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 The main issue for many such games is that they tend to feel outdated; gameplay interaction has evolved so much since the earliest adventure games, and technology has jumped leaps and bounds further than anything their creators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.