Tag Archives: Point and Click

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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The Eyes of Ara Review

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

Mystery is the name of the game in this charmingly intriguing indie title from 100 Stones Interactive. Well not literally… The name of the Game is literally The Eyes of Ara and its game, figuratively speaking, is mystery.  A quick search for this crowdfunded point-and-clicker will show you enchanting pictures of a huge castle with towers and bridges, lavish interiors in the traditional haunted mansion aesthetic, and bizarre electronic contraptions.  Anyone with even a slight familiarity with games in the adventure-puzzle genre would be able to make the obligatory comparison to the games in the Myst series, just based on these images. How will The Eyes of Ara turn out? Will it reel you in with its beautiful scenery and then leave you bored with fifty repetitive clue-fetching quests?  Is it going to be another mediocre Myst-like?  Or maybe, if you’re an optimist, The Eyes of Ara will be just as grand and impressive on the inside as it is on its surface.

The game begins with a gentle boat ride up to the castle’s side docks. You remove a note from your suitcase and read it, filling you in on the dire situation.  Apparently, there’s some strange signal being broadcast from deep within the castle, interfering with the neighboring village’s communication services. To put it in a simpler way, you’re just a tech sent out by the cell phone company to keep their customers happily paying. But hey, not many people get the chance to explore an ancient, abandoned castle on the job, so why not? Quickly, the world fills in around you as you notice pizza boxes and soda cans littered about the entrance area.  A popular place for teenagers to spend the night, it seems. This gives the feeling that there’s nothing to be afraid of in this place. It’s just an old building with some odd quirks. Nothing scary…

You head inside the massive structure, solving some incredibly simple puzzles on the way to the entrance hallway. The place is surprisingly well-kept. Maybe there’s a cleaning service or perhaps a caretaker.  The environment is furnished with a multitude of little flavorings, filling the castle with history and depth. It meshes excellently with the variety of written texts you’ll be discovering throughout. Notes, diary entries, purchase invoices, machine blueprints all feel intimately at home amongst dusty desks and cob-webbed cabinets.  These documents tell you the curious story of the house’s previous residents.  A spiritual mother who believed the house was haunted by ghosts, two excitable children who explore the rooms in search of adventure, and a wily old uncle who spends most of his time up in the tower conducting strange experiments.  This group of characters becomes the primary source of storytelling throughout the many rooms and hallways of the great castle.

These bits of story are peppered evenly throughout the many mental challenges that impede your progress through the rooms. At times, these puzzles feel so simple that I couldn’t help but roll my eyes as I put the pieces in place. In these moments, I really had to wonder what good came of including such easy ‘challenges’ at all.  Fortunately, the puzzles slowly ramp up in complexity and difficulty as you roam deeper into the castle. For the most part, the puzzles remain straight-forward and logical, requiring some light inventory work, jigsawing, and hidden item searching. There are also clues scattered around, which you will need to remember, so it’s a smart thing to utilize your screenshot button or a notepad and pen. Beyond these puzzles, the game consists of a large array of hidden items and collectibles. If not for the few puzzles which appear to be designed for people under the age of 7, The Eyes of Ara would feel truly polished and filled out in terms of gameplay.

Much of the ‘complete’ feeling that I mention above comes from the excitement of exploring the dozens of rooms (along with many other hidden rooms!) within the estate.  Here, the frustrating fact of the genre is that the desire to explore these lush room is impeded by the statuesque position of the player.  There is always something curious that just begs to be clicked on, which is simply not clickable!  So, even after you’ve finished the game and received the congratulatory music and the satisfactory vision of the credits scrolling offscreen, you’re still not quite sure if there was some hidden puzzle that you just couldn’t get to.

This contributes to the other faux pas I noticed in The Eyes of Ara, and that’s the surprising level of linearity that the sprawling castle seems to be built upon.  There are three or four sections of the castle, and they’re each gated by the ‘main puzzle’ that must be solved before progressing.  The first several rooms are one-off puzzles that you never really need to revisit. The fourth puzzle I can remember consisted of pushing two buttons hidden within a room – using the term ‘hidden’ lightly here, because the buttons were sitting out in plain view with absolutely no understandable context.  Many of the puzzles and solutions have absolutely nothing to do with the wonderfully decorated rooms they’re a part of. Despite this, the game is gripping and entertaining more often than not.

The Eyes of Ara is cohesive. The story meshes perfectly with the ambiance, which is only interrupted by the seemingly arbitrary puzzles positioned all over the place in ways that you’d imagine would be extremely inconvenient for anyone actually living in the castle. The music is soothing yet mysterious, egging you on but keeping you off edge. The graphics – while nothing stellar – are solid and fit my idea of such an old and intriguing place as well as I could imagine. The puzzles vary in difficulty dramatically, but the majority are quite stimulating.  All-in-all, The Eyes of Ara is a relaxing game that would make most fans of the genre quite happy.  There’s a solid 15 hours of exploring and puzzling ahead, so it’s a good thing that it’s an easy game to pick up and put down, each time solving just a small slice more of the mystery of The Eyes of Ara.

N8

R8

6/8

follow n8 @UncleEggma

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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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