Point-and-click adventure games are an underappreciated relic of the video game industry. Rarely do worthwhile games of this ilk come out, and, on the occasion they do, major publications give them little attention. The main issue for many such games is that they tend to feel outdated; gameplay interaction has evolved so much since the earliest adventure games, and technology has jumped leaps and bounds further than anything their creators could have imagined. With that in mind, newer genres have naturally advanced the standard for active engagement. However, every so often, a new point-and-click adventure attempts to show gamers that the genre is still relevant in this ever-evolving industry.
Cayne is a new-age point-and-click adventure that tries to update the antiquated formula using a movie-like plot backed by intense, cinematic cutscenes. Unfortunately, the game falls flat in every aspect of this attempt due to obtuse puzzles and an infuriatingly convoluted narrative.
Developed by The Brotherhood, Cayne is a sci-fi/horror title released for free by the team that created Stasis. The game returns to the Stasis universe, attempting to capitalise on the significant amount of praise received by that earlier project. The Brotherhood released Cayne in tandem with a Kickstarter for its newest project, Beautiful Desolation, with hopes that fans of Stasis would return and invest in the developer’s future endeavor.
The opening cinematic cutscene sets a bar for quality that is thereafter abandoned. So gorgeous, in fact, is this opening video that instead of inspiring awe, the disparity between gameplay and cinematics baffles. Indeed, Cayne looks virtually identical to Stasis, having been built in the same engine, and features an absurd amount of over-the-top gore, ensuring that the game has more in common with a B-movie than the atmospheric thriller the developer so clearly aims to create. This general lack of quality is further amplified by the surprising lack of auditory ambience that makes Cayne feel more empty and lifeless than tense. Sound effects feel cheap, and Cayne’s sound design lacks any indication of polish outside of the characters well-acted voices.
The main character, Hadley, is nine months pregnant and obviously not thrilled about this. She wakes up trapped in a dark and brooding facility, with dangers around every corner. The game seldom shares details, but the facility exists to allow for experimentation on some kind of monster, along with larger plot-related goals, and has been evacuated because of Hadley’s early actions. Obviously, Hadley’s goal is to escape, but the aforementioned monster waits in front of the only elevator out. So, before she can run, she must explore, learn, and strategize—all of which are a painful experience for the player, as Hadley is the ultimate uncaring, self-absorbed character who rarely reacts to her experiences with more than sarcasm.
Playing Cayne without knowledge of the events of Stasis is possible, but extremely frustrating. In the latter half of the game, the narrative becomes entirely dependent on defining factors that are presumably detailed in Stasis; for example, the game never explains who or what the eponymous Cayne is. The game attempts to explain the circumstances that unfolded and forced Hadley into her dire situation, along with personality traits of every character. However, instead of guiding the player through events that would provide some sense of understanding, the developer has left a couple dozen PDAs (effectively Word documents) scattered throughout the facility. Frankly, The Brotherhood’s attempt at world building is lazy. The entire experience overloads the player with so much information that interest is easily lost.
Attention is extremely important to keep in Cayne, however, as skipping over anything could lead to confusion as crucial information is hidden deep within these PDAs. This feeling of overwhelming frustration is fairly common in the game as every puzzle is obscured by ridiculous logic and opaque instruction. An example of this obfuscation is found in a puzzle that requires the player to dump protein powder on a computer terminal to find a password, as if the screen would have been used for only that.
Outside of things directly visible to Hadley, virtually no life is present in Cayne despite The Brotherhood’s efforts to make the world feel lived in. The characters that surround Hadley stand still, as time and space trudge along for her. In one instance, a man is severed in two, yet stays alive for a major part of the game, allowing for Hadley to thoroughly explore her surroundings before his life is used and discarded once more.
Puzzle design seems to follow this principle as well. As long as the puzzles make minimal sense, they are acceptable to push the player along. Cayne forces the player to attempt every combination possible to find inexplicable solutions for puzzles, signaling a complete lack of respect for the player’s intelligence. While the constant tug-and-pull with Cayne’s systems might seem like a challenge to some, the challenge is built on a weak foundation. A game should be hard because the concept or design of a puzzle is unique and innovative, not because non-sequitur logic is required to progress.
This theme of almost hitting the mark is present in every aspect of Cayne. The voice acting allows for characters to show a multitude of emotions that would otherwise be lost by the game’s aesthetic but the game does not let Hadley move to another room if a character is speaking in the background. Instead, Hadley stands by idly, waiting for a chance to move so that she can repeat the cycle once more. This process creates another unnecessary obstacle and detracts from the fluidity of Cayne’s experience. Thankfully, this experience only lasts two to three hours (which is a respectable length considering that Cayne is, effectively, a free expansion for Stasis, an eight-to-nine-hour game).
