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Although nostalgic, VirtuaVerse renews cyberpunk with a point-and-click game

Article originally published at TAB UOL, in Portuguese.

It’s been a while since I first started following the Finnish label Blood Music. In spite of being small, the label has reached a broad international audience with the release of iconic albums and completist box sets of metal bands such as Emperor and Moonsorrow. Now they are focusing on releasing retrowave musicians including Perturbator and GosT.

So after publishing an interview with Perturbator, I had the opportunity to learn about a new endeavor headed by Blood Music: becoming a videogame publisher. Although this might sound a bit disconnected at first, the truth is that the label already worked a couple of times with the pixel artist Valenberg, such as it was the case for the amazing music video for Perturbator’s Sentient. In other words, the videogame aesthetics could always be found in Blood Music’s identity, and now alongside the developer Theta Division Games, they had the opportunity to release a point-and-click cyberpunk adventure game named “VirtuaVerse.”

With the script and the soundtrack composed by the band Master Boot Record, which also carries Blood Music’s label, the game is the ultimate cyberpunk cliché, though this is something not necessarily bad. In fact, as I already mentioned here before, we live in metamodern times when nostalgia and irony overrules our tastes and habits when we find ourselves of posting memes to conceal depression. VirtuaVerse’s narrative is thus toned a bit after this idea as we learn more about its protagonist Nathan, who needs to find out what happened to his missing girlfriend, an augmented reality graffiti artist and former musician.

The game thus invites us to navigate through the highly detailed depiction of Nathan’s apartment and futuristic city. Since VirtuaVerse is a point-and-click game, some important elements may be very well hidden in the scenarios finely designed by Valenberg. This is a feature that could make the game quite challenging, especially for someone who is not used to the genre that thrived in the 80s and 90s.

In terms of narrative, it’s interesting to follow Nathan’s journey as the character himself has an acid humor that often crashes with random people that may have an even harsher personality to the point of becoming quite stereotypical as is the case for the AR graffiti artists that use their own private visual language to communicate, hackers delving in obscure missions against big corporations, homeless people addicted to virtual reality, stimulant drug dealers, and smugglers of retro gadgets.

There are some moments when the player can be sure that this is a story written by a millennial, especially when Nathan meets a group of drone racer teens that make fun of the protagonist’s age. But as much as many millennials do, Nathan knows that there is a lot of things going on though he is not following them too closely. Still, most of this novelty is nevertheless something similar to what has already been seen before, the difference lies in the protagonist’s attitude of feeling he is “too old and tired” for that — such as is the case for TikTok’s latest Brazilian womanizer.

But one thing to praise Master Boot Record is that the script shows how much they are following the news on technology and subcultural trends. This can be found when the characters discuss about a supposedly last live band on Earth (which turns out to be fake), or in techie jokes such as is the case when Nathan needs credits in cryptocurrency. When talking to an NPC, they share with Nathan a long sequence of letters and numbers that compose their digital wallet ID. This is when the protagonists adds: and so we thought that cryptocurrencies would make our life easier.

On the other hand, VirtuaVerse still features other “worlds” where the protagonist travels to, thus breaking with the common sense of cyberpunk narratives solely focused on rainy megalopolis crowded by skyscrapers and holographic advertising. In Nuwaka, we may speculate what an Afrofuturist city would look like if we found that technology could blend with nature and ancestry. And such experience goes beyond visual delight: the soundtrack is also finely tuned to the tour pack.

Now, when Nathan arrives to Jakharrak, we meet a future that combines the reddish desert of “Dune” and “Blade Runner 2049,” although I think the devs were probably thinking more of the movie “Warhead”. There we find a scenario that combines an arid apocalypse scattered with robots disposed at “the end of the world” — an imagery frequently visited in other titles, such as is the case for the robotic hell of “Detroit: Become Human.”

Similarly to Nuwaka, in Satnajoskull we are once again invited to meet a futuristic scenario where technology blends with ancestry, but this time using the reference of Nordic mythology. It is interesting to see how VirtuaVerse delves into this blend of magic and technology in a similar way as Shadowrun, though here we are also approached by the desire of transcendence be it through ancestry or religion, but mostly in the way science and technology could be fulfilling desires once contemplated only by faith, as described by Yuval Noah Harari in “Homo deus.”

Finally, I can only stress how VirtuaVerse is much more than a nostalgic game that combines cyberpunk and point-and-click clichés. It is in the detail of the dialogues and landscapes that we discover a future both populated by techno-shamans and AR graffiti artists, which means one does not need to erase the other. If the already outworn quotation by William Gibson (“the future is already here, just not evenly distributed”) says anything at all, it is what VirtuaVerse comes to prove: the future is indeed distributed, but it does not need to be in an even way as globalization wants it to be. Either on Earth or in space, there is place for the future to be plural.

Written by

Brazilian journalist, MA in Semiotics and PhD candidate in Visual Arts. Head of innovation and futurism at UP Lab. Cyberpunk enthusiast and researcher.

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