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Backbone: Prologue is a free and classy bit of animal detective adventure

Like Zootopia, with fewer confused metaphors.

Let's get this out of the way: Backbone is furry as all heck. Now I've said it, we can move on. From what I've played of its free demo, released tonight, it's also a well-written and gorgeously illustrated noir detective adventure, developed by EggNut. Set in an alternate Earth where the people are anthropomorphic animals, Howard Lotor is a raccoon P.I., on the trail of what seems to be a cheating husband. Of course, it's never that simple. There's drugs, intrigue, sassy dames and peril, and a lovely soundtrack too. Grab the demo here, and take a peek at the trailer below.

It's not every day I can say I insulted a Squirrel (and his mother) until he agreed to help me. I wish it was, though. While I've not completed the prologue chapter yet, I've got no complaints about what I've played so far. The art is beautiful, a mixture of detailed, chunky pixel-art and subdued, hazy lighting. It's pretty much an unofficial Blacksad game, although there's an official one in the works, too. What steals the show for me is the writing. There's a great sense of this being Howard's neighbourhood. He has history with a lot of the random folks you can meet on the street. Long, meandering but plausible branching dialogues build his backstory.

Curiously, it's not entirely a point-and-click adventure. For most of the demo, you'll just be walking around using the keyboard, hitting a single button to talk to people, and number keys to pick dialogue options. It's only when you zoom in on a potentially clue-laden scene (or Howard's messy desk in need of tidying) that you'll need your mouse pointer. It's a curious approach, but reduces pixel-hunting to effectively nil. If Howard spots something interesting, you'll get a nice clear interaction prompt, and when you zoom in, everything in the scene is obvious. It'll be interesting to see if the full game can deliver smart puzzles while still maintaining the streamlined controls. I do hope so.

The Backbone prologue is out now, free, and available here on Steam. The full game is due some time next year, although with no hard release date.

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Dominic Tarason