Publisher: Clockwork Bird
Developer: Clockwork Bird
Release Date: 04/20/2021
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The morals of AI behavior have always been a question. How close should they get to human emotion? Would they be considered people? Should they be considered and treated like machines? What happens if one becomes rogue and starts feeling outside of its programmed emotions? Many games, books, and movies have explored this concept. The movie A.I., Bicentennial Man, I, Robot, Isaac Asimov’s novels, and most recently with Detroit: Become Human. It’s a fascinating concept that becomes closer to reality as technology advances. With cloud-based AIs like Siri, Google, Bixby, and Cortana, and realistic-looking robots that have been created, this could be the future within the next 10-15 years.
Silicon Dreams puts you in the eyes of a robot interrogator for a mega-corporation called Kronos. Kronos creates bots for service and work and must keep a close eye on any that might be considered rogue. The game is mostly basic visually, but you spend 90% of your time on the interrogation screen. You click around on questions and try to gain the responses and information Kronos asks of you. Each case is different and you also interrogate some humans. At first, this will become confusing and you won’t be sure what the strategy is. As time goes on you are contacted by a rogue robot who wants to start a revolution. You end up interviewing robots that have gone rogue, or what Kronos thinks has gone rogue, and it’s your job to get as much information as possible. Some robots are easy to crack and some require trust.
As you go on you will realize that emotions are the main way to get what you want. There’s a wheel pie chart with different emotions and as you talk to the subjects that slice will flash and the graph will adjust. Some robots aren’t supposed to feel certain emotions and Kronos might ask you to observe this and the end report you fill out might ask this question. Of course, your own morals come into play here and it’s one of the few games I’ve played where I was torn between helping out Kronos and wanting to help the robot revolution. Every single interaction will sway you either way as you will be afraid of being decommissioned yourself and getting caught if you help and you never know if what you’re doing is correct in either direction. The mystery is good and it’s akin to how you might navigate these situations in real life. Kronos promises private quarters and a more lavish lifestyle if you cooperate, but then you see a news article at the end of each day talking about the robot revolution and you sympathize with the stories and situations of the subjects. You want to just do your job and keep your head down, but you also have a chance to change the world.
This leads to different outcomes as you play. I was so torn between not wanting to help either side that my company points kept dropping to the point where I was interrogated myself. I also screwed up that interview by playing the neutral party and I got a bad ending. There’s tons of replay value here and I intend to be for either side solely so I can see what end I get. However, this also goes for interviews. I would exhaust all my options and be unable to invoke the emotion I needed to get the correct information. I had to choose to either let the subject go, send it to maintenance for a memory wipe, or decommission. This is one of the hardest choices to make and what eventually can piss off Kronos the most. They want to keep a clean image and if you let deviant robots free it makes them look bad. I did eventually get my company points to 60/100 and acquired the ability to invoke and sway the robot’s emotions. You also get to cuff them to invoke fear and anger and sometimes this is the last resort if you end up choosing the wrong responses and wind up not getting everything you need.
Outside of all the interviews, there’s nothing else to do. The visuals are very basic, while not ugly, there’s no voice acting which would have added some character to everyone, and the Blade Runner-style Voight-Kampff iris vision is just for show. Same thing with the option to show camera angles. You’re never close enough to see emotion visually which would have added another layer to the overall gameplay. As it is your only indicator is the text itself and the emotion pie chart.
Overall, Silicon Dreams is a fantastic text adventure that pushes the moral boundary of AI as humans and makes you think with every mouse click. I had to make sure I even talked about certain topics in a certain order to open up trust first before talking about the actual reason why the subject was with me. Sometimes this worked and sometimes it didn’t, but that’s part of all the fun in this game.