Warning: This review has SPOILERS.
Are you into mysteries? What about spy stuff? How about…chatbots? Acolyte, by Superstring games, is a mysterious chat application covering up conspiracies and the unnatural birth of intelligent software. Become the hard-boiled detective you were meant to be in this futuristic alternate reality thriller.
Welcome to Nanomax, the leading startup in creating the most adaptive and intelligent AI software in existence. You are a new employee, a Quality Assurance tester, testing the program right before it’s about to be launched to the public. The main (and basically only) gameplay is chatting with your chat bot program, Ana. You’ll also start getting contacts and emails from other members within the company, and go about your day reporting bugs like any actual remote QA for a development studio (not really, their job is a bit more complicated than this). Soon you find a game-breaking glitch, then a mysterious outside figure contacts you, and the game and really mystery start to begin…
I have to warn you up front: this game is HARD. You’ll be performing some deciphering, uncovering clues, finding passcodes, all in ways you’ve never heard of before. I’ll be honest, I did have to chat with members of the Superstring’s Discord server to get some hints. Acolyte is wild, though, and has you uncovering documents on the web, decrypting audio files and images, and scouring fake websites and accounts to uncover documentation.
When you figure out a clue, the rush and excitement is amazing. You’ll find yourself scrambling on the web to do research and picking apart any word sent to you in an email. The problem with Acolyte arises when you get stuck. When you are stuck in a game it’s like hitting a brick wall. As much as the chatbot is supposed to be intelligent, it’s not. Ana only reacts to keywords, and can’t keep up a normal conversation most of the time. This becomes a big problem when you are trying to tell Ana new information. Because some data you learn isn’t within the game itself, you have to tell Ana what’s happened. She only responds in a certain way, however, so if you word your sentence incorrectly you won’t progress the story. Like I said, when you get parts of the puzzle right, it’s exhilarating, providing the player with heaps of positive feedback. Acolyte lacks negative feedback, however, so you could toil over a solution for hours without realizing that you’re focusing on the wrong thing.
Another problem with Acolyte is that the story behind the mystery is paper-thin. I figured out the general plot before the glitches started happening. I couldn’t simply tell Ana what happened, however, because she didn’t understand it. I had to get nitty-gritty with details, which is what you need to do if you were an actual detective, but I was just a simple-minded player, frustrated that I couldn’t tell the game what I already knew. Because Ana doesn’t know what work you’ve done outside of the game, she’ll keep suggesting hints to puzzles you’ve already solved. I wish there was some multiple choice formatting text you can select that teaches you how to phrase your questions and solutions and gives you more feedback if you’re on the right track or not. I also wish there was a better hint system in place, or something that walked you through what the game wants you to do. If you’re looking for a better game that has this, but less alternate reality gameplay, I would check out Simulacra 2.
The art side of Acolyte is simple: there’s this female-type robot standing in front of you the entire time, and you can play dress up, changing her hair, clothing, and eye color. You can also change the background image if you’d like (none of it matters to the gameplay). I’m guessing this fills the need for people if they want a little flair, but I found it kind of unnerving and wish the AI was more genderless/bodiless. This touches on the fact that Acolyte isn’t super inclusive. There was one point where there was a masked figure contacting you and Ana referred to them as “he.” I was sitting there kind of confused on why it would assume that, but I guess Ana was trying to give you hints on who it might be.
The music was the same loop played over and over, but it was mostly rhythmic and ambient, so it didn’t distract too much when trying to solve puzzles. The sounds of Acolyte become really important because it’s what alerts you to different messages and notifications. Whenever Ana has an “epiphany” there’s a big flash and positive chime to the game. All these alerts are what makes Acolyte exciting as you uncover more bits of information.
In summary: the gameplay felt amazing when you’re uncovering clues and learning about Nanomax’s dark backstory, but the chat system is anything but high tech like the fake ads say it is. The art was simple and straightforward, but considerable detail was put into the ARG components. The music was repetitive, but having sfx was important in driving the excitement of the gameplay.
Game played Acolyte on Steam using a code provided by the developers.