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I don’t know this to be true, but I bet there’s a league of text adventure purists out there who look down on us current gamers. “Back in our day,” they probably say, “we didn’t need any of those newfangled graphics – or any kind of graphics!” If that sounds like you, quit being so judgmental. Also, check out Cypher, a new text adventure game with more than a few similarities to the classics.
Okay, so any text adventure game is bound to bear a certain likeness to its forefathers. There’s only so much one can deviate from the formula of typing in text commands to progress. Cypher remains wholly within that structure, but it modernizes things by folding audio and visuals into the mix. I realize that may sound offensive to old school players, but it’s far from an invasive or game-altering addition.You won’t encounter a barrage of lengthy cutscenes, but you’ll always see a static image to the right of the text, and hear occasional audio cues that are relevant to the task at hand. Entering a nightclub, for example, conjures up a cliche techno soundtrack, along with strobe lights flashing across the screen.
Of course — gorgeous visuals or not — a text adventure is only as good as its story, and Cypher definitely excels in this category. You take on the role of a data smuggler in a dystopian Japan whose services increase in demand as the powers that be rule over the world with an iron fist. The game begins with you in the midst of a smuggling deal gone wrong, and you quickly find out that a whole lot of people want you dead by the end of night. Any wrong move can result in your demise, a fact you’ll be reminded of on several occasions.
And even without death waiting behind every corner, Cypher is one tough cookie to navigate. There’s a bit of a learning curve in regards to how it wants you to type commands, and it takes some time to adjust to. Fortunately, the guide included with the game does a good job of holding your hand in some of the more obtuse sections — like navigating databanks. I still got stuck in a few places because it didn’t understand a command that felt obvious to me, but that kind of comes with the text adventure territory.
I also made the grave mistake of not drawing a map of the game’s world when I began, which resulted in me ending up in the same place on several occasions and dying. Those with more experience in the genre than myself may have less trouble keeping mental tabs on where they should and shouldn’t be, but I’d advise drawing a map all the same. The game is a little more user-friendly than older text adventures when it comes to navigation, certainly, but that doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park.
The Cabrera Brothers set out to create a text adventure with a classic feel, and they pulled it off with gusto. If you stripped away the visuals and pared the game down to its bare essentials, it would fit in perfectly with the games that inspired it. It has a very dated feel to it, and I say that as a compliment. Whether you’re a dyed in the wool purist of the genre or just someone who’s been waiting for a chance to test the waters, Cypher‘s well-crafted atmosphere and story will have you typing like a madman in no time.
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