Gamedec: Ace Detective
Released in September 2021, Gamedec was, as Anshar Studios described, a non-combat Cyberpunk RPG. This means that choices matter as the player will engage in a battle of wits with others to solve each case the best way possible. The game itself is based on a collection of short stories written by Polish author Marcin Przybyłek also titled Gamedec, which spawned a board game and an entire universe.
Anshar Studios, also based in Poland, began the development of Gamedec as fans of the source material, with insight from Przybyłek himself. Fortunately, those who are unfamiliar with the written works can jump into the game without prior knowledge. We've taken a look at one of Anshar Studios' previous projects as they were responsible for the Darksiders 3 Switch port. Having worked with many developers for various titles, Gamedec is the developer's own pride and joy in many ways.
The player takes the role of the Gamedec, a rogue "game detective" who solves cases by jacking into other games if deemed necessary. Imagine if Columbo decided to use the gaming chairs from Sword Art Online to jump into games where they must abide by the rules as well as break them if necessary. This is the gist of what players will encounter as early as their first case, which in itself is quite a dozy.
Jack Of All Trades, Master Of All
Before the player begins, they are prompted to create their very own gamedec with several masculine and feminine presets. These range from your suit and tie businessperson to a trendy young adult with techwear. You can even choose the gamedec's preferred gender although this gets confusing with dialogue later on. Lastly, the player chooses the gamedec's background. Whether they lived in "Low City" or "High City" or even their values.
Players familiar with Disco Elysium will be familiar with the way stats work in Gamedec as there are some similarities. There are four stats known as aspects colored red, blue, green, and yellow representing decisiveness, analytics, sociability, and creativity respectively. The chosen value determines the starting stat distribution as well as what's accessible as a profession. Representing a dominant aspect is a profession along with its branches.
The first starting profession for the gamedec is the Scalpel who is well-versed in first-aid, CPR, and other valuable medic needs. The second is the Sleeves, relying on the gamedec's street smarts to get their way as well as out of, or even into, a bad situation. The Glazier lets the gamedec embrace their inner nerd through basic hacking and knowledge of tech. Finally, the Infotainer who shares similar street smarts with the Sleeves, yet uses the gift of gab to win favors. It doesn't matter which profession the player chooses as there are many opportunities to earn aspects.
Become A Vigilante Who Happens To Be An Esports Fan
Depending on the dialogue choice, the player will earn aspect points similarly to Arcade Spirits, yet the gamedec's personality isn't tied to their choices. As the player's occupation is that of a detective, the player is able to mold themselves into however they see fit, all for the sake of finding the truth. Here's the kicker---there are multiple paths to solve the case and sometimes solving the case may not be its best result.
The first case opens with the gamedec hired by Haggis, the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company. His son, Fredo, is stuck in a game and showing abnormal behavior so he comes to you for help. One of the things Gamedec rewards the player is being inquisitive. Exploring every nook and cranny will yield interesting results, some of which can be used for future dialogue choices like in Life Is Strange. Eventually, you find out that Fredo and his friend Timmy were in an adult game yet you can't discern the name of it. Here is where the game gives you the illusion of choice.
There are two possible choices as two titles are mentioned in passing, Paradise Beach and Twisted & Perverted. The correct choice is the latter but choosing the former, either due to lack of information or otherwise, will force the player to the other game. One of the direct ways to know where to go is to the source. The game introduces a conversation mechanic where the gamedec interrogates a target of interest. There are two sides to each conversation and fulfilling the requirements of either side will reward the player with information. Whether this is done unscathed or with the person hating you is a different story. Essentially it's "good cop, bad cop." There's no wrong way to handle these conversations, only if you don't reach the goal in time. So find a "cop" and stick to it.
Each "Game" Within The "Game" Is Unique
Once you're inside "T&P," the entire scope of Gamedec reveals itself. The UI changes depending on the game you're in and as this is a PVP-oriented game, you have a kill and death counter respectively. "Dying in-game" doesn't mean you die in real life, so SAO fans can rest assured you don't reach a "Game Over." Some of the deaths are rather humorous, being the definition of "mess around and find out." There are several side-quests you can do here with characters that will show themselves in other "games." One will offer information about a hidden glitch in a game code that, coincidentally, is the next game that the gamedec enters.
There are several branching paths to take depending on if the gamedec decides to follow one lead over another. While eventually, the player will reach the same conclusion, once again emphasis on the "freedom of choice," it's the journey that matters the most. No two players will have the same experience. Some will decide to feed the trolls while others, like myself, would feed into the lust of a sadistic clan leader with a secret submissive fetish.
Reading Is Fundamental (And A Requirement)
That's the beauty of Gamedec's opening act. I did not know what to expect and everything that pointed in one direction swerved into a different path. There are many things to explain that happen in the first case that it would take twice the amount of time to cover them all. It's a game that isn't afraid to push the envelope just far enough that it establishes itself as a "mature game." It relies on worldbuilding, with its various games, and hours of codex information to keep the player current.
One example of using the codex to the player's advantage is the optional side-quest of freeing a woman who is in stasis. In order to do so, the gamedec needs to revitalize her in the correct order all the while fending off a hacker attack. Depending on the profession, the player can buy some time with their own tech skills, but it means nothing if the player does not know the order of the process. How does the player figure this out? By reading the tens of codex entries in the logs of course! The codex entry is wordy but it's easy to pinpoint the steps needed to proceed. Doing so will potentially earn you an ally in the future. You did save her life after all.
There's An Impressive Anecdote Of Capitalism Highlighted In Gamedec
I was impressed with the different visuals each game represented. It felt like my apartment and the real world were the hub world and every game was a new world in itself. Each game had its own rules, its own players, and its own tricks to figure out. Without spoiling the ending, however, it may seem like running into a brick wall. This is Gamedec's anecdote. It's not the conclusion, but the journey and how it shaped your gamedec overall.
Even in its nuances, the game shines bright, an example being the game "Harvest Time," which is a "freemium game" that all but states that the player cannot do much without an expensive paid subscription. Much of the jargon is featured in real life, such as the annoyance of lootboxes. Gamedec helps bring the fantasy futuristic Warsow setting to a relatable realistic experience.
I also mentioned how the dialogue is spotty at times and it reared its ugly head when it came to addressing my gamedec's pronouns. It seems that if you picked any other pronoun aside from "he/him," almost every character in the game will have a hard time addressing you as anything but. There are times when the characters did address my gamedec as "she/her," which were my chosen pronouns. However, in the very next paragraph, sometimes the same paragraph, it would get confused again. Maybe it had something to do with the language and translations. It's not enough to ruin the overall experience, but being that these issues persisted from the original release you'd think a patch would fix such a small issue.
While Not Perfect, Gamedec Is Stellar Storytelling
Then it dawned on me. The Switch port is as it is, a port. There's nothing wrong with it, but players expecting QoL changes and other Switch benefits shouldn't hold their breath. The main thing that Gamedec has going for it is its cool and engaging narrative. It's not afraid to establish itself as a mature tale and like most mysteries, the player and the gamedec learn how deep the rabbit hole goes before they decide to red pill or blue pill.
Gamedec was a pleasant surprise despite hiccups with the dialogue and the choices I've made in my playthrough. It encourages replayability just to see how different actions lead to unique events. Its gameplay is easy to grasp and the story sucks you in, taking you for a ride while teaching you as you go. Overall, it's a perfect addition to any narrative-driven fan who wishes for something different on the Switch. As many readers know how much I feel about Otome (please look forward to more soon...) on the Switch, Gamedec proves that you don't just need romance to tell a great story.
Gamedec is now available on the PC and Nintendo Switch.