You never really know who’s on the other end of a tech support call. Perhaps it’s someone from a foreign country. Maybe a housewife trying to make ends meet. Or, it could be a struggling writer in-between jobs reviewing video games. Whatever the case, we’ve all been the ones calling in, annoyed that we have to spend our time talking with someone who’s barely paying attention. If you ever wanted to know why that’s the case, Tech Support: Error Unknown provides an excellent interactive demonstration. It’s not great at being a video game, but it does capture the essence of what it’s like working one of the least appealing jobs in America.
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Struck from the mold of Papers, Please and Orwell, Error Unknown strives to inject storytelling into its humdrum simulation. You play as a lowly worker newly hired by Quasar Telecommunications to man the chat windows and support customers. You quickly get messages from all manner of interloper, including a group of hackers and investigating police officers. Whether you choose to engage with these elements or just put your nose down and do your job shapes, the story over the course of a month. With multiple endings to discover, your choices have a real impact on wherever you end up in the end.
That is, of course, if you can execute on those choices. One of the stumbling blocks of Tech Support is how close it sticks to depicting an actual computer OS. Sure, in some ways it makes the experience all the more eerie for someone who’s been there before. That dehumanizing feeling soaks over you as you shift into work and get things done as efficiently as possible. However, all that just doesn’t justify obfuscating the interesting narrative beats and gameplay avenues.
For example, during one of my runs through the campaign, I tried to play it completely as a corporate stooge. If you do what your job tells you long enough, higher-ups contact you with an opportunity. They’ll pat you on the back and then give you some unsavory side activities to do during the workday. As a player, I was all set to uproot civil liberties and see how far the rabbit hole went. Tech Support just didn’t support me in that endeavor.
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For one, you have to communicate solely via predetermined chat options. These work great for the actual tech support calls you complete, especially since they vary word usage enough to make the callers believe you’re typing everything out. However, when you’re talking to a story character, you have to guess responses until you trigger conversation bits. I tried with multiple paths, and I only feel like I got half the story each time. Eventually, these characters get annoyed (because everything you do is on a timer) and you lose the thread completely.
Now, it doesn’t have to be a set of binary choices here. It would just be better to have the ability to see what Tech Support has to offer without needing to play obsessively for hours and hours. Or, at the very least, the game to should respond to what I do and let me know I’m on the right path. A quick notification or an in-game checklist is all it has to do. Something like this gives players the confidence to mess around without feeling like they’re not accomplishing anything at all.
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So, let to my own devices, I eventually ended up testing the limits of the support calls. Players who don’t have experience in this line of work might start off focusing on a single customer at a time, but that’s a fool’s errand. In fact, if you do this, you get fired for lack of results before the story opens up. Even though it’s never a requirement, you need to be juggling tickets at all times to make real progress.
The problems you face are also pretty typical, and the game cleverly teaches you how you have to lead customers into revealing what’s wrong. Later upgrades you purchase make this process easier, but it all feels very true to life. Once some of the late game hacking-style gameplay comes in, things get a bit more out there, but still remain in the realm of reality. Being able to connect to devices remotely and FTP files back and forth is still part of the job. It’s just that your local Verizon representative isn’t going to be installing viruses when they log in.
Thankfully, Tech Support makes all of its functions rather easy to perform. Hacking with a command prompt involves clicking commands, and there are buttons in place for transferring files and other would-be complicated tasks. However, it runs into the same issues as before. Tech Support never makes it clear how to accomplish set goals, or even if you’ve completed something at all. Progress is murky, hidden behind realistic Windows prompts and a lack of communication features.
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This lack of features may just be due to budget more than anything. Tech Support has a stark presentation with basic fonts and stock photo character portraits. This definitely works for the support simulation while also contributing to the feeling that you’re not playing a game. You also see a lot of the same generic text from customers, even during your first playthrough. It’s fine when you’re speeding through tickets while focusing on something else, but it’s still an issue. Every tiny nitpick combines into a big problem that breaks player immersion.
Despite its flaws, there is some merit to Tech Support: Error Unknown. It does capture the feeling of working in a fast paced support environment. You get a sense of sympathy towards the worker’s plight just by going through the motions. However, it doesn’t do a great job of integrating anything else into the equation due to its unwillingness to open up. The developer want you to feel for the tier one workers you can choose to report for incompetence as well as the family member who repeatedly begs for cash. But whenever you get close to buying into those storylines, the mechanics get in the way. It’s a helpless feeling that may emulate what tech support may sadly be about but it doesn’t make for a great game.
GameRevolution reviewed Tech Support: Error Unknown on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.