Read Only Memories is the debut adventure game from indie studio Midboss. ROM tells the cyberpunk-esque story of Turing, the world’s first sapient robot. Cyberpunk adventure games tend to be few and far between these days, but is Read Only Memories worth jacking into the ‘net to experience? Let’s find out in my Read Only Memories review.
Read Only Memories is set in the not-too-distant future, where corporations run public services, personal robots called ROMs handle our day-to-day tasks, and gene splicing has led to hybrids (humans with animal DNA) whose rights are in question.
The story in Read Only Memories follows Turing – perhaps the world’s first artificially intelligent robot – on his quest to find out what happened to Hayden, his creator. Hayden was working on Turing in his off time from technological mega-corp Parallax, but was kidnapped for reasons unknown.
Turing turns to the player (a down and out journalist) for assistance. The duo embark on an epic quest across Neo-San Francisco to get to the bottom of the mysteries surrounding Hayden and Turing.
Read Only Memories is presented in a retro, pixelated, CGA/VGA style. It’s obvious the game is influenced heavily by old school first-person adventure games like Snatcher and Deja Vu. Despite the classic feel, the various obstacles to overcome in Read Only Memories are more reminiscent of modern-day dialog and relationship based games like The Walking Dead or Wolf Among Us.
I don’t want to get into too much detail about the plot – there are various cool moments and a ton of great dialog. Almost every combination of verb, item, and object in the environment has two different lines associated with it. More often than not, this stuff is humorous and worth going out of your way to see.
Turing themself (yes, that may look weird to you, but that’s how Turing prefers to be addressed) is an interesting character. Their design is sort of cute and nonthreatening, and one other character calls them “moe.” They are both childlike and wise beyond their years in equal measure. It’s up to the player to shape Turing’s outlook, and I found it quite interesting to watch Turing develop over the course of the game.
There are several different endings to Read Only Memories, depending on the paths you take and the people you befriend. There are also a wealth of secret achievements that can extend the playtime past the 6 or so hour mark it takes to finish the first time.
Midboss is a company focused on issues of gender equality, as evidenced by their previous work on Gaming in Color and GaymerX. It would have been easy for Read Only Memories to have put forth strong political and social views, or for it to get overly preachy. Instead, I’m happy to report that issues of sexuality and gender identity are just part of the story, without being called out or getting overly preachy.
Some of our current social issues are reframed in the cyberpunk world of Neo-SF, such as the hybrids’ desire for equal rights, and the “Human Revolution’s” desire to maintain our ties to humanity in the face of overwhelming societal change. Although individual characters have their own opinions, there’s still ways to have everyone work together, regardless of their point of view.
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Read Only Memories is an outstanding game that seamlessly blends 30 years of adventure games and interactive fiction to tell a compelling cyberpunk story. It handles delicate social issues without being condescending or preachy. The fascinating characters and well-written plot keep the game interesting from the opening cutscene to the closing credits.