Vancouver studio Eggnut is bringing their gorgeous 2-d pixel noir game Backbone to PAX West this year. The game is a point-and-click adventure with elements of stealth and a healthy dose of hard-boiled fiction.
You play as Howard Lotor, a raccoon detective in a tan trench coach on a job to track down a cheating otter. Don't let the fursonas fool you: there's nothing cutesy or light-hearted about Backbone. This noir is the real deal, and the dystopic version of Vancouver Eggnut has created is covered back to front with nicotine stains and single malt scotch.
The prologue, which is available for free on Steam, begins in a dingy detective's office, lit only by the harsh light streaking through the filthy window. If not for the trash panda in the trench coat one might be convinced this is an honest-to-God Bogart film. When the client begins to discuss infidelity, emotional abuse, and custody battles, it finally begins to sink in the places this game will go.
The world of Backbone only gets more grim, as Howard explores this high-contrast, neon-lit version of Vancouver; a city divided by a speciesist class structure, rampant with drug abuse, and littered with the dregs of society, this is not at all a friendly place.
Gameplay-wise, Backbone stands out for the sense of agency it gives players that few other adventure games manage to have. As Howard, there are seemingly a variety of ways to go about accomplishing any given task. Depending on who, and how, you talk to someone, you're path to success may vary quite significantly. While this is mere illusion or true "choices matter" game design, it's a refreshing feeling to have in an adventure game.
There's only a small taste of the type of puzzles to solve in Backbone, which comes in the form of a bizzare cryptogram where papers need to be stacked in a certain order to reveal a code that then must be solved. I found it to be surprisingly challenging and managed to maintain a feeling of being "in world" when so many adventure games puzzles tend to take you out of the reality of the game to rotate some blocks around.
Backbone will be demo'd at PAX West later this month, and while the official release isn't until next year, the demo, titled Backbone: Prologue is available on Steam for free right now.