‘Powerless’ Review: Needs a Jump Start

By: Narratio

My first experience with the narrative choose-your-own-adventure type game, Powerless, by Narratio, was a positive one. After spending about thirty minutes with it, I wrote here how impressed I was with it, that it seemed very polished. I didn’t encounter many spelling or grammar mistakes, the writing was strong, and the stories were interesting to me. I liked how you choose different characters — or personas — and then have to make binary decisions to help them survive in a world where all electricity has been wiped out. The variety of the characters kept things from getting stale and I felt invested in keeping them all alive. Unfortunately, the rest of the game did not hold up so well.

In my first session, I played as Harry the spoiled financial trader, Ellie the unemployed woman with street smarts, Jade the surgeon, and Abdul the sever technician. They were all very different characters who dealt with situations in their own unique ways. I continued playing and, in my second session, I unlocked more characters, like George the musician and Tara the helicopter pilot. This is where it started to fall apart. George lives for music and he has one of the last remaining cassette players in London. He just needs to figure out how to make a battery for it. So you can have him rummage through different parts of the house and hopefully find out enough to make the battery. On my first attempt, I collected a lot of items, but I still wanted to keep looking. Someone barged in and attacked me and poor George died. Thankfully, the game lets you try again if someone dies, so you have a chance to save them. But on my second attempt with him, the game remembered items I picked up the previous game, so I ended up with both the items I found now and before. It was distracting, at the very least. But I managed to keep George alive this time, even if I ran out of time to make the battery.

I tried my best to ignore those inconsistencies and continued playing. I got Tara killed, then managed to save her on my second try. I spent more time with Jade, the surgeon, and I got Ellie permanently killed because I refused to do the only thing that would save her. I tried to get Abdul and his wife to a community that wouldn’t persecute them and accuse them of being terrorists. Then I played through Harry’s third level, where things started really falling apart again. Harry saved the baby and mother in Level 2, but after Level 3, the game asked if I wanted to see what would have happened if I saved the baby. What? The further I got, the more typos, inconsistencies and grammatical errors I found, but I still tried to give the game a chance. I played the characters I had available. But it kept telling me I unlocked new personas that never actually unlocked. To make it worse, some of the characters I did unlock were considered complete already after only one day with them. I never got to see where Tara or George’s adventures took them. So I ended up finishing the game prematurely, with two deaths on record instead of the one I actually got. And I didn’t get to play all the characters.

This was all a couple of days ahead of release, and I was on an earlier build according to the developer, so I decided to give the game another chance once I could play the full public release version. Unfortunately, things only got worse then. I met a man named Simon with one of my characters, but he ended up killing them. So I retried and this time avoided meeting him at all. I stayed alive, but the game congratulated me for learning his name. To make matters worse, I had spent nearly two hours on my first game, but my second play-through lasted only thirty minutes. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that my characters didn’t die as often because I knew how to save them. But most of it is due to simply not unlocking all the characters. I did get one that I missed out on in my first game, but she was only available for one day. Jade, one of the most interesting characters, never unlocked. Neither did Tara, Abdul, or George. So I missed out on four of the personas without any explanation why. And once again, the game declared I had killed off characters even though I hadn’t. I can’t see playing the game a third time just to see who it lets me unlock properly, especially with all the other issues I mentioned. I have no interest in replaying Harry and Ellie for the third time just to maybe have a chance at the ones that didn’t unlock last time. And I have no idea why it’s not unlocking them properly.

Due to the game-breaking bugs, together with the grammatical errors and inconsistencies, I can’t recommend Powerless at this time. It is a genuinely interesting idea, and I liked the small taste I got of personas meeting each other and helping each other out. Perhaps if it had spent more time in the oven to get all its issues ironed out, it would have been easy to recommend. But in its current state, I’d have to warn my readers not to waste money on it. Somehow, it’s even more broken now than it was ahead of release. If something changes in the future, I might revisit it. But at the moment, I’d tell you to divert your limited resources elsewhere.

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