Cradle Review
Cradle Review
This sci-fi adventure's positive aspects are greatly overshadowed by its many technical difficulties
Posted: 08/20/15 | Category: Review | Developer: Flying Café for Semianimals | Publisher: Flying Café for Semianimals | Platform: Linux, Windows

Genre: Sci-fi Adventure (Keyboard/Mouse)
Release date: July 25, 2015

You can make the most gorgeous game in the world. It can have breathtaking visuals, an intriguing story, imaginative characters, wonderful music and great ambience. But a poor control scheme and limited gameplay options can greatly overshadow a game's positive aspects.

Welcome to Cradle, an enigmatic sci-fi adventure I followed with interest during its development. When I was asked to write a review, I went for it.

Shortly after I started playing the game, my predominant feeling was: Oh no. What have they done? But I stuck with it. I gave it a chance. I hoped my feelings would change.

Well, some did...and some didn't.

The Good

Cradle's story is far from simple, and it probably won't appeal to everyone. It takes place in a dystopian future and concerns the relationship between a young protagonist named Enebish (you) and a cybernetic female called Ida.

As the game begins, you awaken in a yurt in Mongolian steppe country. You have no memory.

Ida is there, too, in a non-functional state. After you repair her ability to communicate, you discover that she is actually human consciousness housed in an artificial body. Her memory is also missing.

The game has two other characters: a gorgeous golden eagle which, unfortunately, you get to see only briefly; and a rather eccentric, curmudgeonly maglev tram operator named Tabaha. They are both cybernetic as well.

The only other structure in Cradle is a nearby run-down entertainment park housed within a huge tent. It's actually...well...sort of creepy.

With Ida's help and occasional assistance from Tabaha, you spend the bulk of the game piecing together clues concerning your and Ida's identities and histories, and go about unraveling the entertainment park's dark past. Your overriding question is: Who Am I?

There's much reading to be done in Cradle. The yurt is littered with scraps of paper, notes, books, magazines, letters and newspapers as well as photographs. Most are accessible and can have a bearing on the story, as does information you get from Ida.

Some of the info --  depending on when you come across it -- might not seem pertinent or make sense until further along in the narrative. It is, therefore, necessary to pay attention and keep your brain engaged, as the game doesn't spoon-feed you.

On the surface, the story had me saying such things as Huh? and WTF? But by forging ahead and applying some heavy-duty thinking, things gradually started falling into place. Cradle's story is so complex and includes so many unfamiliar elements that I still haven't figured out all of it. As a result, the game practically screams the need for multiple playthroughs if you really want to understand it. 

The beautiful, detailed graphics of Cradle work well to impart a feeling of actually being in the game's environment. Emotion display technology is used to incorporate videos of the eyes of actual actors in both Ida and Tabaha. This effectively enables the two characters to have convincing, lifelike facial expressions.

The game's music and ambient sounds provide enhancement without being obtrusive, but the voice acting is a mixed bag. I have no complaints about Ida or Tabaha. But Enebish sounds more like an all-American midwestern college kid than a Mongolian. His delivery is also somewhat flat, particularly considering what's going on around him.

The Bad

Cradle's physics are imprecise and can be difficult to negotiate. For example: try to place an item on a table and it could end up on the floor; set down a container into which you must put something and it could repeatedly flip over; place something on the floor and it might bounce across the room. 

During the game's very first activity, I had to take something from a shelf in the yurt, use it and return it to the shelf. The game explicitly says it must go back to its original location. The problem  is that it won't go back. Instead, it collides with other objects and knocks them on the floor. I fiddled with it and fiddled with it to no avail. All I got was an increasingly cluttered floor. Ultimately, I dropped the item in question on the floor as well and went outside for awhile.

When I returned to the yurt, everything was back on the shelf where it belonged. There had been no need for me to spend time trying to do something which, as far as I'm able to tell, is impossible. Why would Flying Café do this? I'm baffled.

Another bafflement is the inclusion of five or six mandatory mini-games that appear throughout the game (I lost count after the first few). They all yield items that are essential to the continuation the game.

These mini-games are practically identical and involve tossing bright, multicolored blocks around in a specific way. Their appearance is so aesthetically different from the rest of the game that I found them a bit jarring. They also pulled me out of the story.

Later on, I discovered that the mini-games do relate to the story in a very tangential way. In my opinion, however, this connection is not sufficiently strong to warrant their inclusion in Cradle's narrative to such a degree.

