Review: Dead Cyborg: Episode 1
Developer: Endre Barath
Genre: First-person adventure
Platforms: Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, browser (beta)
It was some time last year, I believe, that I came across a free game called Dead Cyborg. I remember first seeing a trailer of the title on NAG magazine’s cover DVD.
I visited the game’s website, and after looking around a bit, I was intrigued. I made sure to come back every now and again over the next several months to check on the game’s progress.
Dead Cyborg is a donation based freeware title. How this works is the first episode of the game is released for free, as a teaser or demo of sorts. From there on, the next episode will only be made available once the donation meter fills up. It’s a unique method of funding on the part of this one-man indie developer – although he, Endre Barath, doesn’t necessarily seem to think so (there are allusions to this in the game’s FAQ and in-game).
So if you want to play the next episode, you have to pay a little, perhaps. Otherwise you could sit there and wait until everyone else contributes, so you can download and play it. But if everyone did that, we’d be waiting as long as we did for DNF, perhaps.
I downloaded the free first episode, “The beginning of the death”, the other day, and got to playing it just this week. This game is made entirely in a program called Blender, and the unzipped weight of the entire episode is a mere 50 MB. This, instead of using a more commonly used game engine, such as Unity or Unreal Engine 3, for instance.
"Even the graffiti found around the bunker is written in binary code, which the player character somehow understands.”
First off, you are almost instantly reminded of the opening scene in System Shock 2, as the player character comes round in the Cryotanks area - where people are in suspended animation, or cryonic sleep. But you’re alone and people who were in the other chambers are gone. Instead of picking up audio logs like one would in SS 2, you come across holographic data cubes, which you can interact with to reveal part of what’s going on. But most of what you’ll see is just that: text or graphics. There’s little audio, and even less speech in DC. And the audio is a little annoying or even out of place, at that.
The creator explains that Dead Cyborg is a mix of old school text-based adventures, point ‘n click adventures and more modern sci-fi titles, such as the aforementioned System Shock games, BioShock, Fallout, etc. You can see several similarities in theme throughout the episode.
What you have to do is obviously move around the place, which seems to be a bunker of sorts below the surface of the earth, which was supposedly wiped out in a nuclear war. The controls aren’t really that great – there’s no mouse support, although it was in the game at one point, and still lives on in the browser version of the game (in beta). You move the character using the WASD keys, and you control the view using the arrow keys. Yes, those ones next to the enter key that have gathered dust for all these years, from neglect. Talking about the enter key, you’ll use this to access your inventory, but there’s no advanced view of this on screen, in grid form such as SS2 or Deus Ex. You cycle through inventory items by repeatedly pressing the enter key. Pressing spacebar helps you interact with the environment.
The puzzles are rather simplistic at first and mainly involve you picking up cans of acid spray to destroy nano webs, left by robotic spiders. Adding a bit to the frustration are empty acid spray cans. These puzzles do get a bit more challenging as you go a long, but mostly it’s the bleeding obvious, which most non puzzle-solvers won’t even think of. A read through of the walkthroughs online will make you facepalm a few times. This all might have been because I’d faced a lot more challenging, complex puzzles in The Dark Mod, which I’d played and reviewed before this, though.
There’s something here that I first found a little annoying, but have since grown accustomed to. If you get stuck - and you probably will at some point – you can’t save the game to come back to that exact point later on. There are no savegames. You only have checkpoints that kick in at every level. How this works is that you are given a password to memorize when you reach the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th levels. From here on if you want to access that particular level, you need to enter the password at the main menu area called “start with password”. You won’t lose any inventory or such doing this seeing as inventory items don’t carry over anyway. Naturally, on the second playthrough of a level, things move a lot faster when you actually know what to do, so reaching a previously-reached point doesn’t take that long.
- Binary code graffiti.
- Brain scanners that search for passwords in your mind.
Robots seem to litter the place, some being able to see, other that can only hear. One looks similar to the hoover bot from DX, which if stepped on, exploded and took your leg off. This one doesn’t though. These robots can be conversed with, and even bribed with bolts – as there doesn’t seem to be any currency around, initially. God bless the little lugnuts. At least you’re not dealing with Bender from Futurama. Indeed, robots seem to play a big part in Dead Cyborg. They were heavily involved with the nuclear war that resulted in the death and destruction topside, years before – which just screams Judgment Day. Even the graffiti found around the bunker is written in binary code, which the player character somehow understands. Very clever and original, I must say.
You won’t come across any living, breathing humans in DC:E1, but there are a few dead ones scattered about the levels, of which there are four in total. And these won’t be the product of any of your actions either. There are no weapons, there are no enemies to dispose of; no combat whatsoever. This game is about exploration.
Rather gruesomely, you discover from not only looking at the corpses, but by reading some of the other texts or talking to the robots, that someone or something has been harvesting parts of the bodies after dealing with the individuals. There are subtle as well as more overt clues as to who it is who is committing these heinous acts during the game.
But beneath the surface of cutesy graphics and frivolous fonts, lies commonly discussed subjects of immense depth: death; the afterlife; religion. Without giving away too much here, the test subjects who underwent cryonic sleep, like most people on around us in real life, have different beliefs, thoughts, and opinions. But the way it was explored or presented by Endre was perhaps a tad immature for some. If anything, this entire game feels as though it belongs on the kid’s shelf at a store – but then it’s punctuated with light gore and more adult-themed content.
That’s what makes it hard to classify this title. It’s no doubt an indie game, and if it weren’t for the fact that most indie developers struggle financially, even if they distribute their games on digital distribution services like Steam (if they manage to get on Steam at all), you’d likely find it somewhere there.
To sum it up, it’s a small, maybe unconventional game that, despite my comparisons earlier, you cannot possibly measure up against those aforementioned titles, or any big budget game for that matter. Having said that, it’s free, it’s kinda fun, and with some good ideas and appropriate atmosphere, I’ll definitely take a stab at episode 2, whenever that sees the light of day.
What do you think of Dead Cyborg?
© 2011 ANDR01D