Computer says “maybe.”
If you’ve never worked in retail, hospitality or in a call centre, you can’t truly appreciate the horror of having to serve customers every day (and should think twice before giving staff in these industries a hard time). Tech Support: Error Unknown is an accurate portrayal of the trials and tribulations of customer service, with decent – albeit imperfect – simulation and numerous branching story paths making it worth turning off and on again a bunch of times.
You’ve landed a job working remotely for Quasar, providing smartphone support for their customers through online chat. Open a new ticket and the user will say what ails their device, from a cracked screen to failing to boot or simply that they can’t work out how to set a new wallpaper. Rather than type manually, you pick from a menu of canned responses covering a breadth of solutions. This simplifies the process, making it easy to control while still feeling like a tech support simulation.
But of course, it’s not entirely straightforward. Customers are vague and unhelpful when describing their issues. Sometimes you’ll have to remotely connect to their device to track it by GPS or install software. And before issuing a more gratuitous solution – a free repair, or replacement handset – you’ll have to check their level of warranty on the customer database.
Just as you’re beginning to get used to the support tools at your disposal, you’ll receive another email about a change of process or a new service you can offer. Some of the more complex processes aren’t very well explained, like remote access, necessitating trial and error. But the cumulative approach to complexity avoids overwhelming you with too much in one go and keeps things fresh, in the early stages at least.
Having worked in tech support myself in the real world, Error Unknown feels all too familiar. For better or worse, it’s a realistic depiction of the job, warts and all. Obstinate customers. Device problems with ambiguous solutions. And the stress of managing multiple customers at once, a tact that isn’t strictly mandatory but is so if you want to earn more than a pittance. Multitasking, contrary to popular belief, is not a natural or effective state of working. It’s tiring and anxiety-inducing. Error Unknown isn’t a relaxing game to kick back with – it feels like genuine work.
That said, with time you manage to get in the flow and muscle memory kicks in. Without much conscious thought you’re carrying out processes and clicking through responses. Little efficiencies become habit, like clicking ‘What’s the problem?” as soon as you open a window, opening a new ticket when you can tell the current one is about to end and retaining a consistent window layout. Adopting these habits provides marginal gains in how quickly you complete tickets. The faster and more effectively you provide support, the more commission you earn.
As an added bonus, the resident tech guru at the company sells upgrades like extra RAM (which can be downloaded and installed to your system, bafflingly), auto-responders and other software add-ons to streamline your workflow. He’s a bit of a tool and his prices are extortionate, but his webstore is a necessary evil to make your life easier.
As a simulation, then, Error Unknown is reasonably accomplished, but there’s a bit more to it. Whereas you can keep your head down, work your way through the ranks at Quasar and earn as much money as you can, you can choose to place your allegiance elsewhere. A shadowy band of hackers called Indigo, riffing on Anonymous, try to convince you to help take down Quasar from the inside, as penance for their corrupt business practices. An investigator also contacts you, requesting information on either Indigo or Quasar so that she can carry out an investigation.
Choose to support Indigo, for example, and you’ll have to hack your computer terminal to access secret information to help expose Quasar. The varying branches give Error Unknown variety, as well as replayability, with around 20 different endings. Whereas it would take remarkable patience to achieve them all, it’s worth several playthroughs to uncover a few of them. Mercifully, if you screw up, a fail state lets you replay that day rather than bring your playthrough to an abrupt end.
Like the mobile devices you’re troubleshooting, however, Error Unknown doesn’t always work as intended. Sometimes you’ll fail a ticket despite an indignant certainty you got it right, and the explanation provided by email or chat will be either contradictory or flat-out make no sense. Cracks can also show in the veneer of what are essentially chatbots that you’re speaking to. It’s not uncommon for them to spout something illogical, or worse, placeholder text.
In fact, the writing isn’t particularly strong in general, irrespective of buggy text and customer typos put in deliberately to add flavour. Conversations with Indigo and your boss edge too far on the side of hamminess, undermining the tone. It straddles an awkward line, not cool enough to be taken seriously nor tongue-in-cheek enough to be funny. Repetition soon starts to set in through the support ticketing process, too, with it not taking long for the same customers and conversations to resurface.
With this in mind, for something intended to be played many times, Error Unknown has a tendency to drag on. It would have benefitted from tightening up, each ‘run’ lasting fewer days in order to maximise novelty and minimise repetition. But despite having more than a few bugs in its execution, Tech Support: Error Unknown just about qualifies as a minimum viable product. Ticket completed.
[Reviewed on PC]
James loves a deep action-adventure game, RPG or Metroidvania. He can often be found in The Indie Game Website’s review section casting his critical eye over the latest indie games.