I lost the first mini-game -- which seemed to go on and on -- and was given a choice of either replaying the thing or skipping it. No need to ask twice; I skipped it. Later, I discovered this holds true for all of them: just lose and choose.

I'm now going to admit doing something that probably no self-respecting gamer should admit: rather than devoting any more time to an activity at which I was almost certain to fail repeatedly, I lost the rest of the mini-games on purpose. If I hadn't, I'd probably still be trying to beat the first one. Interestingly, the ante-chamber of each mini-game resembles a padded cell. I can certainly understand why.

Losing each mini-game took me approximately 15 minutes. Ironically, each one yields the same payoff whether you win or lose. So what's the point?

Why didn't Flying Café make the mini-games optional, I wonder? If this had only been the case, I could have used the 90 minutes I spent in pursuit of losses to better advantage elsewhere.

The Ugly

Technically, Cradle is a mess.

There are no player-initiated saves. Instead, the game has pre-determined save points. Leaving the game between save points, whether voluntarily or as the result of a crash -- I had several -- causes you to lose all progress subsequent to the last save. This makes it necessary to go back through parts of the game you've already played, sometimes repeatedly.

The game's limited FOV, which can cause certain people to experience such things as dizziness, headaches and nausea, is non-adjustable.

Key bindings are hard-wired and can't be remapped. As a left-hander, I'm used to using arrow keys for forward, backward, left and right, with my left hand controlling the mouse.

Cradle employs WASD keys. Period. I've never had to use these keys, as I've always been able to reassign their functions to the arrow keys.

This time I had no choice but to use them. Keys for most of the game's other functions are unchangeable as well.

From force of habit, I found myself automatically reaching for the arrow keys. Then I'd remember the game doesn't use those, after which I'd need a moment to think about which key I was supposed to use. (By accident, I discovered that the left and right arrow keys make you spin around real fast.)

Try operating a mouse with your left hand while mashing W+Shift+Space Bar with your right. It's quite awkward. I kept hitting E (inventory) and the Windows key by accident.

I also had difficulty negotiating moves requiring precision, the worst being a daunting jump sequence that takes place on a highly elevated walkway attached to a structure in the entertainment park tent. I fell and fell and fell. Then I fell some more. Each time, I either lost consciousness or came close to it.

Thanks to the absence of user-initiated saves, even if I made it to the very last jump before I screwed up, I'd have to do all of them again. This became very tiresome. To add insult to injury, I was on this very path in order to reach one of the mini-games. What a double-whammy. 

On August 11th, I wrote to Flying Café about the limited FOV and key bindings, and asked if they planned to release patches for either. It's now August 20th and I've received no reply.

I did find the following regarding FOV posted by Flying Café in the game's discussion area on Steam (exact quote): Sorry. We set the optimal FOV that more  conviniant for Cradle world. You can not change FOV.

So if low FOV is a problem for you, you might want to avoid Cradle.

The game's framerates are all over the map. They don't seem tied to where you are, what you're doing or what's happening around you. They just speed up and slow down for no apparent reason.

The mouse pointer lags even with all game settings at their lowest levels. Further, mouse sensitivity is disproportionate and there is no way to turn off acceleration. These things combine to make the mouse rather difficult to control.

To Sum Things Up...

Cradle has an intricate sci-fi narrative, and great visuals, music, sounds and ambience.

Unfortunately, these good points are marred by the lack of gameplay options, numerous technical difficulties and mind-numbing mini-games. In particular, people who are FOV-sensitive and/or left-handed could have trouble playing the game.

It pains me to say this, but despite everything it has going for it, I'm unable to recommend Cradle. I would be less critical if Flying Café were to address the game's more serious problems, but unfortunately, it appears as though this isn't going to happen.

 
Grade: C-
 
Fascinating, intricate sci-fi narrative
Great visuals, music, sounds and ambience
 
Imprecise physics
Limited gameplay options
Non-adjustable FOV, hard-wired key bindings, inconsistent framerates, laggy mouse that's difficult to control
- Obtrusive and basically incongruent mini-games
 Logo
 
 
System Requirements
 
MINIMUM PC:
OS: Windows XP SP3 or higher
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 2 GHz or equivalent
Memory: 2 GB RAM
Graphics: DirectX9c-compliant card with 512MB
DirectX: Version 9.0c
Hard Drive: 3 GB available space
Specials from Digital Download
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