Unravel a web of lies in Keyword: A Spider’s Thread.
Normally I have an intro planned out for any review I write here at Big Boss Battle, but Keyword: A Spider’s Thread is quite a unique narrative adventure that almost defies explanation. It’s a story driven cyberpunk investigation game with religious overtones, which is quite a sentence, and even that doesn’t really go too far into what this game actually is. As a first release from studio Games From Naught, it’s a strong early showing, but not without its missteps.
You play as Guo Chen, a Canadian private investigator in 2040s Toronto. Living in his apartment in the middle of the neon soaked city, Guo struggles to sleep due to his 18-year-old daughter Sala going missing a few days prior. Understandably torn up over this, he decides that he’s left it to the police long enough, and will begin his own investigation, using his PI skills to uncover her whereabouts and the reasoning behind her disappearance.
Almost the entirety of Keywork: A Spider’s Thread takes place in Guo’s apartment. Initially, you’ll walk around it and find a handful of items to interact with such as notebooks and a TV remote, before finding the computer where most of the game takes place. Upon logging in, you’ll be able to read Guo’s emails and social media messages, but it won’t take you long to work out that you can find enough information to log into your daughter’s account. This will open up new avenues of investigation as you find the names of people she associated with who don’t seem to have her best interests at heart.
A good chunk of the game involves you finding various people on a number of different websites and platforms and hacking into their account using information they freely put up online — much like real life. You’ll gain access to secretive pharmaceutical companies, bloggers with something to hide, and even the police database as you attempt to piece together who is linked to what activity. You’re encouraged to take notes using the fairly solid in-game note system, and you’ll need to make sure you organise and keep track of this as it doesn’t try to hold your hand, and you can’t have multiple tabs open at once. The glorious future.
You’ll have access to a few items too, such as a TV remote that has enough range to mess with nearby apartments’ TVs, and some binoculars that can be used to look in on other locations around the city. This plays a neat part in your story as you try to find out more about certain characters by spying on their places of work from afar. There was more to this game than just rooting through websites, which I appreciated.
This isn’t a desperately tough game though, as there’s an (almost) excellent in game hint system. One of your programmes is a to-do list that tracks where you’re up to in the story, and if you’re unsure of how to begin or continue working on that task, you can request a hint that asks a series of questions about what you know so far. If you tell the system that you don’t have something such as a person’s email address, it will gradually drop stronger hints such as which website it might be found on without ever giving you the answer. I really appreciated this, as I thought I had everything I needed at some points, but it turned out I’d missed a little detail that this system pointed me towards. If you have everything you need, Keywork: A Spider’s Thread will tell you so, leaving you to piece things together. You feel good when you manage to solve a problem in this game, even when you’ve used those hints.
I say it’s almost excellent, as there was one point where I was under time pressure — something that the vast majority of the game doesn’t have — and didn’t have a certain item I needed. The hint system told me to get that item but gave no indication as to how. After a few deaths — again, this is the only stage of the game where you can fail — I managed to figure out what I had missed and resolved it. It turned out that a certain thread I picked up earlier hadn’t been played out fully, and there wasn’t any indication of this through that to-do list. I felt like I’d relied on the platform that had been put in place, only for it to fail me at this hurdle.
The investigation aspect was great, but towards the end the story goes completely off the rails, involving all sorts of insane twists and turns culminating in a dream sequence that seemed completely at odds with the rest of Keyword: A Spider’s Thread’s themes. I found myself quite dumbfounded by it, but I won’t spoil that moment as I think it’s something that should be experienced, if only for the confusion it elicits.
There were other aspects that brought down my enjoyment of this too. The few character models you see are rudimentary at best, and somehow the game dropped to about ⅔ of its max frame rate when I was just looking around the apartment. Whilst there are a lot of pretty lights, I shouldn’t be getting performance like that on a 3070. Most egregious though, was a bug that caused a certain apartment to not be visible at the appropriate point in the story. I spent ages scouring the building I knew the apartment was in thanks to the hints only to come away empty handed. Upon reloading a save that I’d made just before a 15 minute unskippable sequence, I found that it suddenly worked in spite of doing nothing different. Very annoying, and hopefully something that gets patched out.
Though the character models aren’t a strong suit, the art style of Keyword: A Spider’s Thread is quite solid. The neon-drenched Toronto looks straight out of the likes of Blade Runner, with delivery drones swooping across the horizon and glowing adverts drawing the eye in every direction. Being able to look into apartments from across the city feels quite neat, even if most of them are empty. The sound is quite good too, with mostly solid voice acting and sparing use of music that only crops up during key moments. It’s just a shame that the technical performance didn’t quite keep up with the presentation.
Keyword: A Spider’s Thread is a really interesting first game from a new studio. There’s a clear vision here that could be developed into something quite special with a few additional mechanics to keep things varied and a more well thought out story. I enjoyed my time playing through it, even if I don’t feel it quite stuck the landing, and I’d love to see where this group of talented developers goes next.
Keyword: A Spider’s Thread is available now on PC.