If you’re interested in solving mysteries or exploring a post-noir, dystopian world, you’ll love playing spine† It has elements of a visual novel, but you really move around the world and have to interact with things and solve puzzles to move the story forward.
You play as a raccoon named Howard Lotor, a private detective in a bizarre version of Vancouver. There are zones within the city and a separation between animal species that just screams dystopia. Through Howard’s observations and experiences, you come across quite a few stereotypes about people living in certain areas of this post-noir Vancouver and even about yourself as a raccoon.
I don’t remember how long ago I first encountered spine, but I was browsing through Steam’s free games or prologues trying to find something to fill a lazy afternoon. After I played Backbone: Prologue, I was addicted. I wanted more of the game as soon as possible. Unfortunately I had to wait a while for the developers to finish the game and had to make do with their hilarious Twitter feed that’s full of raccoon memes.
I checked my Steam wishlist and found that I have added spine on my wish list in October 2019, and the game didn’t come out until June 2021. When the game finally came out almost two years later, I didn’t buy it. After seeing quite a few games released with high audience expectations, they were nothing but a disappointment (*cough* Cyberpunk 2077), I was hesitant to buy it before seeing reviews.
Then the reviews were mixed and I kept finding excuses not to buy Backbone and eventually forgot about the game until I saw it on Xbox Game Pass. After finally playing it, all I can say is that if a game seems interesting to you, you should just play it. Critic reviews and user reviews aren’t everything, and your opinion of a game will almost always differ from that of other individuals on Earth.
spine begins much like the prologue, with Howard meeting a new client and deciding whether to take her case. Odette, pictured below, is concerned about her husband, who has been missing for some time. It’s up to you to find out what happened to him and report back to Odette once you’ve solved the mystery.
When I first played the prologue, I thought the game would be a series of these individual cases, kind of like the Sherlock Holmes cases. Instead, the entire game flows from this one instance. Howard finds more and more information and reveals secrets of all kinds of people as he tries to solve this one mystery.
The game allows you to walk back and forth and occasionally climb as needed. As you walk around the world, you’ll see yellow icons appear if there’s someone you can talk to or something you can interact with. While the end of the game is fixed no matter which dialogue options you choose, your choices make a difference in what you learn during the adventure and the perspective you have at the end.
Usually, if Howard says something a character doesn’t like, the conversation just ends and there’s no way to go back and undo your original choice. So you have to be aware of what you really want to say or how much you want to push people to get information, at the risk of being shut down or discovered.
You have to solve a few “puzzles” to move forward, but they are pretty straightforward. For example, there is a case where you have to climb a building, but the ladder is a little too high. And then, wow! There is a tool nearby that you can pick up and use to pull down the ladder. These elements of the game were fun, albeit simple, because they kept you immersed in the experience.
It’s definitely a short experience, but all in all I’m glad I played it. Obviously I’m not spoiling the ending, but I have to say I can understand where the mixed reviews came from. Just like the last episode of How I met your motherhowever, you can’t throw away something great just because you don’t like the ending.
If you have Xbox Game Passcan you try it out spine free now. If not, you can buy the game at Steam† Xbox† play stationor epic games† Or, if you want to see if the game is for you before spending money, you can play Backbone: Prologue free on steam. spine coming to Nintendo Switch, Apple devices and Linux systems later, but not quite ready yet.