Indie games often get a free pass from people. Yes, that’s probably not a popular thing to say, but it’s true; because of the indie aspect that makes projects more intimate and less corporate-feeling, people feel compelled to bump up the ratings of indie games a bit to support the little guy. After all, everyone likes the cheer on the underdog. What happens, then, is that “games” that really have no business being called games end up with hilariously inflated reviews that don’t bother to mention all of the flaws, and people like me end up sucker-punched by games that would be lambasted if they were released by a bigger developer. Unfortunately for those who inflate the ratings of unworthy indie games, I’m a bit of a sociopath, willing to knock down big developers and little indie guys with an equal amount of vicious enthusiasm when I don’t enjoy something. The bottom line is this: I didn’t like Jazzpunk, and I don’t feel that it’s worth your time or money.
Short game, short review
This game is short, so this review will be equally short for the simple reason that there’s not a lot to talk about. In fact, Jazzpunk is shorter than most DLC that I’ve reviewed, even if you go around and do all of the “sidequests.” To give you an idea of just how short it is, Dishonored’s DLC missions (The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches) each consist of three “levels” that can be breezed through, and yet each manages to be longer than the entirety of this game. What’s truly funny is that those DLCs also include more fun things you can do.
What is freedom?
One of the things that sold me on this game in the first place was the idea that it gave you a lot of freedom to try creative things. As it turns out, that’s not true at all; while you inevitably end up doing some really weird things, it’s all very scripted and you’re never really given the opportunity to try anything particularly elaborate. I mean, Jazzpunk places a bunch of distractions around you, but you’re usually only able to do one or two things during those distractions. As an example, I found my way into a movie in the first level. Rather than being able to use my (few) items during the movie, I was given a cigar and a bucket of popcorn to harass other movie patrons with. That’s it—the entirety of that distraction. The entire game feels like this, too, throwing you into random situations while never allowing you the freedom to put your own personal touch on things.
What is humor?
I love funny games, and the premise of this game has a lot of potential: Jazzpunk takes place in an alternate 1950-60s that’s dominated by robots for no apparent reason. Missions are really just flimsy excuses to throw you into random locales filled with weirdness around every corner, and all of this has the potential to work. It doesn’t, though. The jokes end up being incredibly forced, coming across like a poster on an internet forum who’s constantly trying to force jokes where they don’t belong. The end result of this, of course, is that Jazzpunk’s potentially-funny material becomes embarrassing and forced, more an excuse to throw random punchlines at you than cleverly set up the joke to ensure that it lands. It has a tendency to reference all kinds of things ranging from culture to movies and even retro games, and these references may amuse some, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that I played through the entire game without cracking a smile once.
There’s no gameplay
This isn’t an exaggeration, either. Jazzpunk isn’t a shooter or an adventure game or any of those things so much as it’s a first-person “joke” finder. You basically just wander around in first-person and interact with things for one-off punchlines (that, again, aren’t actually funny) until you finish your mission. That’s it, from beginning to end. To be fair, there’s one short section where the game kind of feels like a platformer, but this quickly passes and it goes back to doing absolutely nothing.
The graphics are nice, though
In my mind, there’s one redeeming aspect to Jazzpunk, and that’s the general art style. Everything has this interesting “photoreal/cartoon/cardboard” look (just take a look at the screenshots), and that’s actually something I really liked. On the downside, I experienced some pretty serious frame rate hiccups where my frame rate would drop from 50-60 frames per second to 1-2 and back again, but I would expect this to eventually be fixed in a patch.
The audio is painful
The music in Jazzpunk, especially during the early levels, is this avante-garde stuff that sounds like an analogue synth playing random notes. It’s genuinely painful to listen to, and I almost quit the game during the first level because it literally gave me a horrible migraine. A later level plays classical music, and this was appreciated, but by then my thoughts on the music were all made up.
Even worse is the voice acting, though. Most voices sound like amateurs who have their voices pitch-shifted down 12 notes and modulated to sound robotic. The result sounds muddy and decidedly amateurish, and if not for the words that people speak being written on the screen, I would have had absolutely no idea what anyone was saying.
Here’s what you should do: