Whispers of a Machine is a Sci-Fi Nordic Noir, point-and-click detective story from Clifftop Games that takes you on a trip to sleepy post-apocalyptic setting.
In Whispers of a Machine you take on the role of Vera, a big-time detective sent from the Central Bureau (which seems roughly equivalent to the FBI) to investigate a murder in a quiet, working-class town. Though the player has some influence over her personality as the story develops, it’s clear from the start that Vera is hyper-competent and successful in her career. On your first day in town, you quickly meet a main cast of characters: a local cop, a coroner, the police commissioner and more. Though these folks remain professional with Vera, small quirks and traits reveal themselves through your introductions to and conversations with them.
The meat of Whispers of a Machine is the investigation itself. For the most part, it’s your standard point-and-click fare. When Vera enters a crime scene or other area of interest, you can use her fancy cybernetic sleuthing skills to scan the environment for clues, DNA and general oddities. The environmental puzzles you must solve and clues you must assemble are thoroughly planned, and it’s clear that the developers took great care in building them. Though at first the puzzles seem straightforward, they quickly escalate in complexity. If you’re not familiar with the genre, you might want to keep a guide handy, as it’s easy to get stuck. That said, none of them are unfairly difficult, and you’ll feel some real satisfaction at figuring out a lock combination or analyzing a key piece of evidence.
Investigation aside, world-building is where Whispers of a Machine truly shines. The art style is gorgeous and consistent, rendering a post-apocalyptic Nordic community in the sky in remarkable detail. The place that the characters occupy is both stunning and gloomy, with heavy greys dulling the buildings and living quarters, while the outside world is full of striking structures and lovely vistas. This adds to the sense that things in this world have not quite gone according to plan, but its occupants are moving forward nonetheless. The gloom can get tiring at some points, but that only serves as an extension of the game’s ambiance. Additionally, the setting makes you want to learn more about its cultural norms and history, an urge that can only be indulged to a limited extent within the confines of the murder mystery. Making idle conversation with the locals is something I’d recommend, as they all add to the character of the world with distinct personalities and voice acting.
However, there are some shortcomings in this respectable point-and-click adventure. Vera herself, though a believable supercop, comes off as rather wooden most of the time, especially in her voice acting. There never seems to be any real emotion behind her words, even when she’s reliving trauma off the clock. This makes it difficult to be invested in the outcome of Vera’s personal journey in Whispers of a Machine — even though your decisions have a significant impact on her character traits and skills, I found it nearly impossible to connect with Vera in any meaningful way.
Additionally, Whispers of a Machine seems to desperately want to make meaningful commentary about the potential future of AI as sentient beings in this post-apocalyptic narrative, but fails to introduce any nuance or feeling into the already trope-laden discussion about the ethical pitfalls in creating non-human sentient beings. Even the twists and turns in the mystery, though delivered quite organically, didn’t convince me that this game had anything new to say about AI. This made some of the plot fall flat and made for an underwhelming narrative experience.
That said, Whispers of a Machine is a polished mystery game set in a unique and captivating world. If you’re interested in a good old-fashioned sleuthing experience in an intriguing new setting, you won’t be disappointed.
Whispers of a Machine is available now for PC and Mac.