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Jazzpunk: the cyber detective adventure you didn’t know you wanted

Friday, 28 February 2014 12:01 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Jazzpunk: you’ve never heard of it, and you’re really, really missing out. Brenna “investigates”. That’s a pun.

jazzpunk

Jazzpunk was developed by a two-person team called Necrophone Games. The studio emphasised this in a recent email exchange, and as soon as I started up the game I stopped wondering why. From the glorious opening cinematic (thanks, Adult Swim Games, maybe?) onwards you’d never believe this was put together by two mates, because Jazzpunk is one of the slickest and most stylish packages I’ve seen recently, both in indie and mainstream gaming.

A major factor in my assessment is the remarkably consistent aesthetic. Thanks to a unique visual style combining gorgeous colours with a low polygon count, throughout Jazzpunk every graphical element flows naturally from the next, with everything feeling of a piece, even when logically their juxtaposition makes little sense. Similarly, the humour of the game, and its loving send up of espionage media, never wavers. Every minute is packed with cheeky little jokes, references and amusing happenings.

This trailer probably prepares you as well as anything can.

I’m finding it really hard to write about Jazzpunk because I don’t want to spoil any of it for you. If you’re the sort to call the Game Police you’re probably going to be a little disappointed, because there’s not a lot of shooting (although there is some, including a fully playable version of – whoops! You nearly got me) or whatever. Although it is, in some ways, a traditional adventure game, with items to collect, pixels to sort through and puzzles to solve, the real joy is in exploring the world around you.

The more you go looking, the more content unfolds before you, even on repeat play. If you don’t explore, you’ll miss half the game’s content – if not more. On my first play through I proceeded through my mission with such unerring skill that when I looked at the achievements later I was astonished by the amount of content I’d somehow missed. Happily, by the time I’d started the second mission I was on the alert and started poking into every corner. What I found there was – well, as discussed, I don’t want to spoil anything, but if you’ve been playing games for a few years you’ll find plenty of things to make you at least give a smile of recognition if not a belly laugh.

In Jazzpunk, you play as Polyblank, a human agent based in Japan during the Cold War. In this alternate reality, robots and cyborgs are everywhere, and the game plays with tropes from the “cyber” genre as much as James Bond and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Problematic cultural stereotypes

Prior to playing Jazzpunk I had heard come critics express concern over its treatment of race and culture.

The Russian and especially Japanese characters in Jazzpunk are inarguably very shallow stereotypes. So is everyone else; deep characterisation is not really what this game is about. That said, the “barman” or “surfer dude” stereotypes aren’t attached to centuries of discrimination and ongoing ignorance, and so don’t require the same level of sensitivity in portrayal.

You may feel the stereotypes are excused in the context of the game’s positioning as a reaction to the espionage canon – or you may not find satire a sufficient justification. We’re pointing out that they exist because it’s important that these issues not be thoughtlessly swept under the rug.

Well, to be fair, James Bond isn’t the prime inspiration here, so much as the works that were themselves inspired by serious espionage media – think Leslie Nielsen, Get Smart, modern Charlie’s Angels. This is ridiculousness making fun of ridiculousness making fun of something that was originally also pretty ridiculous, but never say that in front of a diehard fan. The gadgets are huge clunky props covered in vacuum tubes, valves and light bulbs; the characters are straight out of Trope 101; and some of the jokes are going to be lost on those who grew up late enough to find TV weird if everyone doesn’t have a smartphone.

Jazzpunk leverages humour and nostalgia in a way that makes playing through an exercise in point, click and laugh, but there is a real adventure at the heart of it (along with various mini-games, like pool, jetski racing and shooting). It’s not a terrifically hard one, but as I’ve argued before most adventure games can be solved with the brute force method of picking everything up and slapping it on everything else, so I don’t much care. With Broken Age, I felt the humour and quirkiness made up for adventure’s inherent constraints, but that making the puzzles so simple was a betrayal of old school fans. With Jazzpunk, there’s no expectations to meet, and I honestly don’t think hardcore adventure puzzles are the point of it all.

What is the point of it all? Love letter to genre fiction – or to the people who make fun of it? Manifestation of the mindspace shared by two friends made unusually accessible to outsiders? Experiment in game design? That’s a question I can’t answer for you. I only know that the couple of hours I spent playing through Jazzpunk – from leafing through magazines in the director’s waiting room to marching through the digestive system of a reptile-man hybrid – felt like time well spent. Heartily recommended.

Jazzpunk is available now on Linux, Mac and PC via Steam or directly from the developer.

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3 Comments

  1. TheWulf

    Yeah, I think the shallow characters and stereotyping are basically a piss-take of spy films, which generally have had this problem so bad. (Even Bond, often especially Bond.)

