Anyone who has ever had the misfortune to work in IT support will know what a draining experience it can be. Trying to maintain a balance between helpfulness and efficiency is hard, especially when customers sometimes seem determined to be as difficult as possible. This is the experience that Tech Support: Error Unknown is aiming to re-create, and arguably it succeeds a little bit too well.
In Tech Support: Error Unknown the player is cast in the role of a tech support specialist working remotely for a company called Quasar Telecommunications. Presented entirely through the medium of a virtual desktop screen, the player must interact with customers, check emails, and reference websites.
Interaction with customers is done by clicking on a selection from some set responses in an online chat. The problems you are presented with are procedurally generated, ranging from a phone that will not make calls, to cracked screens, or trivial issues like not being able to set a custom ringtone. The AI is where the simulation seems to fall apart a bit, as the customers are basically simplified chatbots, so it is possible for them to get confused or stuck in a loop, which does (somewhat) ruin the suspension of disbelief.
In fairness, when the chatbot AI works well, the customers can come across as fairly realistic, with typos and garbled text, in addition to explosions of expletives if the player is unable to aid them in the way they wish.
The canned responses provide another problem, as on occasion the player will find they are contacted by people who are not customers. This will include members of a shadowy hacker group who want to expose the corrupt practices of the company you are working for. Ostensibly, the player has the option of toeing the company line like a good little corporate drone, or passing along information to the hacker group. In reality, it is frustratingly difficult to talk to the hackers like a real person due to how limited the responses are. This could be commentary on how tech support workers are forced to stick to a script in defiance of common sense and logic, but it mostly just serves as another source of frustration.
Performance is mostly based on efficiency and how much the customer feels they have been helped, with success reflected in your pay packet. Screwing up often results in a sternly-worded email appearing in the inbox, and a string of failures will result in termination. A variety of support tools are available to use, and these can even be upgraded by spending some of the hard earned cash in an e-shop. Though it is tempting to keep hoarding money, these upgrades become necessary further through the game, and are a wise investment, though the prices can be a bit painful.
The main driving force in Tech Support: Error Unknown is exploring its branching narrative, and experiencing the various endings it has to offer. Similar to other simulator titles like Papers, Please, Tech Support: Error Unknown offers a range of directions the player can go in, allowing the player the chance to explore and expose the truth behind Quasar Telecommunications. Alternatively, the player has the option of feeding information on both the hacker group and Quasar to an investigative reporter.
While the narrative is reasonably interesting, it lacks the human element and moral imperative that was such a part of Papers, Please. The stakes never seem that high, and it is very difficult to become invested in the fate of those involved. Perhaps this is due to the action being so far removed, since the player never sets eyes on a real person, with all communications handled through the sterile medium of online chat or email. It could also be that fixing someone’s phone doesn’t have the same emotional resonance as reuniting a family across a border. The personal stakes don’t seem that severe, either, since for the most part the worst thing to happen to the player character is that they lose their job. Earning money to pay for tech tool upgrades doesn’t seem as urgent as scraping together cash to feed your family.
Tech Support: Error Unknown manages to capture much of the drudgery and bleakness of the world of IT and tech support. This is an impressive achievement for developer Dragon Slumber, but the problem is that it succeeds a little bit too well, and ends up making something that feels far too much like a job, and not very much like a game.
As anyone who has served a stint in tech support will tell you, IT technicians tend to develop a kind of black sense of humour to cope, with jokes about customers, systems, and management flying freely. Since the player character in Tech Support: Error Unknown is working alone, that aspect is entirely erased. This is a shame, as it could have restored some of the fun that is missing from the narrative.
Tech Support: Error Unknown would have been more impressive if it had a clear message, perhaps about worker exploitation, or corporate overreach, or even the damage hacker activists can cause. Sadly, this aspect is either so subtle as to be undetectable, or missing entirely. What this leaves behind is an entirely too accurate simulation of the daily grind of a tech support technician, where the main interest lies in trying to find the end of each story branch, and fun is largely put on the back-burner.
Reviewed on PC.