Arts video game review

Espionage, cults, explosions, oh my!

Witty banter highlights spy water cooler talk in ‘The Low Road’

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Noomi examines a recruitment flyer for Bellows Corporate Investigations Ltd.
Courtesy of XGen Studios

The Low Road
Developed by XGen Studios
Published by XGen Studios
Rated E for Everyone
Available on Mac OSX, Switch, and Windows

Noomi Kovacs has just graduated top of her class at LeCarre Institute for Exceptional Spies (L.I.E.S.). Now she’s newly employed at Penderbrook Motors’ Division of Outside Intelligence, but she’s barred from the exciting life of a field work spy by her risk-averse boss, Barney “Turn” Turner. Deciding to put her spy training to use, Noomi quickly finds a way to get herself out into the field.

Set in the world of the 1970s automobile industry and taking influences from 1970s television, The Low Road has an undeniable charm to it, from the groovy, head-bobbing soundtrack (courtesy of Eric Cheng) to the character design. The witty dialogue between characters also works well in setting a good first impression, leading players to quickly understand the nuanced personalities of every character introduced throughout the game. The amazing voice talents also contribute to bringing every character another depth of realism and believability. Emily Bachynski is the go-getter Noomi. Leif Oleson-Cormack expertly plays both the nasal-voiced, stuck up Thornton Penderbrook and the charming, cowboy spy Horace Hayes.

In terms of game mechanics, the game is fairly simple. It takes from the usual conventions of point-and-click adventure games. The player clicks where they want the character to go. They click to interact with objects of interest or to pick up new inventory items. They can also drag items from their inventory into the environment in order to use them on the environment. However, the main drawback from using the point-and-click convention is that the player can sometimes find themselves at a loss of what to do.

Say you click all over the place and interact with everything in sight, but you’ve combed the same three rooms countless times with no new leads. The point-and-click system sometimes has no real way in leading you down the path of plot continuation. It’s only when you remember to try the one thing you may have forgotten to do five minutes ago will the game then prompt you with a piece of revealing dialogue.

In contrast, the game does do a good job in passive narration to give you closer insights to the overall story. For example, once Noomi breaks into Rev Inc’s base, the player experiences a long sequence of her crawling through the company’s air ducts. In the midst of this infiltration, the missing Sebastian Cartwright’s voice can be heard over the company PA system, which reveals a number of things about Rev Inc’s company atmosphere prior to Noomi actually entering it.

Another thing to note are the first-person minigames. The integration is a clever concept. Players get to experience what it’s like to disable a security system or decode a door lock by seeing it from a first-person perspective. However, the minigames at some point become more cumbersome or even frustrating than fun. There are some that are relatively easy to solve and then others where the actual solution isn’t entirely clear. In hindsight, the latter might be appreciated for its cleverness, but there’s no satisfaction in getting a puzzle right through random, haphazardous guessing.

Overall, despite its gameplay pitfalls, The Low Road is a game with beautiful style and endearing characters. Even when you lose, the game does a good job in leading players down acceptable False Endings, before, like an old-school VHS tape, rewinding back to the losing point. A chill four-hour play, I would recommend this game to any lover of the classic spy genre or to any gamer looking for a short, enjoyable game.