It’s that time of year, when all the spooky games come out to play. While This is the Zodiac Speaking is more of a thriller, it also tries to rope in a bit of Outlast or Amnesia in its play style; sadly, not only does it not live up to those titles, it is a buggy mess that left me bored and frustrated quickly.
Based on the real life, never caught Zodiac killer from the 1970’s, TitZS (that acronym is probably the best thing about the game) seeks to use this inspiration to craft a tense thriller where we’re searching the crime scenes while the killer is on the prowl, trying to avoid detection and an untimely death. The thing is, well, it’s really just not very good.
What should be one of the main aspects – the story – is presented and acted so woodenly that any sort of tension or suspense is absent completely. Our protagonist, a reporter is supposedly obsessed with the Zodiac, sounds just as bored as I was with the whole affair, while the less said about some of the supporting cast the better. There are choices to make along the way but it’s blind luck really as I’m certain picking one option resulted in a completely different voice over line that would have suited one of the other options.
Which brings me to my biggest bugbear about the game – its performance, or lack thereof. First up are the atrocious menus that barely function. I’m an invert Y player, so after toggling the option in the sluggish menu I loaded up the game to find the setting wasn’t active. “Probably exited without saving” I thought.
I loaded back in after checking the menus and still no inversion. Pause the game to check…ah… there’s no options in the pause menu. Back to the title screen we go. Turning on Invert X did invert Y for me – but also X, which is maddening in a first person game. So it was either invert all or nothing. “But wait”, I hear you cry, “use the Xbox accessories app to override this at the system level”. Even that didn’t work. I whipped out my Gamesir mouse and keyboard which resolved the issues for a short while. Until the camera started panning randomly. Sitting and watching the Zodiac before my view suddenly took on a life of its own was certainly some kind of horror, but I’m not sure that was quite what they were going for.
On top of this, the UI often featured the incorrect button labelling, the mouse cursor for the inventory would randomly drift also (I have several controllers that all had the same issue despite not doing so in any other game) and the screen tearing was horrendous. Turning even remotely fast would make the whole image rip apart. On a technical front, TitZS is a mess.
(I should note that I did reach out to ask about these issues and whether there was an expected patch but did not receive a reply at time of publicastion).
I could forgive most of this though if the gameplay was up to snuff. Sadly it’s just as weak here. Sometimes we’ll be fighting the controls to explore the scene to discover clues about Zodiac’s actions. This involves slowly plodding around the area looking for items to pick up and use. After a while the Zodiac appears himself, so we need to avoid his eye line at the same time. This is where the aforementioned comparisons come in.
He’ll patrol the area while we try and work around him, his pattern changing as we progress through the clues. Punch Punk Games have tried something commendable in their approach to the stealth though; as Zodiac gets closer to us the ambient music ramps up. True to theme though this mechanic proves to be more annoying than anything. You see, while this musical cue is helpful to a degree, there are no other audio indicators at all. No footsteps, no muttering to himself, no doors swinging open and shut. This can make it hard to decipher if he’s to the left or right of a doorway, for example. And if he catches us it’s a one hit kill. Luckily the check pointing is generous so we only lose the short time it takes to get back to where we died with all other progress staying, but it’s always more of a sigh than a fright when he finds us.
There is also a light and sound meter to watch, showing how visible and noisy we are but again, there’s no visual representation of this. It’s perfectly possible to appear to be hidden yet Zodiac sees or hears us. The indicators are also in the lower left corner of the screen, making it hard to keep track of while also watching for Zodiac at the same time.
For a title that has as interesting a premise as This is the Zodiac Speaking, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Tough to read stealth mechanics, a wooden cast delivering a bland story, dull visuals and audio, and some baffling UI and technical issues mean that I cannot recommend this to even the most ardent of thriller fans.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by the publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.