Void and Meddler is an episodic, cyberpunk point and click adventure game by French developers NO cvt. The game follows Fyn, a morose nightclub DJ with no memory of the past two years, who seeks to make sense of her life by looking for ‘pure’ memories in a synthetic future. As with all point and clicks, the player must traverse the different locations, interacting with the environment to solve puzzles and progress the story.
In the first episode of the game, you guide Fyn through the grimy, neon-lit urban setting. The world reminded me a lot of Blade Runner, with the visuals bearing a striking resemblance to the cinematography of Ridley Scott’s film. This is no coincidence, either, as the developers cite the work of Philip K. Dick, writer of the novel on which Blade Runner is based, as a primary influence.
The pixelated characters and expertly drawn, ambient backgrounds help set the techno-hell tone and visually represents Fynn’s view of the world; everyone is a blank, emotionless robot. It’s a world that feels empty and brainwashed. A world where technology has emboldened the seedy side of society; where convenience stores sell lifeless dolls with emotion chips so lonely folk can experience companionship and intimacy; where holograms walk the street instead of tangible people, showing how technology has distanced humanity rather than bring it closer together; and where memories are bought and sold like canned foods. Oh, and there are also anthropomorphic frogs and birds walking around. It’s a nightmarish place indeed.
The soundtrack is suitably moody, albeit very repetitive. Along with the visuals, it was one of the few things I truly admired about Void and Meddler. Lead developers Dorian Sred and Trevor Reveur are both musicians, so it makes sense that the soundtrack is the game’s strong point. The music fits perfectly with the world, emanating a mysterious quality. Yet another of the game’s influences shines through in the music, with the steady techno dance beats being reminiscent of the soundtrack to Nicolas Winding Refn’s neo-noir, Drive.
The overriding problem I had with the game, which becomes jarringly apparent in the first screen, is the writing. Fyn is a thoroughly unlikable character, infected with such a sullen mood that it is hard to ever care for her. She makes harshly cynical comments, indulges in drugs, makes obscene hand gestures to the player, and shows a violent attitude to strangers. I honestly can’t remember the last time I so passionately hated the main character of a game. The relationship between player and hero is so important, and when the player feels deep animosity to the character, it creates a negative attitude towards completing the game’s objectives.
The writing here often verges on overly portentous musings, trying to make Fyn into a kind of Travis Bickle/Rorschach-esque character. She is the archetype of a bruised and battered disillusioned soul—an angry poet. She looks on her fellow human beings, as well as mutant-bird people, with disgust and contempt, which she makes all too clear with painfully self-serious metaphors. The problem is, where characters such as Rorschach and Travis Bickle had relatability in their anger, due to them displaying vigilant moral codes, Fyn is just downright repulsive. Her incessant whining is enough to make even Holden Caulfield tell her to lighten up.
It wouldn’t be so bad if every line didn’t sound like she was trying out material for an amateur poetry night at the college campus. It isn’t just Fyn who speaks in such a way, either, as most of the characters you meet have a similarly banal turn of phrase. One patron of a nightclub states, rather profoundly, “my glass is half broken and half OK, I drink from the broken side.” What a fun guy. My point is that the dialogue put an instant barrier between the world and the player as nobody speaks like an actual person. It’s hard to feel anything for the characters or care about the story when everyone talks in such a false way.
There is also something a little off with the translation. Void and Meddler is a French game, and its text obviously had an awkward transfer to English. This turns out to be a major problem as, trust me, the game doesn’t need to be any more confusing than it already is. Dropping you straight into the odd world with very little in the way of exposition, the game is then made even more cryptic through dodgy grammar and strange word choice. For an experience that is so dependent on its text, this is unacceptable, and the team at NO cvt need to sort out the English translation for future episodes.
As for the puzzles themselves, the integral part of any point and click adventure, they are quite nondescript. Even though I did get stuck in Void and Meddler for long stretches of time, the puzzles were not difficult to work out at all. The only reason I would get stuck was due to having missed a necessary item because I had failed to check every corner of every location and use the pick-up action on every interactable object. It doesn’t help that some objects can only be obtained after you have completed other certain interactions, making it all too easy to miss an important addition to your inventory. This inevitably leads to tedious backtracking through all of the environments.
That, for me, is a cardinal sin of any puzzle game—when the difficulty arises not from the puzzle itself but from simply missing an essential ingredient. It’s a very fun and rewarding experience to have to rack your brains over an ingeniously crafted brainteaser and then finally come up with the solution. It isn’t so much fun though when you know the solution but have to search laboriously all over for the one missing element.
I was also left longing for a faster form of movement. Even the running option feels a little slow and weirdly inconsistent. I’m not sure if this was a glitch, but there was one large area where I was simply unable to sprint, which became gradually more infuriating as I was required to backtrack through the area several times.
The game does offer different solutions to the same puzzles, as well as some optional ones. I like the idea as it’s an interesting twist on the point and click gameplay, but it doesn’t really make much of an improvement when the puzzles are as uninteresting as they are.
Void and Meddler squanders its well-crafted dystopian setting with subpar gameplay and a detestable main character. It’s a shame, too, because the 80’s sci-fi inspired aesthetic is appealing, and the music pounds with appropriate gloom. You may very well say that this characterization of Fyn is deliberate, that she is an emblem of the corrupt world. OK, fine, but it should never be the aim to create a main character whose company quickly becomes excruciatingly unbearable, no matter what universe they inhabit. A little congeniality would go a long way.
This review is based on the PC version of the game.
Void and Meddler features some appealing background art and a great visceral soundtrack, but poor writing and lacklustre gameplay make the overall experience as dull and miserable as its main protagonist.