Cayne hits the most basic requirements to be considered playable. The game’s functionality and aesthetic are passable alongside the convoluted but entertaining plot. Obstacles exists for the player to solve, even if they are dense, but the experience as a whole is everything short of acceptable. Cayne is boring, dated, and undercooked. The characters are unlikeable and puzzles are poorly designed. With more resources, Cayne could have been crafted into something special because of the game’s strong storytelling and cinematic backbone. Obviously, The Brotherhood wanted to give their audience a taste of what the studio can create, however, Cayne leaves players with nothing but a bitter taste.
RAGE 2 Review – Glorious Guns but a Shoddy Structure
A Conflicted Beginning
The opening moments of RAGE 2 are reminiscent of little so much as Killzone. A gravelly voice gives a stirring speech about superiority and the need to quash the rampant spread of lesser humans. The speaker is General Cross, a bald, deformed head—Scolar Visari transplanted across the years and franchises—atop a robotic body. Furthermore, like Killzone, such charisma and character are reserved for the enemy faction, here known as The Authority.
Players quickly get the choice of either a male or female Walker before being tossed into a high-octane battlefield overrun by cyborgs and mutants alike. Armed with only a few basic weapons, Walker is an effective killing machine in this first conflict, and the gameplay experience is as satisfying as they come. The guns are responsive and feel powerful, while the level design invites the kind of non-stop strafing and perpetual motion popularised by classics such as Quake and DOOM.
As veteran gamers might expect from past experiences, the battle goes badly. The heroes are killed, and Walker’s hometown is razed. In using this premise RAGE 2 attempts tired pity-me story beats to invest the player (at this point, unsuccessfully). The hometown hero (and Walker’s mother figure) is slain in the battle, which begins a quest that combines personal vengeance with the global desire to do what is best for the world: stop the monsters.
Before that, players must first expand their skill set, and so the sublime first-person shooter gameplay is joined with RPG mechanics that promise immense depth to the gunplay out in the Wasteland, though the first of these so-termed superpowers is underwhelming, providing the ability to dash out of harm’s way.
With the story set up, the game shifts gears, putting players into an armoured vehicle, and the grippy handling feels as good as the gunplay. The vehicle physics are decidedly arcade-infused, caring little for such nuances as terrain. Instead, all that matters is putting the pedal to the metal and tearing off towards the first objective (and trying to not get too sidetracked in the process).
Despite all of this—the satisfying gunplay, the competent (if so far unspectacular) story, the pleasurable vehicle controls—something feels missing in RAGE 2, a certain spark that will make everything just click.
Gunplay To Die For
Shaking the dust of the ruined Vineland from Walker’s boots for the first time is a bit like bungee jumping. Although the player’s time in the village has been short, they have become acclimatised to a certain po-faced tone and blazingly fast gameplay. Suddenly, though, the security of familiarity drops away as Walker freefalls into the wasteland.
Three story-focused questlines are provided as immediate options, but every path is peppered with distractions and side missions that beg to be roughhoused. After only an hour’s random exploration, the overworld map is littered with icons denoting all sorts of miscellaneous activities.
The Arks, in particular, call for attention. In the fiction, they are similar to Fallout’s Vaults in their stated purpose of repopulating the world post-apocalypse, but they serve primarily as a means of increasing Walker’s abilities. As enticing and—importantly—useful as the Arks are, they highlight a problem about the open world that manifests quite quickly: almost every Ark is blocked by a cohort of enemies, with another set arriving once Walker has acquired her newest skill.
Indeed, most of the activities scattered about the world amount to combat challenges against ever more dangerous foes. Occasionally, random NPCs will offer races, but these are not frequent enough to offset the sheer number of bullets that players will fire both on foot and in their vehicles. Thankfully, many of the enemy outposts, bandit dens, and bounty hideouts feature bespoke, open designs, meaning that players are never at liberty to settle into a single pattern of clearing these challenges.
Further adding diversity (though not nearly enough) are the different combat proclivities of each faction. The Goons and The Shrouded will be the most familiar to gamers, each showcasing a combination of pop-n-shoot gunplay, explosives, and close-range attackers. The mutants are more animalistic, preferring melee. Meanwhile, The Authority uses brute force and high firepower to wipe out any opposition. Although players need to be aware of the unique tactics and skills of each faction, none force the player to change their strategy; the best approach is always to move fast and keep pulling the trigger and, eventually, every enemy breaks down into scattered giblets.
The ever-expanding suite of options, compelling gunplay, varied level design, and satisfying difficulty all ensure that these encounters are never boring, but these traits are not enough to prevent a growing sense of tedium. In many ways, venturing unstructured through the wasteland feels as though the developers had a hammer of a gameplay loop, so every problem had to be a nail.
