If you were an average nobody framed for a high-profile assassination, how would you clear your name? Would you let the police arrest you, then pray that your legal defense pulls through? Maybe you’d lay low and hire a hacker, certain that the true culprit left a trail of crumbs leading straight to your salvation! You probably wouldn’t, say, take on the very profession you were framed under, steadily building seedy connections that point the way to your quarry. Would you?
In the cloud-swept city of Tokyo 42, jumping right into the fray is safer than it sounds. Every citizen sticks to a regimen of NanoMeds that prevent them from dying: unless something goes seriously wrong, they can take a sword to the chest and wake up later, good as new. Murder is more of a statement than a capital offense, a flamboyant way to break up business deals or cause some chaos for the hell of it (though folks obviously aren’t pleased if they’re the target). This playful approach to assassination perfectly complements the city’s bubblegum skyscrapers and soft-spoken drums, building an oddball future where Grand Theft Auto levels of violence only leads to anesthetized indifference.
Aside from the pop coating on open-world crime, Tokyo 42 shares more than a few similarities with Rockstar’s venerated classic. You pick up contracts through public terminals, procure your tools before you arrive, and let loose however you see fit. It cleverly borrows its scoring system from modern stealth games, where nonviolence and indiscriminate murder are both treated as valid approaches. Blades, grenades and numerous types of guns are all at your disposal, but no matter how big the barrel, death always arrives from a single blow. Even you aren’t immune to this rule: the game is gracious with its checkpoints, but it still stings to see a run ended through a small slip of the thumb.
Those small slips happen far too often, as the game’s eye-popping flair also happens to be its biggest weakness. Its rotating isometric camera is perfect for surveying your dreamlike dystopia, but when it comes time to jump between rooftops or climb your way up, you’ll likely run straight into the side and plummet. It asks you to make precise landings with leaps that are simultaneously floaty and stunted, leaving just enough room to helplessly wriggle as you perish. Plenty of attention and care went into the concrete jungle, but the alarming lack of perspective discourages any sort of exploration beyond the directed path.
Not to be outdone by a weak movement system, the weapons themselves prompt damning questions like “Am I even aiming this right?” You can either aim your weapon through a zoomed-in, claustrophobic camera that often obscures the folks you’re shooting at, or click the stick and poke at a sensitive reticle sitting thousands of feet away. Grenades fare even worse: in addition to the hyper-exaggerated near/far dichotomy, the intended arc shifts on its own with outrageous speed. For a supposed professional-in-training, my character had a difficult time tossing explosives that didn’t immediately land at their own feet or travel to a new planet!
Tokyo 42 is a stylish, neon future that handily avoids the dinginess of its contemporaries, which makes it all the more crushing when it’s this much of a hassle to play. The world could use more games willing to blend ever-present violence with the cuddly atmosphere of a Bo En song, but if they can’t nail the basics, they’re better off leaving their “electric sheep” dreams at home.
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