This is the Zodiac Speaking is a fact-based gaming experience which is based on a true story that occurred between the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is a psychological thriller investigation title about the Zodiac, who is an infamous American serial killer whose identity still remains unknown to this day. Developed by Punch Punk Games and published by Klabater, in TitZS you play the role of Robert Hartnell, who is influenced from one of Zodiacs victims who survived his attack, delving into the murders of others by visiting select locations which are inspired by original crime scenes to piece together multiple clues as to what happened and perhaps decipher exactly who this serial killer is and any motives they may have had behind the gruesome actions they took upon themselves. On your journey you’ll experience troubling scenes, stealth mechanics and points of interest to then put events into chronological order, allowing you to progress through the game. The game has a fantastic idea and concept behind it which I was really looking forward to getting engrossed in however unfortunately the overall experience was rather mediocre and left me wanting quite a lot more from such an interesting series of crimes and what I feel is an important part of our unsolved history.
What we liked!
- Well informed events – I have to commend the people who were responsible for researching the information for the game and all factual content it comes with. Before I played the game, I decided to do some reading up on the Zodiac as I had never heard of this serial killer before and I was pleasantly impressed with how much information had been reapplied into the game for us to actually have realistic information from the real life scenarios that occurred. This included some of his ciphers, letters and evidence. It was one element that brought the game to life for me. I feel like you can never have too much information to enhance your game.
- Different modes and endings – The game comes with two modes – Serial Killer mode and story mode. One allows you to play the game whilst avoiding being caught by the Zodiac and the other gives you the chance to experience the stand alone story without worrying about being seen or getting caught which I thought was a nice addition to the game. There are three different endings which are discovered by choosing different choices during your playthrough that will affect the outcome of your story. It does give the game some replayability if you should decide to revisit and uncover each one.
- Gloomy atmosphere – Just to clarify, the atmosphere being gloomy is a good thing as it adds to the tension. It gives the right affect to you feel uneasy when not only exploring scenes but when avoiding being caught or seen by the Zodiac. My only complaint would have to be that although the appearance has an eerie feel around you with the mist and open areas, the soundtrack can ruin this as the loop you hear is rather small and once you have heard it a couple of times, it loses the original creepy feel that was originally intended.
- Questionable voice acting – I struggled to comprehend the voice acting of the characters at times. Robert has an acceptable voice when it comes to listening to his diary entries but I feel he lacks emotion when he’s talking which can feel gloomy when perhaps he should be more shocked or alert at the intense visions he comes into contact with. I felt a similar way with the Zodiac. When listening to his letters his voice sounds alright but yet again, during the recreated scenes once you’ve pieced together the events, he sounds very dull with him speaking in broken English with little to no emotion.
What we disliked
- Range of technical issues – Low functionality menus which can make navigating irritating when finding collected key clues and information, screen tearing which occurs across various textures and environments that you will inevitably come across, an overall shoddy performance by anyone’s standards and only being able to fix some problems by being detected by the serial killer and reloading your previous checkpoint. All of these factors made me want to stop playing as they were constantly happening, making for what I can only describe as a far from enjoyable gaming experience.
- Visuals were monotonous – Let me be completely honest here – the visuals for the game were not pretty. In fact, they were far from it. The unrealistic approach may have been the artstyle the developers were going for with the story being set in the 1960/70s so I can understand where they were coming from but for me, it just doesn’t work. Everything you come across looks appalling and it really is a shame because I think if this alone was improved, it could feel like a completely different game.
- Slow and somewhat repetitive gameplay – With the main element of your gameplay coming from exploring and investigating both your home and crime scenes, this style did become stale somewhat sooner than I would have hoped. Ultimately you search areas for interactable objects, of which some provide useful information and others that are just there for show, as well as items which you can pick up to hold in your inventory until you find a suitable use. This happens with every scene which makes the game feel slow in places so I could not help but wonder if they could have input a wider variety of objectives.
- Confusing and muddled plot – During my playthrough of TitZS I did sometimes question what was going on and found myself constantly looking at my diary entries to remind myself what was currently going on. It seems like you start on one scene and just as you are getting to terms with what is happening, the next scene does not continue from the previous leaving the writing of the game feeling a little jumpy and cryptic the majority of the time.
This is the Zodiac speaking had a fantastic idea and some good elements which were regrettably and noticeably outweighed by the negative ones that caused me to lose interest in the game quicker than I would have hoped although I did push through and manage to finish the main story. What I believe could have been a fresh viewpoint and take on this intriguing story has only been recreated well in the aspect of some original scenarios based on the facts we are aware of. The multiple bugs, uninspired gameplay and dawdling pace just left me needing more to go on with.
Hello, I’m Victoria. I’m from the UK and have been playing video games for as long as I can remember. I’ve pretty much mained Xbox since I was ten years old. Although I find it thoroughly enjoyable to not only experience gameplay, I also find comfort in getting lost and engrossed in the online worlds. Another side of my Xbox passion would be achievements. I thrive when I hear the little sound of one popping up on screen and I’m always finding ways to work on my Gamerscore.