Encodya (Xbox Series S) Review

Does this console release of Encodya make for a more intuitive and forgiving point-and-click adventure, or does anachronistic gameplay still get in the way of the narrative pacing?
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Encodya – developed by Chaosmonger Studio and published by Assemble Entertainment – is a strange hybrid of anachronistic point-and-click gameplay with an engaging story and atmospheric presentation. You can easily find yourself immersed in its detailed world before that sensation is destroyed by another frustrating puzzle that requires an exact sequence of steps to make any progress.

Encodya is set in “Neo Berlin”, in the year 2062. The player alternates control between Tina, a nine-year-old orphan, and her loyal robot companion, SAM-53. It’s a future in which corporations run urban centers by backing corrupt bureaucrats only interested in self-enrichment. As automation and increasingly complex robots have drastically reduced the need for a human workforce, many citizens are now Cyber-junkies. They deal with poverty and a lack of purpose by spending their lives in a corporate-sponsored VR world, living out fantasy lives in cyberspace. As near-future narratives go, it’s a great setup that provides an excuse to travel through several key locations within the city and into a more diverse cyberspace setting.

Although some of the narrative beats are cliched and the story wholesome – Tina is in pursuit of her missing father to complete his secret project  – Encodya can feel tonally inconsistent. It often highlights the depressing and lonely situation many citizens find themselves in, but also plays on Tina’s youthful exuberance and hopefulness. This would be great were it not for several attempts at injecting fourth-wall-breaking humour, most of which feels forced or falls flat. The overarching narrative is one of Encodya’s strong points, but you’ll need to endure some cringe-worthy dialogue.

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Encodya is an incredibly busy game, with multiple tasks to achieve each chapter. Unfortunately, this all means many potential narrative roadblocks if you get stuck on a puzzle.

Encodya quickly gets you up to speed with the state of the world and basic gameplay loop during a lengthy prologue and opening chapter. You’ll swiftly discover that despite Encodya’s modern flourishes, it remains a point-and-click adventure rooted in the past. You talk to NPCs for information and quests, you hunt for interactable objects and key items, you combine items and use these newly-fashioned objects to solve puzzles, and, hopefully, make some narrative progress.

It’s a tried-and-tested formula that has slowly evolved to make the genre more accessible. However, even when you consider the hint systems offered by Encodya, it still feels far from accessible.

Encodya offers up two difficulties from the get-go: one that allows the player to highlight objects on the ground and ask SAM-53 for puzzle hints, another that removes these elements, some environmental clues, and adds an extra step to some puzzles. Thankfully, pixel hunting is less of an issue on consoles as interactable objects and key items are highlighted as you move a character close (which even gives away several secret interactions). As such, it’s much easier to identify important objects and key items quickly. However, one major issue from the original PC release remains unchanged – the inflexible puzzle solutions and lots of back-tracking.

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If you find yourself beating your head against the wall trying to figure out the correct sequence of events to solve a puzzle, you should also be aware several items are red herrings (though many are used in secret interactions).

Puzzles in Encodya only have one correct solution, which requires an exact sequence of events (think observations, dialogue triggers, combination order etc.) and allows for no substitutions – no matter how logical they may seem. This is something you’ll experience with the first major puzzle sequence in the prologue and the entirety of the first chapter. As a result, it can feel tiring to start each chapter running around systematically hunting for key items and interactable objects (several of which exist as red herrings or part of a secret interaction). When you encounter a character with plenty of dialogue options, you’ll need to exhaust all lines of investigation – through systematic repetition – until you unlock receive a clue or key item.

With a rough idea of what you need and an idea of how to solve a puzzle, you attempt to combine several items into something useful, shuffle around the sequence of your interactions, and finally figure out what the developers want of you. Of course, this can mean a lot of back-tracking and the fast-travel map only takes you to the central point of any location. There is an RNG system in place for several codes, but these changes between runs never alter the sequence of events you need to take.

Strangely, the puzzle logic and number of steps required feel more streamlined as you progress, but this doesn’t stop the core gameplay loop from feeling dated and disrespectful of your time. If you use it, the hint system is a good way to figure out the items you may need and potential actions, but you’ll still need to thrash out the correct sequence. Another disappointing element is the limited feedback from failed attempts at combining items or manipulating an object. There’s no humorous quip and only rare locations hint at the right approach. More often than not you’ll just hear generic quips like “not working” or “nah” from Tina, and “that’s incorrect” or “wrong!” from SAM-53.

