The Thought Police Hotline is the first episode of a planned comedy sci-fi series about a hyper-vigilant police state bent on surveilling the populace in the name of security and peace. Hired as a worker in the thought police call center after being the victim of a violent crime, John is a dedicated employee, sussing out possible threats via advanced brainwave and emotion scanning technology. One of these is the Snazzy Freedom Movement. After learning how deep the rabbit hole of surveillance technology goes and being implicated in a terrorist plot, his world is slowly getting a little bit stranger.
A review was requested through the VN Game Den review request form, and a key was provided to us by the developer.
An Excellent Look
This sci-fi dark comedy starts off strong with extremely appealing visuals and a solid sense of its own aesthetic. The backgrounds are slick and well-composed with a wonderful overall high-tech feel. The sprites are expressive (even the helmeted Gunner) and charming. Even though a number are stuck in gray overalls as a work uniform, the physical design of the characters is diverse enough to keep things interesting to look at. Overall, it’s evident and great deal of love and care went into making a visually appealing package with a lot of visual snap.
Writing That Lacks Focus and Structure
The first scene of the game starts out strong with high action and a very clear precedent for a more comedic tone. The non-traditional pairing of present tense and third-person narration is a little strange, but its consistency means you find the flow of it fairly quickly. After that first scene, however, the quality of the writing as a whole declines fairly rapidly over the course of the episode.
The premise is interesting, and the story is built on a base of good ideas. It’s not groundbreaking, but a lot of thought was put into the world these characters live in. They even tease out some potentially interesting plot hooks for the episodes to come. In a broad sense, though, the writing ranges from mediocre to obnoxiously juvenile.
There’s a fair amount of infodumping in the early dialogue. While the wording and phrasing feel like it might have been intended to be self-deprecating metatextual observation on sci-fi world-building, the text around it doesn’t set up for that kind of joke and it just feels clunky. The scene-to-scene coherency feels frenetic, and it’s very easy to lose the thread of the plot. With very little actual transitional matter to buffer between scenes, what I think might have been an intention toward brevity just feels stilted. This makes the overall read unpleasant and occasionally so jarring the reader is too focused on trying to figure out what’s happening and why, and genuinely clever plot devices slip past.
Unlikable Main Character Caught in a Flat Story
The main character, John, is all over the place, and it’s very hard to pin down where he fits in this world and story, and, ultimately, where his arc might lead. He has a defiant streak that feels like it would be in direct contention with the surveillance state he’s a part of, but he’s wholeheartedly bought into it. Now, initially, his motivations for that are pretty clear, and he has that expected moment of epiphany regarding the true nature of the world. Then he goes right back to being pro-surveillance while still being a sarcastic asshole that I have a hard time believing would have made it this far in the setting as described. It’s possible that being a puppet of the state could lead to an interesting setup in later episodes, but as it stands right now, it feels more like whiplash and inauthenticity. I also don’t find him particularly charming or appealing as a character. The snark in and of itself is fine, but without a little more actual sincerity to balance it out, he feels one-note and unlikable to me.
The game also really struggles with the pacing of its tone. It claims to be a comedy, and there are some fun exchanges, but it spends more time telling you “this is a joke, John is a funny guy” than actually being humorous. It has literal toilet humor in it. There are places where it starts to do something really interesting with the juxtaposition of a light tone and a horrific plot point, then never delivers on it. There’s a level of absurdity there that I think could work really well for the premise as presented, but it’s wasted on a story that’s presented in such a way that it fails to build up any emotional stakes or pique intellectual interest.
The Thought Police Hotline is a game of not-quite-delivered-on promises. It has all these really great parts and pieces that it doesn’t quite know how to put together. Despite this imperfection, I still feel like it’s a game at least worth keeping track of to see how future episodes endure. If they can figure out what their story actually is and pay a little closer attention to their emotional beats, I feel future episodes could be a major improvement and a more entertaining experience.