Whispers of a Machine review | High-stakes sci-fi

Whispers of a Machine is a smart and engaging adventure game set against a sci-fi backdrop. Here’s our review.


Whispers of a Machine’s greatest strength, as a story, is how it explores grand speculative science fiction questions while staying focused on the personal. Parenthood, romance, grief, faith, work, and small-town paranoia all take centre stage here. A disjointed background static of conspiratorial murmurings phase in and out, while crackling electrical storm clouds threaten a technological Ragnarok. Skillfully, these creeping threats never overshadow the fundamentally human conflicts at the core of this clever, engrossing adventure game.

You’ll be verbing your way through the city of Nordsund as Agent Vera Englund, who you’ll meet as her train pulls into a station below the towering structure holding the city above. A lone photograph in Vera’s inventory hints at past tragedy, but Whispers of a Machine wastes no time throwing you into a murder scene so fresh, the blood has barely had time to dry.

Not that that would be much hindrance to the technologically enhanced Vera, whose cybernetic abilities augment well-worn genre conventions by providing opportunities for novel puzzle design. A pulse scanner detects anomalies in speech patterns, transforming conversation into a more explicitly methodical tactic for extracting information.

If you’ve played enough adventure games to know your rubber chickens from your goat distractions, it’s habitual to try and discern clues by exhausting every conversation path on each character you meet. Vera can be empathetic, dry, and funny while talking to people, but her hidden scanner introduces a calculated duality and wariness to her character that plays into the noirish distrust permeating the setting.

The option to use the scanner in every conversation, not just ones predetermined to yield results, mean you always feel like a detective in Whispers of a Machine. The simple choice of when to use it frequently made me consider whether I trusted the person I was speaking to, and whether using it anyway counted as an unspoken betrayal of Vera’s better nature.

This and other abilities are all thanks to a magical blue cyberpunk juice, helpfully called ‘Blue’. A strength of the writing throughout is how science fiction elements are well-defined enough to be believable without subjecting the player to huge lore dumps, and Blue is no different. Techsplanations never give way to weary technobabble, and the history of this world is sprinkled throughout for the player to discover and dwell on in their own time. Vera’s own history with her augmentations casts uncertainty on some later plot revelations, but it also serves a more practical purpose. Blue, we’re told, adapts to its user’s personalities. During certain interims, the game will tally up the conversation choices you’ve made and give you one of three nifty augmentations as a result.

This means there are plenty of puzzles with multiple solutions. It can lead to a few red herrings and non-essential items, but there are some instances where, if you speak to the wrong character as part of a puzzle, but there’s a fairly strong logical reason why they should be able to help you, they’ll often give you some extra dialogue and a hint in the right direction.

Additionally, Vera will often refuse to enter areas she has no reason to visit. It means that not only do you have to do the detective work first – before Vera goes charging into people’s homes while they’re eating, turning over their valuables for shiny clues like she’s 90 percent of RPG heroes ever – but the story maintains a consistent pace throughout. It’s a rare and praiseworthy accomplishment in a genre where you can conceivably spend hours dragging inventory items onto random bits of foliage.

Sound design is great throughout. Ivy Dupler is immediately fantastic as Vera; at once sharp, world-weary, and just that tiny bit aware she’s a character in an adventure game when the player attempts a redundant puzzle solution. Other standouts include Andy Mack as eccentric roboticist Valter, and Andy Manjuck as crotchety janitor Rolf, but there’s no real weak links here. Developer Clifftop Games describes Whispers as ‘Nordic noir’, and nowhere is this more apparent than the soundtrack. Instrumental folk, driven but melancholy, gives way to bubbling, evasive synths and spacy ambience as the conspiracies at the heart of the urban village of Nordsund make themselves known.

Occasional obtuse puzzles come with the territory, but even Whispers’ head-scratchers are never illogical; just sometimes reliant on responses to the functional-but-limited animation. Having spent a few hours solving puzzles in motionless environs, encountering one that required me to consider reaction, rather than just action, stumped me for a good while.

Once I’d solved one or two, though, I found I was thinking about things the way the game wanted me to, and made steady progress. A few later puzzles veer towards simplicity, but with the narrative stakes growing higher, it was a relief not to suddenly hit a wall. I’d estimate four to six hours for a first runthrough, with dialogue choices, additional augmentations, and puzzle solutions, and multiple endings inviting a second or even third playthrough. Whispers is paced so well that I’m thankful it wasn’t padded out for the sake of it.

I still can’t work out whether the classic adventure game formula is so solid to make it timeless, or whether Whispers is designed so smartly, and written, acted, and scored so engagingly that it brings reality in line with my personal nostalgia.
Either way, it’s made me fall in love with an entire genre again. Like ‘walking simulator’ – a term I loathe – ‘point-and-click’ is selling this one woefully short.


Despite dealing with some very big sci-fi questions, Whispers of a Machine remains, at its core, a story about human relationships and anxieties. Even when the stakes of the plot threaten to engulf the concerns of the individual players, the sky city of Nordsund remains remarkably grounded.


Smart and engaging, Whispers sets a story of love and loss against an intriguing, high-stakes science fiction backdrop. Highly recommended.


Genre: Adventure
Format: PC (tested)
Developer: Clifftop Games, Faravid Interactive
Publisher: Raw Fury
Price: £11.39
Release: Out now

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