Tag Archives: Adventure Game

CAYNE review

This was the fifth I wrote for Brash Games.  They have since removed my name and byline from the review.

CAYNE begins in some whitewashed room of some future hospital.  There is a girl on an operating table.  She’s being waited on by a doctor and nurse.  She explains she’s without family, awaiting an operation which has been paid for by some unknown 3rd party – an operation involving a baby.  She is told to count backwards from 10, and the screen goes black…

When she wakes up, she is still on an operating table, but in a starkly different room and in a starkly different body.  She is now many months into pregnancy, with a belly the size of a woman’s who is nearly ready to give birth.  An eerie, childlike voice pipes up over the intercom, explaining that she will need to stay awake during the womb extraction procedure. It continues, “Your selfless gift to science will be remembered for generations to come.”  This ominous message, of course, sets our main character into a shrill series of screams while a lumbering, big-daddy-sized alien creature encircles her bed, preparing to operate…

When you’re finally given control and you’re able to assist in Hadley’s escape from her terrifying situation, you’re rapidly introduced to the general mechanics of CAYNE.  It’s a purely classic point and click adventure, chock full of inventory puzzles, click-hunting, and locks and keys – all played to the grizzly tune of some very well written horror science fiction set in the universe of STASIS, the developer’s previous isometric adventure game.

Quickly, it becomes apparent that this is no crumby, free-to-play waste of time. There is a very high level of quality in every regard here.  The gameplay just about matches the quality of most high-production point-and-click adventures, the voice acting is beyond impressive – especially from the main character, the writing is mature and begs comparisons to Harlan Ellison, and the environments are detailed and beautiful, though that’s a word I’d refrain from using again when describing the world of CAYNE.  A better word might be repulsive, sickening, terrifying, or horrible.

You progress through the blood drenched corridors of CAYNE in typical adventure game style.  You find a variety of key items like ID cards, scalpels, flagellation whips, and grub milk and use them on the dozens of gates that bar your way throughout the dismal facility.  For the majority of your time playing CAYNE, you’ll be pulling off the same tricks you learned in Adventure Game Elementary School.  You’ll search all over with your mouse for clickable areas when you’re unable to figure out where to go next, and if that doesn’t work, you’ll do it again with each item from your inventory in hand. I mean there’s always a chance that the grub milk you picked up will put out the fire that’s blocking your path, right? You’ll try combining every odd item you find, and when you finally realize what you’re actually supposed to do, you’ll simultaneously hate yourself and the puzzle that was giving you such grief. You’ll blame yourself for being too blind to see the solution and you’ll blame the puzzle for being convoluted in that perfect point and click fashion.

Interrupting the steady flow of keys, gates, machines, and electronics, you’re occasionally rewarded with a gruesome cutscene or a brief interaction with some of the quirky (crazy is more like it) NPCs.  Most of the back story is filled in through electronic diaries that just happen to be scattered about the rusty old operating rooms and experimentation chambers.  They tell you of the people who live (or lived) within the facility – a menagerie of mutants and weirdos, all in cahoots on some dark, violent, and evil procedures revolving around a living experiment named Samantha and the president of CAYNE industries.

As you search for your means of escape from the hellish complex, you’re accompanied by a mysterious disembodied voice.  He keeps Hadley sane, being the only source of normalcy in this twisted, gore-filled world. Slowly, bits of key information bob to the surface as you continue solving puzzles and moving forward.  The more you learn, the more you discover the curious topics CAYNE focuses on.  Science, religion, the combination of the two, violence in the name of human advancement, the struggles of motherhood, and insanity.  In a brief, 2-hour long game, a lot of serious questions are raised, though few are answered.

From what I can gather, a rather large chunk of CAYNE’s core lies within the exploration of the grotesque.  Maggots and grubs, extracted wombs, pus and mucus and blood, bizarre sexual fetishes, festering wounds, and mangled corpses are just a few of the delightful things you’ll get to encounter throughout the laboratory. These intense visuals (along with several detailed descriptions of such gruesome items) on top of the overarching narrative about science and religion and human testing give me the impression that there is at least some amount of subtle critique of the world within CAYNE. At the very least, this world is one in which science has gone entirely off the rails, resulting in horrors beyond belief.