    I think it’s pointing out, in general, just how paranoid and xenophobic things used to be. That films used to have an almost caricatured view of entire nations, including what those entire nations collectively desired. It’s a holdover of the whole “pinko commie” cold war mindset and the propaganda surrounding that. If I’m not mistaken (which I very well might be), the game sort of gives off a vibe of being similar to the constructivist propaganda that lead to that sort of thinking in the first place.

    So, whilst I’d describe Jazzpunk as an occasionally funny game, I’d also describe it as an interactive exploration of propaganda.

    The thing about propaganda is that it can be ridiculously nonsensical. If you look at some of the war propaganda that has existed, today, some of it seems to stem from a genuinely insane mindset. It’s nauseatingly crazy. And back then, that was the point, to help spur some kind of reaction by spreading this stuff around everywhere. I just get that feeling from Jazzpunk itself.

    I have absolutely no idea if that’s what they were shooting for, but it’s what it kind of feels like, you know?

    #1 1 year ago
  2. Brenna Hillier

    @TheWulf That’s a pretty interesting interpretation. I’m a big believer in death of the author, you know? The critical thinking you apply to the art is more important than the art itself. Thanks for sharing.

    #2 1 year ago
  3. TheWulf

    Thanks. I do think it’s important to examine and explore things as I try to convey. If nothing else, it’s fun, and I think you get a lot more out of it. I’ve a great fondness for speculation itself — you don’t have to be right, you can be commonly wrong, but in the process of being wrong you’re also being creative.

    And being creatively wrong is better than not thinking at all. At least, that’s my opinion. And that’s what I live by.

    #3 1 year ago

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    If you’ve been waiting for the perfect game to get to buy a PlayStation 4, there’s no better time than the present. Amazon is offering a good PlayStation 4 bundle at the moment. For $434.99, you get a PlayStation 4 console, The Last of Us, and Bloodborne. The Last of Us is of course the […]

  • Upcoming Battlefield Hardline patch to nerf the K10, buff battle rifles

    Battlefield Hardline’s first patch will focus on weapon balance and a few changes have been proposed. Battlefield Hardline lead multiplayer designer Thaddeus Sasser posted a few of the balance changes that the team is considering for the next patch. K10: reduce bullet damage to 33 Saiga and PTR: reduce recoil to bring more in line […]

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and a new Resident Evil game coming this year, according to research firm

    According to digital games analyst SuperData, a new Resident Evil game is due this fall and that this year’s Call of Duty is Black Ops 3. In its latest report on digital console games, research and analytics firm SuperData revealed that a new Resident Evil is coming this fall. “We anticipate this month’s downturn to […]

  • Bloodborne: you can add gestures to your messages

    As players get deeper into Bloodborne, they keep uncovering so many of its little new additions, including this one. Bloodborne, like all of the Souls games before it, allows players to leave messages for other players. These messages could be used to point players towards impending doom, treasure, or just be sarcastic and witty. What […]

  • PlayStation 4 firmware update 2.50 is now live

    PlayStation 4 firmware update version 2.50 has started rolling out. Reports are coming in saying that Yukimura, PlayStation 4′s firmware 2.50 has been made available to download. The update is clocking in at just 245mb, so get downloading. 2.50 brings with it many new additions, including the suspend/resume feature, backup and restore, accessibility options and […]

  • Harley Quinn DLC for Batman: Arkham Knight is a prequel

    Batman: Arkham Knight’s Harley Quinn pre-order DLC is set before the events of the main game, according to Amazon’s description. Today we learned a few details about the pre-order DLC for Batman: Arkham Knight, namely the Harley Quinn one. According to the description on Amazon, the DLC takes place in the lead-up to the events […]

  • Bloodborne Vicar Amelia summon mystery solved

    Bloodborne players unable to summon near Vicar Amelia: here’s your solution. Bloodborne’s secrets are unfolding by the hour as clever players piece together From Software’s cunning design. Yesterday we reported problems summoning in the Cathedral Ward, before the Vicar Amelia boss fight. It turns out this isn’t a bug – or if it is, it’s […]

  • Steven Spielberg will direct film adaption of Ready Player One

    Steven Spielberg will direct the film adaption of the sci-fi, virtual world, video game themed novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Warner Bros. bought the rights to the film in June 2010 and hired screenwriter Zak Penn to rewrite the previous draft written by Eric Eason, according to Deadline. The book takes place in […]

  • Bloodborne players with PS4 headsets shouldn’t forget about the custom audio

    Here’s a friendly reminder for Bloodborne players with PS4 headsets: be sure to download the Headset Companion App from the PlayStation store if you haven’t already. As previously reported, the game supports a custom Bloodborne audio mode which can be uploaded. It contains custom audio created by developers specifically tuned to enhance the audio. This […]

