This is the Zodiac Speaking (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Renan Fontes 31.10.2020

Review for This is the Zodiac Speaking on Nintendo Switch

The Zodiac murders have remained unsolved since 1969. The more time passes, the more alluring the case becomes; the Zodiac Killer and his killings have inspired films, songs, and now even video games. Following fictional journalist Robert Hartnell - loosely inspired by real-life Zodiac Killer victim and survivor Bryan Hartnell - This is the Zodiac Speaking offers an opportunity to immerse oneself in real horror through an interactive medium. Unfortunately, such an inspired and sensitive premise requires far tighter writing than This is the Zodiac Speaking offers. In spite of a strong atmosphere and compelling art direction, the Zodiac Killer's first major video game adaptation is almost farcical in execution

Unexpectedly considering the source material, This is the Zodiac Speaking is a mainly narrative-driven affair. The core gameplay loop plays from a first-person perspective, amounting to little more than what's expected of the average point-and-click adventure. In fact, the actual controls seem to emulate the genre's classic control scheme. The right joystick functions as WASD normally does - moving player character Robert - while the left joystick is used to actually interact with the overworld like a mouse would.

Visually, the title does a fine enough job at telegraphing what can be interacted with and what can't through its UI, but the lack of attention to detail in the world severely undermines an otherwise beautiful aesthetic. CGI shading and a moody colour palette lend California a noir quality that does wonders for the atmosphere. There's a welcome loneliness at the heart of the gameplay loop, but books with nothing written on the spine, foggy text on documents, and an abundance of holdover text (Robert has an award appropriately labeled "An Award") make it impossible to actually immerse in this space.

Not helping matters are the controls, which were clearly designed with a mouse in mind. Moving Robert around is simple enough but interacting with objects (especially when Robert's field of view is limited) is a genuine chore. "Mouse" navigation moves chaotically fast, to the point of being completely unreliable in the menu - a slap in the face as Robert has an internal monologue for virtually every item in the game that can only be accessed in the main menu. Triggering these audio logs requires clicking a small icon which actually proves to be the single hardest challenge in the game.

Screenshot for This is the Zodiac Speaking on Nintendo Switch

With a story focusing on a real-life serial killer, it's only fair that This is the Zodiac Speaking tries to feature the Zodiac Killer in some capacity. Unfortunately, the Zodiac Killer is used as a tangible boogeyman who can be avoided through light stealth mechanics. Far worse is that being caught by the Zodiac Killer is an act utterly devoid of tension, almost laughable both due to poor voice acting and lacklustre writing.

The script is far too on the nose for its own good, with Robert's monologues often veering into the melodramatic. Dialogue spills between sounding too modern and trying far too hard to ape the vernacular of the era. In the worst cases, fragmented word choices and awkward phrasing prevents the nuance a story about the Zodiac Killer needs from developing. Robert's own musings border on asinine, often rambling through inorganic chunks of text and clunkily dropping exposition that can't (or won't) be dropped elsewhere.

Robert's investigation into the Zodiac Killer also veers into the fantastical fairly quickly, ruining the allure of playing through a stylised - albeit still grounded - depiction of California during the Zodiac killings. Considering how slow-paced and otherwise non-action-oriented the gameplay is on a whole, it frankly seems strange to choose such an abstract approach to investigating the Zodiac Killer. It can be argued that Punch Puck Games want a degree of separation from the actual case, but why even make a game based on a real serial killer if that is the case?

When it comes down to it, what really kills the experience is the awful console performance. Playing on a TV is bad enough but anyone who plays exclusively on a Switch Lite will be looking at a rough playthrough. Not only is texture pop-in aggressive in outdoor areas (anywhere with trees is basically like playing through an early 3D game) but choppy textures are saved exclusively due to an eye for colour design. Whoever was helming the title's art direction deserves all the praise in the world for making what's a technical mess genuinely look quite pretty at times. At the end of the day, though, This is the Zodiac Speaking can only hide its blemishes for so long.

Screenshot for This is the Zodiac Speaking on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

4/10
Rated 4 out of 10

Subpar

This is the Zodiac Speaking sets itself up as a moody and mature take on a series of still unsolved murders, but the game in practice lacks a considerable amount of finesse. Beyond running poorly on the Nintendo Switch - to the point where anyone who exclusively plays undocked should avoid a purchase outright - the script is as overindulgent as it is clunky and what few attempts there are at building tension are downright comical. This is the Zodiac Speaking might have been worth suffering through the flaws if the game had tighter controls and ran better, but the Switch release simply isn't worth the money.

Developer

Punch Punk Games

Publisher

Klabater

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  4/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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