ways in future titles set in the same universe.