  • EA explains why FIFA Ultimate Team transfer prices are now platform specific

    EA has posted a blog entry explaining its FIFA Ultimate Team transfer market price ranges which now include platform-specific pricing in order to best the coin sellers. EA said it has implemented the changes to FUT over the last several weeks because it should be “fair and fun for every player,” ultimately coming to the […]

  • Game of Thrones: Episode 3 – The Sword in the Darkness now available

    In case you forgot, Game of Thrones: Episode 3 – The Sword in the Darkness was released today. It is available on Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. The third episode releases on iOS devices and Android tomorrow, March 26. The Sword in the Darkness finds Asher Forrester heading to Mereen […]

  • Bloodborne players are already documenting their crazy antics

    Bloodborne has been available for almost two days now in North America, and already players are posting interesting clips and character customization choices for the game. Below are interesting takes on creating a character and videos of a frustrating death and another full of blood coming from a very painful place – monster or not. […]

  • FIFA Ultimate Team celebrates sixth year in existence with giveaways

    FIFA Ultimate Team is celebrating its sixth year in existence with special events running from today until March 29. According to EA, every FUT fan will be handed one free pack every day, and those who play at least one match in the FUT Birthday Cup will have a chance to win rare “tradable In-Forms” […]

  • Halo Online is a F2P PC game in development exclusively for Russia – video

    Halo Online is a free-to-play game which will launch this spring in Russia, and is in development with Saber Interactive. According the reveal event attended by IGN Russia, the game was designed to run well on lower-end PCs and runs on a modified Halo 3 engine. The game is set on a secret UNSC space […]

  • SteamWorld Dig Xbox One release expected in late May

    SteamWorld Dig is coming to Xbox One, developer Image & Form has announced. A firm release date hasn’t been announced, but the studio expects the title to arrive on the system in late May. “We’re preparing quite an elaborate Easter egg for the Xbox One version – a gaming thing that we really wanted to […]

  • SMITE celebrating first anniversary with a sale on skins, Ultimate God Pack

    Hi-Rez Studios is celebrating the first anniversary of SMITE with a sale. From today through Friday, March 27, the Ultimate God Pack, which includes all current and future Gods, will run you $19.99. Alll individual pre-launch skins are 50% off, and all Gem Packs will award bonus gems. In addition, from March 27-29, all SMITE […]

  • Borderlands 2 has sold around 12 million copies, says Gearbox

    Speaking with Microsoft’s Major Nelson in his podcast, Gearbox Software boss Randy Pitchford stated Borderlands 2 has sold somewhere around the 12 million mark. As of August 2014, it was announced by Take-Two in its financial report the 2012 game had sold-in 10 million units. Pitchford noted in the podcast he learned of the figures […]

  • Broken Age releasing on PS4 and Vita same day as Act 2 on PC

    Double Fine Productions has announced it will release Broken Age on the PlayStation Store next month. Act 2 will also be released on PC. The full Broken Age adventure will release on PlayStation 4 and Vita on April 28 in North America and April 29 in Europe. It features cross-buy and cross-save. Broken Age Act […]

  • Star Citizen earned another $1 million within two weeks – total hits $76 million

    Star Citizen continues its funding streak with backers pumping another $1 million into the game’s development in the last two weeks. The total earned for the space sim has now reached $76 million ($76,015,532 to be exact) with 851,395 backers contributing to the staggering figure. Star Citizen’s latest update was version 1.1 which included two […]

  • Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, Resident Evil Revelations 2 and Battlefield: Hardline top Media Create charts

    Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, Resident Evil Revelations 2 and Battlefield: Hardline were the big ticket debuts during the March 16-2 period in Japan, with each game claiming the top three slots on the Media Create charts, respectively. Final Fantasy Type-0 HD moved 92,094 on PlayStation 4, while Resident Evil Revelations 2 moved 73,373 units on […]

  • You can now learn English or Spanish on Xbox One with the Rosetta App

    Want to learn English or Spanish? Rosetta Stone has an App for that on Xbox One. According to the language teaching firm, Rosetta Stone’s Discover Languages, the new application teaches English and Spanish by way of immersive simulation. Users will virtually travel to learn vocabulary and grammar “necessary for real-world interactions.” Here’s how it works: […]

  • PayDay 2 and PayDay: The Heist have sold over 9 million units combined

    The PayDay franchise is a lucrative IP for Starbreeze and Overkill, as both games combined have sold over 9 million copies as of November 2014. The company has also sold over 8 million paid DLC packages since PayDay 2 was released in 2013 (via NeoGAF). In its Q2 half year report issued in February, net […]

  • Nintendo wants to “surprise” customers with NX, not expand upon existing hardware

    Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has firm wants to “surprise” players with its new NX system. Speaking in an interview with Nikkei, translated by Kotaku, Iwata wouldn’t go into details on the new system, but stated expanding on a current gaming system would be “dull.” “In the past few years, the idea of what [encompasses] a […]