Do you remember the last time you had to read the manual from cover to cover to actually play the game? And I don’t mean browsing through a leaflet to check the controls, while waiting for the game to install, no. What I have in mind is a thorough analysis and heavy memorization of the game mechanisms to even begin the story properly. Do you remember? Because I certainly don’t. If you’re not afraid of walls of text, intellectual challenges and quite a lot of frustration, keep on reading. Welcome to Cypher: Cyberpunk Text Adventure – a game for people who love books at least as much as games.
The title of the game pretty much explains everything. Cypher belongs to a nearly extinct genre where the player interacts with the world by typing various text commands. Text adventures come in many shapes and styles, but Cypher, being faithful to its subheading, is cyberpunkish to the bone. You know what to expect from the get-go: evil corporations, dehumanized humanity, body implants, neon lights and whatnot. The plot follows the story of a shady character called Dogeron “Dog” Kenan who tries to make a living on dangerous streets of NeoSushi (Formerly known as Tokyo. Really, game? Really?), while working as a data-smuggler, which is a profitable occupation, but also a very risky one. Basically, someone puts an encrypted passcode into the smuggler’s brain and then he needs to deliver it to the appointed spot, outsmarting the police on the way. And as with any criminal operation, things tend not to go according to plan. During one of the smuggling expeditions, something goes terribly wrong and Dogeron gets in real trouble. The kind of trouble that involves nasty people who desperately want you dead. Our unlikely hero has no other choice, but to find out what’s really going on and why he was targeted. A good guess is that it might have something to do with the mysterious passcode Dogeron got recently…
The plot description is pretty vague, but I really don’t want to get into too much detail, since the story is essential in text adventures. With virtually no gameplay, a good plot is all there is in such productions, it should keep you glued to the screen, just like a great novel. Fortunately, Cipher does exactly that. I found the story to be really interesting, but what I loved even more is the great atmosphere. The descriptions are very vivid and you have no problem imagining what is happening at the moment. For me, the whole game had this Deux Ex and Gemini Rue feel about it, which was brilliant. One thing though, that I didn’t like were the grammar errors and typos. It’s not like Cypher is swarming with them, but an occasional misspellings in the text like “gigles” instead of “giggles” made me flinch. I don’t want to be nitpicky – mistakes happen – but in the game that relies so much on words to create the right mood, such blunders shouldn’t happen. However, as far as I know the creators are working currently on a patch fixing those issues, so we can hope for the best.
As was mentioned before, in text adventure games we manually type the commands to perform actions. The game provides us with the description of a certain situation and it’s up to us how we react. Our imagination is the only limitation. Well, that’s the theory. The reality tends to be far more ugly. There was a lot of times where I knew exactly what I wanted to do, but the game couldn’t understand me. The parser is not very cooperative and you have to be really specific about your actions. For instance “pick up” doesn’t work, whereas “take” does. That’s why it’s required to read the manual and get familiar with the commands, even if you have certain experience with similar productions. It’ll make your life a lot easier. Actually, you are advised to read not only the manual but also the digital “feelies” that you get with your copy of Cypher. Without them, it’s impossible to finish the game, since you have no idea how, for instance, to behave in cyberspace. The game is thus really difficult and unforgiving. Be prepared to die without a warning. A lot. You can always turn for help to a hint book, where you can find sort of a walkthrough, but… the solutions are encrypted and you have to decode them first! It’s certainly odd and annoying at times.
Apart from the text, Cypher has little to offer in terms of visuals. On the right side of the screen we can see a portrait of our hero along with small pictures of things from our inventory and little photo of our current location. During the playthrough we’re occasionally accompanied by music, but more frequently by background noises, like traffic or hum of the conversations. Unfortunately they’re quite repetitive and obnoxious, so when you get stuck, and that happens all the time, the sounds will start getting at your nerves. I’ve played most of the game without my headphones on, just for the sake of my sanity.
I am very reluctant to give Cypher: Cyberpunk Text Adventure a grade. This game is clearly not for everybody and I can understand that many players will be bored by it or annoyed to the point of instant uninstallation. But if you like reading and your patience reserves are comparable to Master Yoda’s, you can give Cypher a try. It’s certainly a completely different experience than standard point and click adventures.
+ Gripping story
+ Great climate
– Uncooperative parser
– Annoying background noises
I deliberately didn’t give a score for Cypher, because the game is very specific and not aimed at all gamers. Rather, it is aimed at fans of the text adventure genre, so what would be great to them would probably be tedious to the rest of the population.