In my time playing 2064: Read Only Memories, I encountered several interesting characters and memorable moments. However, one incident in particular stood out particularly clearly: the first time I met a woman named Jess, a human/animal “Hybrid” who, developed skin cancer, but had it go into remission after undergoing treatments involving the genes of animals. When I inquired about her cat-like appearance, she immediately grew defensive, and at the time it appeared that our soured relationship might hinder my progress. When I was eventually able to speak to her again, the game offered me dialogue options to ask her why she’d responded the way she had, but I didn’t need them. I didn’t have to ask why Jess was angry, because I’ve seen this response throughout my life when someone is a victim of prejudice. She was merely preemptively defending herself against an attack she’d been conditioned to think she’d receive because of the way she looked.
The emotional impact of this moment really drove home the idea that people in this world are judged and mistreated for their appearance, a truth that was only heightened as 2064: Read Only Memories took me through its science fiction world and explained how Hybrids as a group are treated like second class citizens, with a purist group called The Human Revolution looking to strip rights from those who underwent life-saving animal gene treatments, deeming them “not human.”
The real-world parallels to social ills that we face every day were obvious, but seeing 2064: Read Only Memories’ sci-fi take on issues such as equality and healthcare was a fascinating focus I hoped would be at the core of the game’s story. However, this conflict ended up being mostly just set dressing for a fairly standard plot involving artificial intelligence and questions of whether or not a machine is truly alive. 2064: Read Only Memories knows how to create a world full of interesting concepts and political commentary, but it ultimately ends up sidelining some of its best and most timely themes for a fairly by-the-numbers noir story.
The source of the more rote themes, and the driving force of the game is the lovable and beautifully written Turing, a “Relationship Organizational Manager” (ROM) who sought me out after their creator Hayden had gone missing, presumably as a victim of kidnapping. Thus began mine and Turing’s journey through a futuristic interpretation of San Francisco.
Much of the moment-to-moment of 2064: Read Only Memories had me meeting up with its wonderful cast members in search of clues on Hayden’s disappearance, with occasional puzzles to break up the long stretches of dialogue. The puzzles are generally serviceable, if mostly forgettable, though some fall into the sort of dreaded obtuse adventure game logic that requires you to use inventory items in some ridiculous ways. But when it’s focusing on the mystery, and the people who help you find your way through it, Read Only Memories is as entertaining as its eclectic cast members.
Even when 2064: Read Only Memories fails to capitalize on its best political analogies, it makes great strides to portray diverse characters from all walks of life, including members of the LGBT community and people of color. These wonderful people are the lifeblood that kept me playing 2064: Read Only Memories even when its more predictable sci-fi story beats failed to hold my interest.
In my first play through, I met several standouts beyond my memorable encounter with Jess near the beginning. These included the charming hacker TOMCAT, the juvenile delinquent couple with hearts of gold Chad and Oliver, and of course, Turing themself, who is interesting to see grow as they learn to deal with their sapience and the responsibility of being a citizen in this world. Each of these characters is well-acted thanks to the voice acting added as part of the 2064 update to the base game. This includes performances by well-known industry talent like The Walking Dead’s Melissa Hutchinson and games critic Jim Sterling. Thankfully, there are several characters I didn’t meet, which gives me another reason to replay 2064: Read Only Memories, besides just wanting to see the game’s other endings.
Despite falling into some well-worn sci-fi territory, 2064: Read Only Memories excels most when it focuses on characters and concepts that aren’t quite as far away from our current reality as its A-plot of robots, artificial intelligence, and questions of what makes humans different from a being made up of metal and programming. The political statements it makes through its characters and its background story prove that there is a braver, more interesting story unfolding in this world, just one that doesn’t take the foreground as often as it deserves.