CAYNE is a bright spot in the world of modern adventure games.  It capitalizes on the good while avoiding the worst and most frustrating tropes of the point and click genre.  The story is fleshed out and fulfilling, with some great writing throughout.  The production quality is out of sight for a free game and even though it’s only going to last you two or three hours, the voice-acting alone is well worth the time.  If you’ve got the stomach to handle the gore, and you’re looking for a really, disturbingly good sci-fi horror experience, CAYNE is a great freebie to snatch up! And if you enjoy CAYNE or games like it, it’s good to know that it will soon be followed up with a game called BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION, now on Kickstarter!

N8

R8

6/8

follow n8 @UncleEggma

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Lovely, Ordinary Rituals

If you scroll through my post history here on N8R8, it ought to be pretty obvious why Rituals first caught my eye. Low-poly, exploration-based, minimalist, slightly abstract, 3D first-person adventure/puzzler. Not to mention its dreary themes relating to nature and humanity. I mean, it literally feels like Tymon Zgainski knew exactly what to include in a trailer to get someone like me to buy his game. So I did, of course, and after a brief stint in this lovely, snow-globe-like world, I can’t help but feel a tinge of disappointment… But perhaps that’s too pessimistic a sentiment to begin this review, so instead of whining straight from the get-go, perhaps I should just begin with what Rituals is.

Rituals is a point-and-click. It’s a short, thoughtful(ish), well-directed adventure into an immersive bridge-world between natural environments and industrial/corporate spaces. The player takes the classic role of the highly-relateable desk jockey with a penchant for poking around places lower-level employees don’t belong. The controls are simple and self-explanatory, with on-screen directional arrows and a click-and-drag style of looking around. Using these simple tools to peruse my place of work, I was clued into the statutory mystery of the game. Security cameras, that ever-present feeling of abandonment, and an eerie audio track which could easily have been titled “Something Amiss” all suggest that something is, indeed, amiss. Is this a dream? Am I dead? In a coma? In purgatory? I fear this game will be boring enough to answer “yes” to any one of these questions.

And quickly, at the end of a disastrous elevator ride, my fear that Rituals will be riding the same tedious rails as a hundred point-and-click adventures before is alleviated. I enter a new place – a forest temple – decorated with light and greenery and sacred symbols. A note on the pedestal at the end of the enclosure asks us specific questions, but their gist is the same. They are the formal questions of the adventure game genre. What is the meaning of this place? Who are its creators? Who am I, and how am I related to it all? I could call these questions tropes, and indeed they are. But these archetypal riddles give the first-person adventure game its glow. Without these recycled fundamentals, adventure games would not do what they do so well – and that is ask us meaningful questions.

Temple

Other adventure game conventions are maintained. Instinctually, I collect a lantern, a bucket, and a shovel. I know they’ll be useful at some point. Reflexively, I explore all directions and click on all things clickable. Several paths lead to dead-ends. These dead-ends are off-putting in a modern adventure game like Rituals, where the protocol is that all impasses offer some sort of eventual purpose. It took me a while to trust them as true dead-ends and to understand that Rituals is not a complicated game. The lantern is used for light. The bucket is used for water. The shovel is used to dig. The initial excitement of this place wears off and I go about using these items in a chore-like manner. Many games offer something pretty to look at during these moments of tedium. Rituals gives you the same forest-y labyrinth, with its actual dead-ends and its low-poly dirt. Fairly humdrum.

These moments are abound in the exploration process. In each new area, I am required to engage in mechanical, unchallenging, and relatively uninteresting stints of investigation. Having been so enthusiastic to play the game, I wanted to get something good out of my experience. So I tried to stop thinking of Rituals as a game. I quit focusing on the simplicity of the puzzles and focused more on the exploratory process. But there was nothing supplementary to the primary goal of moving forward. Excluding the occasional magazine or note with some detail into the ‘story’ behind the game, there is nothing to gain from deeper inspection.

