Encodya feels like a game of two parts – each belonging in a different decade. On one hand, you have the incredible presentation (for the genre at any rate): a stunningly-realised dystopian future, immersive audio, solid writing and voice work, and amazing music. On the other hand, you have anachronistic gameplay mechanics: think pixel-hunting and restrictive, cryptic solutions to puzzles.
Set in Neo Berlin, in 2062, you take control of Tina, a nine-year-old orphan, and her “nanny” robot SAM-53 (seemingly part of an initiative to encourage people to have children in a passionless future). The city is run by corporations, with nefarious and complicit bureaucrats only serving business interests and self-enrichment. Cyber-junkies roam the streets, dealing with poverty by spending their lives in a VR world. It’s a compelling setup that’ll take you from the real world into cyberspace.
After getting you to grips with the state of the world and basic gameplay mechanics during a lengthy prologue and opening chapter, things kick off in earnest when Tina discovers a message from her long-lost father, tasking her with a mission to save the citizens of Neo Berlin from corporate enslavement. From this point onwards, the locations you explore become more varied and the NPCs weirder, yet the puzzles stay much the same.
At its most basic, Encodya is a classic point-and-click adventure: talk to NPCs to find out what they need, hunt for key objects, combine those objects, use newly-fashioned objects, and make some narrative progress. It’s a tried-and-tested formula that has evolved only slightly over the years, primarily in an attempt to make the genre more accessible. Unfortunately, despite offering a hint system, Encodya feels far from accessible.
Encodya offers two difficulties: one that offers no help whatsoever (tied to an achievement for those that care), and one that allows Tina to both ask SAM-53 for puzzle hints and highlight collectable objects on the ground (albeit just barely). Regardless of your choice, Encodya does not provide an option to highlight interactable objects in the world – many of which are tiny and easy to miss in the detailed backdrops – or note important conversation threads.
Puzzles only have one correct solution and items can only be combined in a specific order (despite some objects making way more sense in the scenario). Some conversations require you to repeat the first few lines of a conversation before discovering a branching path that may lead to new information. This may have been a given in the early ‘90s when this genre emerged but in a game that places so much emphasis on its narrative and core themes, forcing the player into systematic pixel hunts and repeated dialogue is a poor design choice.
Consequently, each chapter followed the same basic pattern for me: run around systematically pixel-hunting for collectable items and interactable objects (half of which exist as secrets or red herrings), exhaust all lines of dialogue looking for key conversations, attempt to combine and use every item, the finally have an “ah-ha!” moment that allowed me to rapidly complete several tasks and make progress. Tings get more streamlined in later chapters – and it feels like the devs are playing it for laughs – but that doesn’t stop the mechanics from feeling dated.
What kept me pushing through the frustrating gameplay was the intriguing narrative and presentation. Encodya’s world feels remarkable alive for a collection of 2.5D environments. The art design, visual effects, bustling NPCs and vehicles, ambient audio, and moody soundtrack all come together to create an incredible atmosphere. The writing – and the voice-work that goes with it – is sharp, charming, and always heartfelt. Despite some cringe-worthy pop culture references and fourth-wall-breaking jokes, the story tackles some heavy themes with skill.
It is just a pity then that Encodya feels so inaccessible and frustrating at times, completely breaking the flow of the narrative when you get stuck trying to figure out what obscure the solution the game demands. The well-realised world feels so immersive, the quirky characters all have something thoughtful to say, and solving puzzles – when you’ve finally found all the right items – does offer some old-school thrills. Unfortunately, Encodya is best suited to older players who grew up playing point-and-click games from the ‘90s; players who still enjoy pixel-hunting and brute-forcing cryptic solutions.
- Publisher: Assemble Entertainment
- Developers: Chaosmonger Studio, Nicola Piovesan
- Platforms: PC
This game can be purchased for £21.99 here on steam.
Enjoy the review? want to read more of our reviews? then click right here to be whisked away to the realm of our opinions.