It is the year 1959B, and the Soviets are up to no good. I know this because I am a secret agent, an invisible tool my government deploys for tasks requiring the utmost discretion – like, say, stealing a Soviet hard drive from their imposing headquarters. Sounds difficult? Maybe for an amateur like you – but professionals like me always have a plan. Naturally, it begins in the park outside the headquarters. I walk up to my contact and say hello to him. “WHERE IS THE MACGUFFIN?” he screams at me, with impressive volume. Confused, I ask him again, and get the same reply, only louder. I wander off to ask a passerby what a MacGuffin is, but the first guy I run into asks me for some gum. I hand my last stick to him, and he blows a bubble so big that it bursts in his face, blinding him. He then, naturally, rolls into oncoming traffic.
This isn’t what I signed up for.
JAZZPUNK SACRIFICES EVERYTHING FOR LAUGHS
Jazzpunk bills itself as a different kind of comedy adventure game, a first-person take on the genre that LucasArts perfected back in the early ‘90s with games like the Monkey Island series. Keeping with modern tastes, Necrophone eschews the structured stories and rock-hard puzzles that defined the genre for a frenetic, free-wheeling tone that relies heavily on cultural touchstones and absurdity to keep the player invested. Investigate an out-of-place wedding cake, for example, and you’ll suddenly find yourself in a matrimony-themed Quake 3 clone, complete with scripted chat-speak for the bots you’re murdering with a champagne bottle. Moments like these do much to keep the player invested, but even the best of them serve merely as momentary distractions from the shaky core gameplay.
THE GAME IS LITTLE MORE THAN AN INTERACTIVE GAG REEL
What is the core gameplay, anyway? It’s puzzle-solving, of course – at least, according to the game’s documentation. In reality, the game is much too concerned with setting up its own one-off jokes to focus on any problem that might challenge your forward momentum in any way. You need to get somewhere, and someone is blocking the path; the person tells you they’re afraid of spiders, so, naturally, you collect a bunch of spiders in a jar and throw it at them. Hilarious, yes, but I was expecting something that required a little more brainpower than your average God of War puzzle. Without the genre’s challenge to reign you in, the game turns into little more than an interactive gag reel edited by a tired comedian who is quickly exhausting his trove of wacky ideas. Things get especially dicey in the last hour, when the game gets bored of its own structure and decides to “raise the stakes” in the clumsiest way imaginable.
Still, despite all its shortcomings, it’s hard not to like Jazzpunk. In this humorless era of gaming, it’s one of the only productions brave enough to acknowledge that games can do more than just ceaseless melodrama. Like most games of its type, there will be some who feel that its current price of $15 is too much for its three-hour runtime, and there is no denying that its brand of humor is rather divisive by design. None of that’s really important, though. Take it from a professional: if the idea of degaussing pigeons in a park with a railgun sounds fun, the Agency might have a place for you yet.
Jazzpunk is out now on Mac, PC (reviewed) and Linux.
The game was purchased by the reviewer.