Chart

And this ‘hidden’ story, which the player is almost guaranteed to discover, revolves around some unfortunately well-worn practices of science fiction. Humans have pissed off Mother Nature. The player is the agent that will balance the scales. But since this is a video game, the almighty art form of the modern generation – destined to overturn the staleness of linear narrative, the player has Choice(tm). So instead of saving the world, the player – groundbreakingly – may choose to end it! Heavy stuff, I know… There’s no nuance to any of it. Each little piece of the story is, without any convincing veil, placed directly on the player’s path. This, to me, is analogous to disobeying the old English teacher adage of “Show, Don’t Tell.” Rituals got right in my face and told me the answers to those questions it had me asking early in the game. Answers I didn’t want, answers I honestly didn’t need. This problem carries over into the actual gameplay. A linear trail of crumbs leads the player to the only possible conclusion there is to each and every ‘puzzle.’

All of this is not to say that the game does not have its merits. The game is at peak shininess during those in-between scenes where the player has just completed the tasks required to move on. The wonderful direction of Rituals peaks out from the shroud of monotony to give us a glimpse of what magic may have been. There is a legitimate sense of urgency and seriousness when you’re being brought to and from different places. Volcanos explode, elevators crash, and lights dim, giving off the real impression that something meaningful and exciting is happening. The conclusion of the game is one of the best parts. Suddenly, all of the little boring bits come together with a bang, and it’s almost hard to remember why they were so lame in the first place.

Jungle

Rituals does a good job of scaling up the story to fit my understanding of the world as I explored further. I never felt overwhelmed or confused, which is a typical problem I have with first person adventure games. The story was dull, though not vapid, and the gameplay was slow-paced and obvious, though not entirely pointless. I feel like there’s a spectrum that exists with games like Rituals. At one end is total convolution and at the other is flaccidity.  And while Rituals is pretty far to the flaccid side of that spectrum, it isn’t a total bust. It is thoughtful and has a lot of heart. It’s a well-polished, solid, short-form interactive experience with some real problems with its essential game-ness and narrative direction. Undoubtedly, though, I am glad I took the time to play.

N8

R8

4/8

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N8 AW8S – Shape of the World

download

Currently vying for your support, Shape of the World is an atmospheric first-person exploration game that boasts a procedurally generated environment and gameplay similar to Flower and Proteus.  One might be tempted to compare it to walking-sims like Dear Esther, but that would be entirely ignoring the main attraction…  In Shape of the World, Progression is marked with the world shooting up around you. Luminescent trees, neon foliage, and ghost-like creatures come into existence as you cover the ground with your footsteps. These are markers of the player’s own growth in relation to the game.  Triangular arches and glowing orbs beckon in the distance and give the player a sense of direction and purpose.  There is no concrete reward system.  No points, no leaderboard, no end-of-level sugar-rush.  Shape of the World isn’t so forceful as all of that.  A softer sort of progress is awarded as the player delves deeper into this world.  The world grows with the player’s movement, and the player cannot grow further without the gentle nudging from the world.

From Stu Maxwell and Co. at Hollow Tree Studios, Shape of the World is available for pre-order on Kickstarter, and offers the ability to get access to the game for $20(CAD).  Upon it’s release, it’s certain to increase in price, so make sure to snag your right to a digital copy now!

I’ll leave you with a lovely preview:

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N8 R8S 8 – GameJolt Adventure Jam

GameJolt’s Adventure Jam ended recently and I played several of the lovely little prototypes.  I should note that I have never really liked adventure games of the point-and-click variety, and I was surprised to see there were a LOT of them in this jam. I find them kind of tedious and slow-paced and more often than not, frustrating. This is sad, because I loved this type of game as a little N8. Freddi the Fish and Spyfox were so much fun to me, even though I was way too old to be playing them. When I played Grim Fandango, I ran into the same problems, but the game was colorful and clever enough to keep me entranced. Walkthroughs typically annoy me.  I want to figure my games out for myself, but with this type of game, I stop caring. It’s a choice between click-spamming all over the place and cheating myself out of figuring out the solution on my own.

