New career positions are often filled with excitement, discovery and intrigue. But, what if you found out your new employer is not who they seem? What if the company you work for is secretly exploiting their customers? Will you choose to join a rogue hacktivist group and expose your company, or continue working your way up the corporate ladder, while remaining silent about the information you’re aware of? This is just one of the many ethical decisions you will face in Tech Support: Error Unknown.
The game begins by welcoming you to Quasar Telecommunications, a company that has offered you a new position as a budding technical support specialist. You are tasked with solving customer inquiries about issues they are having with their phones, following the necessary troubleshooting procedures to offer them the best resolution to their problem. As you become more acclimated to your new position, policies will change and you may need to adjust your workflow, or risk being penalized. As you successfully complete customer support tickets, you will work towards promotions, that offer you higher compensation in exchange for a wider variety of responsibilities.
The general moment-to-moment gameplay involves interacting with a near-unlimited set of customers, featuring procedurally-generated conversations. Instead of typing out responses, the developer opted to give you preset responses that you can select from a menu, organized into categories such as: ask a question, troubleshoot, propose a solution, service and more. By having the player select responses as opposed to typing out full sentences, it creates fluid conversation, as those on the receiving end always understand what you are trying to say. There were a few instances where the conversation did not have a clear response that fit, or the response was a bit too robotic or awkward-sounding. Overall, communication is such a fundamental part of the experience and is executed almost flawlessly.
As you work your way up the corporate ladder, you will be responsible for a growing list of tasks. An example may be to upsell customers on antivirus software, or remotely unlock customers’ devices to remedy a forgotten password. Some of the tasks given, like installing spyware on customer devices without them knowing, are not explained very well, leading to unintentional mistakes and a confusing experience. There is an in-game wiki that helps with basic troubleshooting steps, but it never gets updated with the new requirements you are responsible for as they get added, rendering it almost useless after your first promotion. It is very difficult to keep track of everything in the later stages of the game, as many important instructions are buried in nondescript emails.
Graphically, the game looks and feels like you are navigating a computer, with everything feeling familiar. The Spectrum OS is a custom OS designed just for the game, but most closely resembles the classic Windows environment, complete with a start menu-type launcher for applications, and familiar UI elements such as ‘X’ to close windows, as well as full-screen and minimize options. There is a screen filter that is on by default to simulate the look of staring at a computer monitor, with everything smoothed out a bit more.
Thankfully, the game does not over exaggerate this look as many “classic CRT” game filters tend to do. Optionally, you can remove this filter to make everything a bit sharper. There are also custom wallpapers that you can choose from, as the entire game has you staring at a set of windows over the same background. Some of the more graphic-heavy backgrounds make gameplay feel more cluttered than others, but the options are available.
The audio in the game is limited to in-game “music” that is available on the computer as well as a desktop widget. There are not very many tracks overall, so you will very quickly be hearing the same song again. The music widget allows you to play, pause or skip tracks, but after hearing the same set of songs looping, it may be best to turn it off and play your own music. Otherwise, the only sounds you’ll hear are the familiar sound of the mouse clicking as you select items on the computer. Occasionally, there will be sounds from pop-up messages as well.
While playing through Tech Support: Error Unknown, I was constantly reminded of the game Papers, Please, another indie simulator that has you working the mundane job of a border immigration agent. Tech Support: Error Unknown is more of a window-management simulator as you work diligently to solve customer issues. Certain scenarios will have you bouncing between multiple apps very quickly, and you need to understand all the resources you have available to you at any given moment.
There is an incredible amount of multitasking in this game, and you are rewarded by assisting more customers. The money you earn each day can be used to help other NPCs in-game with specific requests, or to upgrade your in-game computer to make your workflow more efficient. For instance, you can upgrade the fictional RAM in your computer to allow more windows to be opened simultaneously. The feedback loop of helping customers, making money, upgrading your equipment to be able to help more customers in less time becomes extremely addictive. Because in-game days are relatively short, taking roughly ten to fifteen minutes real time to complete, it feels as though there is constantly a carrot dangling in front of you, tempting you to play just “one more day.”
One of the main storylines introduced early on revolves around a rogue hacktivist group. Within your first few days on the job, an anonymous individual reaches out to you who claims to be with an organization who call themselves Indigo. He notifies you that Quasar is not the company that you think they are, explaining that they are unknowingly siphoning customers’ personal data from their mobile devices without their consent.
If you accept his invitation to join the hacktivist group, you will receive periodic communication from the individual with updates or new information, and sometimes new tasks. The problem, however, is that communication is very sparse, and the story beats are very infrequent. This creates a narrative that is filled by (in-game) days of mundane work. Many of the storylines can easily be missed without the player knowing. For instance, if you don’t send the proper reply to an email, or upload a specific attachment, you may miss entire pieces of the story without knowing.
Overall, Tech Support: Error Unknown is a great experience. There is something inherently fun about performing mundane tasks in a simulation, even if it is something you already do on a regular basis. What makes this game special is the freedom of choice given to the player. You can choose which organization or group you’d like to side with, and there are many that become available. Each decision you make in-game creates a series of branching paths, which makes the game highly replayable.
In all, there are 23 different endings that can be unlocked through gameplay. One of the biggest issues that face Tech Support: Error Unknown is the pacing at which the story beats are delivered. Some of the story is delivered quickly, while other parts are a very slow burn, filled with days worth of work that feels meaningless at times. Ultimately, this is a unique, modern simulator dealing with privacy, corruption, achievement and loss. The gameplay is so natural and interactions are so authentic that you may often forget you’re playing a game.