Played on my laptop with the following system specs:
Chassis: Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming Series (7567) w/ 15.6″ 1920×1080 LED display
Processor: 7th Generation Intel Quad Core i7-7700HQ
Graphics Card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti w/ 4gb GDDR5
RAM: 16gb, DDR4, 2400MHz
Hard Drive: 1TB 5400 rpm + 128gb SSD
OS: Windows 10 Home 64-bit
Today I have the pleasure of reviewing 2017’s The Low Road, an oddball point-and-click adventure/puzzle title chock full of dark humor. Developer XGen Studios (Super Motherload) spent a solid three years developing this stylish 1970s spy game for PC, Mac and Linux (with a Nintendo Switch port on the way). “But wait, jonny,” I hear my imaginary fan base interrupt. “If this came out last year, why are you just getting to it now? How lazy are you?” Well, me, I’m glad I asked. See, although XGen launched The Low Road on July 26, 2017 and it’s now September 20, 2018, they implemented some considerable updates to the title just a few weeks ago and sent me a code for it this last weekend. So to answer my question…I’m kinda lazy, but not as much as I’d think.
With The Low Road, players step into 1976 and become Noomi Kovacs, recent graduate from the LeCarre Institute of Exceptional Spies – both an acronym (L.I.E.S.) and a nod to spy novel author extraordinaire John LeCarre (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). Now Noomi is a fresh recruit at the automobile conglomerate Penderbrook Motors, who have recently had one of their top engineers go missing. So naturally, they visit Noomi in the Division of Outside Intelligence and ask her to…file paperwork in the office while their other 50+ spies prepare to go on the case. But before long, with a bit of corporate sabotage that falls just a step short of bankrupting her own employer, Noomi and her supervisor Barney “Turn” Turner begin to track down Penderbrook’s missing employee over the course of six genuinely funny and cool chapters. Before the end credits roll, Noomi will pickpocket, deceive, blackmail and disguise her way through the mystery to its shocking and double-crossing conclusion.
So this game has a great style, visually and sonically. Its look isn’t too far removed from Double Fine’s Broken Age but a lot grittier and pulpier (that’s a compliment). The music fits each scene like a glove, from the ambient drones of an underground cult-like facility to the unique Bowie-meets-1990s-indie-rock tunes peppered between scenes. They’re accompanied by full voice acting from a cast of dozens of eclectic (sometimes almost cartoonish) characters packed with sharp wit, sarcasm, offbeat humor and more.
Of course the gameplay is the biggest factor, right? Fortunately, The Low Road rarely – if ever – disappoints. This is first and foremost a classic point-and-click puzzle-solving adventure – with some interesting twists I’ll get to in the next paragraph. Expect to speak to Character A who won’t let you past him, so you need to talk to Character B and convince him to give you Item X which you use to solve a puzzle and get Item Y and use on something else to make your way past Character A. That’s familiar territory, but that’s not a bad thing. Some adventure titles are known for how ridiculous their “Use This on That” component is, and for the most part The Low Road avoids those pitfalls. I wasn’t as thorough as I needed to be speaking with certain characters multiple times, for example, so I got stumped once or twice, but overall it’s a very solid world with flow and logic. The other part of the game is more obvious puzzle-solving. Move mechanical levers to certain spots within a certain amount of moves, rotate concentric circles to form a path, flip a bunch of power switches on and off in the right order to obtain the proper power level, etc. Again, it’s familiar but welcome territory. Slightly challenging here and there but neither too easy nor too frustrating.
So about those twists. I did a bit of Googling and found out there are 21 Steam Achievements, five false endings and two real endings in The Low Road. There are also multiple ways to achieve certain objectives with differing levels of success, varying dialogue options based on your relationships with characters and more. I’m used to the suffocating, airtight linear journeys of other point-and-clicks like Syberia and Still Life so this was a welcome surprise – and a bit of a daunting one, lending noticeable weight to every action and decision. It wasn’t as nerve-wracking as, say, Detroit: Become Human or Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead, but I did find myself caring about my choices more than a standard adventure title, so thumbs up to XGen for including it.
On the downside, I did have some crashing problems that seemed code-specific (rather than “jonny’s laptop” specific) throughout the title. Twice in the first chapter, mousing over my inventory button at the top-left of the screen and clicking it to open my inventory caused the game to zoom up on the top center edge of the game screen, causing the bottom half of my screen to display a super-blown-up portion of the top of a level and the top half to display blackness, except for the previously-mentioned inventory which remained in its proper scale and placement. Odd. I also experienced the game failing to load the fifth chapter, instead staying on the loading screen (with the loading logo still fully animated and audio playing), which I waited to resolve itself for 10-15 minutes before I gave up and force quit out.
…Three times in a row.
…Meaning I had to quit playing because I couldn’t get it to go any farther.
I don’t know what’s up with that – the title falls WELL beneath my specs (check the Steam store and the above-printed config of my laptop for yourself) and I’m on a five-month-old laptop with absolutely zero shady software or malware or anything on it – but I hope they fix it because it kept me from enjoying the final act of a great game.
So I seriously loved what I played. The Low Road pretty much has it all, depending on your ability to solve puzzles and make clever logic leaps. It sounds great, it looks great, it plays great, but my download of it seems to have broken at about the 65% mark of the game. Seeing as it was about 95% amazing for that first 65%, I’m gonna punch up 95% of 65 in my calculator real fast…aaaaaaand I get 61.75.
So I’m going to round up from 6.175 and give XGen’s The Low Road a 6.2 out of 10, which would be higher if I could’ve played the last third of the game.
*Disclaimer: AIR Entertainment was provided a free copy of this title for its review.