The bungee jumping analogy, then, comes full circle. After the thrill of freefall, the cord snaps back and the jumper, before too long, arrives back on terra firma. RAGE 2 follows this pattern, as the freedom of tearing across a vast environment always reins itself in to fighting.
However, novelty is not that not-quite-identifiable thing that lurks just beyond reach. Even moving from vehicle to foot changes things up, and the ridiculous amount of options in combat keeps things perpetually fresh.
A Story Lost Amidst the Bombast
The claims about story being a focal point of RAGE 2’s development ring hollow. A forgiving estimate of total narrative-led play time would clock about six hours—a realistic estimate, four. The disappointment spans more than just the brevity, however.
Walker is exactly the kind of faceless, figureless protagonist that has plagued the shooter genre for years. Her bland, no-nonsense demeanour is a dampening lens through which to view this madcap apocalypse, and it undercuts the otherwise energetic tone. Whether interacting with the dour John Marshall or the despicable Doctor Kvasir, Walker remains unflappable, the consummate professional, and that is to the detriment of the whole game. Indeed, her personality—or, rather, the lack thereof—is a clear demonstration of that missing something that has proven so elusive. More on that later, though.
With the story being so short, the lack of impact should come as little surprise. The invasion of Vineland in the opening moments is, by far, the most interesting plot point of the entire game. Such narrative necessities as momentum, surprise, and emotion are jettisoned in favour of a straightforward quest for revenge. Unfortunately, the story is so comprehensively forgettable that nothing else is worth saying about it.
To return now to that something; Walker may want for a personality, but the game does not, and this juxtaposition highlights a central shortcoming: a lack of cohesion. RAGE 2 feels like a Frankenstein’s monster of conflicting visions. The remarkably tight combat and hand-crafted locations are designed for the most frenetic of shooters. However, the wider world makes the gunplay feel like just one part of a design that incorporates meaningless RPG progression and purchase mechanics and a considerable amount of driving from one location to another, with regular pit stops to clear enemy hubs (until that process becomes more tiresome than it has any right to be).
Even the world feels disparate, the map stitched together out of box-ticking biomes. To be fair, the deserts, jungles, waterfalls, and canyons all bear the same breathtaking beauty, but they all blend together into a meaningless mish-mash, with the gameplay locations instead being primarily industrial warehouses. The natural environment is wasted, which makes the open world seem like nothing more than padding—another area where mismatched design principles lead to a game that wants to be everything and suffers because of that ambition.
A Slipshod Structure
Bethesda has already laid out a roadmap of post-launch support for RAGE 2, and that has raised fears among the community that the game adheres to a service model. Such concerns can safely be laid to rest. Although the storyline leaves much to be desired, RAGE 2 is plump with content, as evidenced by the dozens—maybe even hundreds—of markers sprinkled across the map.
Unfortunately, the game suffers too much from its freeform design. Players are immediately free to hunt down the Arks that unlock new abilities. As such, every skill and weapon can be unlocked within a handful of hours, which is disastrous for pacing. Even more troublesome, the RPG mechanics serve no real purpose. Players need never purchase a single upgrade to succeed, and the sheer number of different currencies make doing so a chore anyway.
Because of this lack of structure, a game that could still be interesting 30 hours in can also feel worn our within a dozen, and that suggests the post-launch support will likely only appeal to a dedicated fanbase. The challenges, vehicles, and events scheduled to arrive in the coming months will likely not change up the core gameplay structure all that much. Instead, judging by the little information already available, they may simply give dedicated fans more of what they desire.
On a completely different note, but equally as concerning as the game structure is the enemy design. Beginning with General Cross and extending across the Goons, mutants, and other factions, RAGE 2 seems to take a perverse pleasure in vilifying the Other, the outsider, the disabled, the religious. Even Doctor Kvasir, as a former Authority scientist with questionable morals, is a deformed being. By contrast, the undisputed heroes are all healthy and whole. While problematic in some respects, this subtle and most likely unintentional subtext is easily overlooked and unlikely to affect the enjoyment of most gamers.
Simply put, RAGE 2 is a strange beast. Perhaps that was inevitable as the follow-up to a middling first effort developed across two very different studios. Perhaps that shared production is also the reason for the lack of unity. Whatever the reason, RAGE 2 is clearly best suited to a particular kind of player. The game offers an often-beautiful environment combined with easy, enjoyable traversal mechanics. Comprising the bulk of the experience is some of the finest and most diverse gunplay combat to be found gaming today. However, these charms are let down somewhat by the lacking story and structure and a general feeling of a tonal mismatch between the bland protagonist and the madcap world.
Reviewed on Xbox One X.
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