This Is The Zodiac Speaking is a new game by Punch Punk games, based on the real life Zodiac serial killer case from the 1960s and 1970s. This Is The Zodiac Speaking is a walking simulator type game where you take on the role of Robert, who survived an encounter with the Zodiac Killer.
In addition to walking around various environments, This Is The Zodiac Speaking also has a simple inventory system, and Robert can interact with objects by picking them up or combining them with your held items to solve puzzles. Robert is now investigating the killer in an effort to try to track him down and have him arrested. Through exploring Robert’s memories and investigation, This Is The Zodiac Speaking tries to tell a dark story of trauma, darkness, and madness. Unfortunately, it does this in a rather meandering way. Each scene stretches on for too long, with a bunch of different tasks being thrown at the player until the story finally moves on. Sometimes the objectives are clear, sometimes they aren’t. Although the game has a hint section, these hints are often unhelpful. The game seems to assume that you’ll know what to do in some situations, when in reality the method is less than intuitive. For example, I wasted over 10 minutes trying to figure out what the game meant when I was told to simply put a sequence of events in order. I walked all around a parking lot where markers representing events were scattered about, trying to figure out how I could put them in order. Nothing seemed to work. Eventually (after much frustration) I figured out that you were actually meant to open Robert’s diary, go to one of the pages, and then use the cursor to arrange some pictures in the right order.
While the above scenario was going on, there was another frustrating mechanic to deal with. As you walk around many of the game’s environments, the Zodiac Killer is also stalking about. If he sees you, he’ll chase you immediately, and he’s quite fast. He’ll follow you a long way. You can try to run, but you have very limited stamina, which means that about 80% of the time he’ll catch you. When he catches you, you have to sit through a lengthy animation where he kills you, and then you’re placed back at the start of the area. You can try to break his line of sight by crouching behind objects, but it rarely works, and if you’re out in the open when he sees you, you’re dead. You will die. A lot. Which means you get sent back to the start of the area a lot. This is particularly annoying in small environments, because he finds you easily, and it makes the slow pace of the game even slower. It was bad enough that after less than two hours of playing, I didn’t want to continue. It’s not worth it. It’s hard to try to enjoy the puzzle solving when you keep getting stabbed in the back every 5 minutes.
Adding to This Is The Zodiac Speaking’s issues, some text is tiny, such as the diary entries. The right joy-con’s analog stick is used to move the cursor, but the default sensitivity is way too high. Moving the stick even a little cause the cursor to jump, making precise movements difficult. This is particularly noticeable during a segment where you need to press small buttons on a safe. Fortunately, you can turn down the sensitivity, although you have to back out to the main menu to do so. Once you’ve got the sensitivity issue sorted out, the game becomes more playable, but then the many other issues quickly become apparent.
Visually, This Is The Zodiac Speaking is disappointing. It looks more like a GameCube game than a Switch game, with low quality, low polygon models across the board. Characters, items, environments, it’s all ugly. The developers decided not to go with a realistic style for the game’s visuals, which was wise, but the stylised look they went with does little to hide the poor quality of the assets. The game’s performance is also weak, with a low draw distance which results in lots of pop in. Trees, buildings, objects, signs, cars, they all just pop in and out of existence as you move around. You don’t even have to move far for things to simply vanish in front of you. To put it bluntly, the presentation is a mess. The game’s soundtrack gets the job done, creating a reasonably tense atmosphere, but unfortunately the music tracks are a bit short considering how long you spend in each area, so looping becomes an issue.
There’s really only two positive things I can say about This Is The Zodiac Speaking. First, the voice acting is good. Robert has a gruff, gravelly voice that fits his character well, while the Zodiac killer has a menacing voice with a southern American drawl. Second, the writing. It’s clear that the developers did their homework about the Zodiac Killer. I researched the case before starting the game, and Punch Punk games have done a good job of staying true to reality. There’s plenty of little details that tie in with the real life facts, and they’ve also recreated the killer’s distinctive cryptograms. It’s all well presented and would be of interest to people who are into true crime stories. It’s a shame that the rest of the game is so lacklustre.
Overall, This Is The Zodiac Speaking is a disappointing game. Going into it, I had hoped that the game’s story and gameplay mechanics would offset its poor visuals, but this wasn’t the case. The pacing of the story is slow, and the mechanics are frustrating and sometimes unintuitive. It’s a game that looks like it belongs to a previous console generation, and the performance is no better, with large amounts of pop in. It’s a game that I can’t recommend, even to the most hardcore true crime buffs, which is a shame. The Zodiac killer is an interesting unsolved case, and this game had potential to be an entertaining look at it from a fresh perspective.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This Is The Zodiac Speaking Review
Gameplay - 3/10
Graphics - 2/10
Sound - 5/10
Replay Value - 2/10
User Review( votes)
- Good voice acting.
- Sticks closely to the real life case.
- Very poor visuals.
- Poor performance.
- Frustrating mechanics.
- Slow-paced story.