The games in this jam did not, unfortunately, alleviate my disdain for point-and-clicks, so please understand that the way in which I ranked the following games is entirely arbitrary and based on nothing more than my personal fancy.


Here are the results of this N8R8S8:

1/8 Turing Adventure – This was one I couldn’t quite figure out.  I was supposed to escape this room by talking to something akin to CleverBot.  As if talking with chat bots online isn’t fun enough,Turing Adventure incorporates dynamic interaction in a way dialogue-trees can’t touch.  That doesn’t mean the dialogue here was really any better than pre-recorded dialogue trees, but at least the game tried something new.  As an experiment in human-AI interaction, this jam is great!  But the problems of chat-bot stupidity are far from resolved.

Turing

2/8 Speak of The Cloud – A beautiful, spirited, glitchy mess.  I’d say it’s the jam with the most potential in terms of classical story-telling.  I am very interested in where this game will go, assuming it goes.  The visuals were great and my biggest regret is not being able to see more.  I got stuck and quit – half due to frustration, half due to the fact that I had like 6 more games to try.  Nothing really groundbreaking here.

Speak

3/8 Foundations – This one got a lot of praise from the folks judging the jams.  It is well-polished and played much like a fully-fledged point-and-click. But it was just that to me. There was nothing that shouted ‘unique’ or ‘different’ in any real way, and I just got bored so quickly.  The lowish rating has nothing to do with the game’s merits, and everything to do with the fact that I just like weirder and more stimulating stuff than this.

Found

4/8 Being Her Darkest Friend – The title screen is fantastic.  The visuals are polished and fit the mood of the game perfectly.  Underneath the surface, this is still a pretty generic point-and-click, just with some creepy overtones and an interesting story.  The dialogue was underwhelming, though the ending was pretty cool.  This falls directly in between ‘totally typical’ and ‘entirely different’ to me.

Main chamber

5/8 Once Upon a Timeline – A point-and-click again, but that is not the main attraction by far!  This clever game allows the player to go back and forth about 200 years and discover the changing scenery of a small house.  Gathering items from different periods of time was definitely a more entertaining way of using the point-and-click style of exploration than the typical form of slow-paced meandering, but there was very little to do.  The mechanics are simple and easily transferable to another game.  I’d like to see this more fleshed out.

Timeline

6/8 Pendek – Another point-and-click. Blocky, faux-pixelated graphics, a cool, unique, engaging narrative, and some not-so-frustrating gameplay made me enjoy this short game a lot more than I expected to.  I was invested in the character and his plight.  I would have liked to discover more, as it ended a bit abruptly.  The game was charmingly mysterious.

Pendek

7/8 Late Last Night – Yet another point-and-click.  But this one is hilarious and actually pretty fun. Each location has a different neat little aesthetic and the characters are funny and whimsical.  Reminded me a bit of Jonas Kyratzes’ stuff.  Biggest complaint was the fact that the main character’s dialogue and visuals were crumbier than the rest of the games’.  And the fact that it’s a point-and-click…

unnamed

8/8 Bellular Hexatosis  – This game was right up my alley.  This is a text-adventure where clicking your next line of dialogue pulls you through some amazingly absurd 3D renders.  The bizarre landscapes are great, the writing is fantastic and mysterious, reminding me of Ben Marcus, and the interface is unique and smooth.  This is the first game I’ve played by Porpentine, but I am looking forward to playing more in the future.

Bellular Hexatosis


Hope you’re not too disappointed with my results.  I plan on doing similar short reviews for GameJolt Jams in the future, so please give me a shout if you’d like me to focus on one particular jam or another. Looking forward to more great free indie games like these in the future. -N8

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