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Even a simple hint like this – which indicates you’re on the right track but there’s an issue – is incredibly rare in Encodya. All too often, the only feedback you’ll get is “nope” or “wrong”.

To Encodya’s credit, I chose to push on and slowly grew to understand the underlying (and rigid) puzzle design. Despite several frustrating sequences, the intriguing narrative and immersive presentation proved a strong hook. Encodya’s 2.5D world manages to feel remarkably alive thanks to the cartoonish but detailed art design, ambient audio, shifting time-of-day, weather effects, and a moody soundtrack that wouldn’t feel out of place in Blade Runner. All these elements come together to create an unexpectedly atmospheric game. Despite several missteps, the bulk of the voice work is also sharp, charming, and heartfelt. The world may feel cold but the characters you encounter are usually warm.

The transition from a mouse-driven point-and-click adventure to a gamepad-driven one is a double-edged sword. As mentioned above, the reduction in pixel-hunting is a big plus, but the control scheme can feel janky when you directly move Tina or SAM-53 (what looks like a walkable area is often inconsistent). You have to jiggle the character around to highlight the right interaction when they’re closely spaced, slowly drag an object from the inventory to a location in the world, and deal with area transitions (some activate on proximity, others require finding the prompt). Overall, it works fine given the slow and methodical genre, but there are limitations.

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Encodya is full of lavishly designed locations that, when combined with great ambient audio and soundtrack, make it easy to immerse yourself in the experience.

Encodya on console leaves me feeling just as conflicted as the PC version. The anachronistic and frustrating puzzle-solving, coupled with plenty of back-tracking, can completely break the flow of the narrative and pull you out of the world. On the other hand, when you grasp the logic of a puzzle, and you’re making steady progress, the immersive setting, quirky characters, and engaging story make for a nostalgic point-and-click experience. Ultimately, Encodya is still best suited to players who grew up on ‘90s point-and-click games; those more willing to forgive the dated elements and focus on the positives. Despite falling into that category, I worry Encodya will offer too many roadblocks for most to enjoy.

An Xbox Series S review code for Encodya was provided to Gameblur by the Publisher

Encodya (Xbox Series S) Review

Encodya (Xbox Series S) Review
7 10 0 1
Encodya on console is a solid port of the PC version, with decent gamepad support. However, minimising the pixel-hunting element doesn't remedy the dated, inflexible, and often frustrating puzzle-solving. Failing to understand the exact order the developers want you to take to solve a problem creates a roadblock that breaks the narrative pacing. The immersive setting, quirky characters, and engaging story were a strong hook that pulled me back, but I feel Encodya is best suited to players who grew up on ‘90s point-and-click games and are willing to overlook the anachronistic puzzle design.
Encodya on console is a solid port of the PC version, with decent gamepad support. However, minimising the pixel-hunting element doesn't remedy the dated, inflexible, and often frustrating puzzle-solving. Failing to understand the exact order the developers want you to take to solve a problem creates a roadblock that breaks the narrative pacing. The immersive setting, quirky characters, and engaging story were a strong hook that pulled me back, but I feel Encodya is best suited to players who grew up on ‘90s point-and-click games and are willing to overlook the anachronistic puzzle design.
7/10
Total Score
  • Story
    8/10 Very Good
    There's very little subtlety and some tonal whiplash, but it's entertaining, wholesome, and uplifting.
  • Gameplay
    5/10 Neutral
    Your mileage may vary based on your experience with classic point-and-click games, but I found the overreliance on single-solution and inflexible puzzles grew frustrating over time.
  • Visuals
    8/10 Very Good
    Despite the cartoonish proportions for characters, the environment often feels incredibly detailed, stylised, and alive.
  • Audio
    7/10 Good
    Despite a limited number of tracks, the soundtrack is incredible and atmospheric. The voice work is also solid, but there are some notable duds.

The Good

  • A wholesome and heartfelt narrative that tackles several topical or near-future concerns
  • Lavish environments, immersive atmosphere, great soundtrack, and (mostly) decent voice work
  • Gamepad support means less pixel-hunting…
  • Puzzle advice from SAM-53 and more environmenta clues on the "easy" difficulty

The Bad

  • …but the gamepad is clunky when it comes to combining items or triggering hotspots in close proximity
  • Anachronistic, single-solution puzzles that require a very specific sequence of events to solve (something not covered by the hint system)
  • Little helpful or humorous puzzle feedback when getting it wrong
Total
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