It must be really frustrating sometimes to be a police officer, especially when you know that a suspect or a witness is withholding information from you. There’s not really a lot that you can legally do to force someone to talk, but imagine if there was a technology that allowed you to dive deep into someone’s subconscious.
Ignoring the obvious ethical issues with doing something like this, it could definitely make gathering clues more interesting. This futuristic sounding technology exists in the world of AI: The Somnium Files, a new game from the director of the Zero Escape series, Kotaro Uchikoshi.
The game’s protagonist, Kaname Date, is part of a special police taskforce known as the Advanced Brain Investigation Squad (ABIS). As with most police officers he has a partner with who he works very closely with. Did I mention yet that his partner, Aiba, spends most of her time living in his left eye socket?
An AI for an Eye
Date lost his real eye in an incident years ago and so Aiba (which is short for AI-Ball) is an incredibly advanced artificial intelligence that plugs directly into his optic nerve allowing Date to not only see through her but also use her advanced technology to zoom, and use night vision as well as thermal vision. All very handy stuff when investigating!
The story begins with you arriving at a crime scene to see the corpse of a woman who was discovered in an abandoned theme park. The poor woman has been tied to a merry-go-round and has stab wounds to her body as well as having an eye gouged out. Her body bears a striking resemblance to a series of murders that were committed six years ago. It all seems very sadistic and grotesque, and what makes it even worse is that Date used to know the victim.
What follows is a dark and gritty story where you’ll be desperately trying to track down the murderer before they can kill again. Almost every character you meet from idols, to otakus, and even old friends, almost everyone will be a potential suspect and you’ll need to untangle the past in order to seek out the truth.
When investigating you’ll view each scene through Date’s eyes. You can look around but Date remains fixed to the spot. It makes it feel a bit like a point-and-click adventure game where you have to click on various items to interact with them and exhaust all conversation options. These investigations are pretty simple and you won’t be solving any particularly taxing puzzle, instead you just need to speak to or look at the right things until the story moves on.
You’ll occasionally get to use one of Aiba’s unique abilities to help you out, like X-ray vision to peer through a wall. But as these abilities can only be used at specific points in the story, you feel like you’re only really solving crimes because the game is letting you. In a way this game is much more of a visual novel than a point-and-click puzzle or adventure game.
The game lets you get much more hands on when you use the Psync Machine. This is what Date and Aiba use to delve into a subject’s Somnium–a world that exists within their subconscious. These worlds are shaped by people’s memories but, just like in dreams, they can be very surreal. This can make it difficult to find the clues that you seek. There’s also the added issue that you only have six minutes inside someone’s head before you need to get out.
While inside a Somnium you’ll get to take control of Aiba, who instead of being eyeball shaped, appears in a beautiful humanoid form. You have to find a way to break various mental locks in order to proceed deeper into someone’s subconscious. To do this you’ll need to interact with various things in the nearby environment. Every action Aiba take’s use up a little chunk of time and as you don’t always know what will cause a lock to break you can easily waste a lot of your available time.
It sometimes felt like I was just randomly guessing what to interact with next, especially in some of the early levels. While this does make sense, as dreams don’t always make logical sense, it didn’t feel particularly rewarding to break locks just by guessing. I did find that things started to make more sense as I got to know each character and discovered why certain Somnium’s appeared in the form that they did.
The story branches off at certain points, depending on your actions within these dream worlds. The story routes you go down can lead to some wildly different endings. Most of the time I felt like I was left with more questions than answers but as you experience more of the game you’ll slowly be able to fill in the gaps of what is happening and why.
Some parts of the story are utterly heart breaking to see and learning the truth behind some of the characters will feel like a rollercoaster of a journey. This is one of those games that is very difficult to put down once you start.
The game does deal with some serious subject matter but it’s also not afraid to joke around. A great example of this is during some of the combat sections where I had to distract enemies with porno mags and lingerie. These fights weren’t particularly hard, I just had to press the correct buttons at specific times, but it was a bit of fast-paced fun that worked really well at lightening the mood.
Investigating gruesome murders in AI: The Somnium Files is fun even though it’s not particularly challenging. What really makes this game worth playing is its gritty sci-fi story and engaging characters. The mix of oddball characters work perfectly together to make you experience a rollercoaster of emotions, and piecing together all the threads of the story will reveal some surprising plot twists.
AI: The Somnium Files review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.