Cypher, the cyberpunk text adventure game, loads up with a very promising statement; “For a better immersion experience use your headphones, get comfortable and turn off the lights.” Other than the slightly wonky use of the words “immersion experience” I was excited by this statement. I like immersion, I love cyberpunk and I was keen to see the Cabrera brother’s modern take on a largely abandoned game format. If they want me to get comfortable and use headphones, I’m all for it. So I turned the lights down and jacked in (a common cyberpunk term for using a computer). I was ready to be immersed . After the slightly bumpy introduction, filled with a roll-call of cyberpunk tropes I was in my apartment, which was in a building that apparently “hookers regularly use to hustle tourists who come looking for something new”. There was a note on the table in front of me. I picked it up without any issues. I decided to try to read it and was told it was an electronic note system that I needed to turn on to read. Cyberpunk indeed. So I typed “Turn on note” and got “syntax error”. I tried; “note on, power note, power up note, switch on note” and nothing works. I tried: “Turn the fucking note on please”, still nothing. Immersion at this point was out the window and I alt tabbed to find a guide. The correct answer was “Turn note on”.
Cypher is a fundamentally flawed game. It’s a text adventure wrapped in sound and imagery that does a good job of painting the cyberpunk world of NeoSushi (For some bizarre reason Tokyo has changed its name to NeoSushi, I’m not sure if this is a joke or a dig at corporate sponsorship). But all the work that went into immersing the player with the audio-visual experience is completely shattered by the arbitrary and tedious text adventure mechanics that are simply broken. There isn’t a healthy pool of recognizable phrases, words and sentence structures plus the game’s own internal logic will often chop and change to confuse and confound an already agitated gamer. The game basically devolves to finding the exact phrase to write at each point in the game, rather than organically interacting with the world. Here’s what I mean; I was in a booth of which I had both unlocked and opened the door out of. I could look out and see the street but I was stuck inside, unable to exit the booth. I tried; “go east, go through east door, go out, exit, go into street, exit booth, exit booth east, exit east, leave booth”. None of those things worked. The only thing that did work, which I only found out by watching a “Let’s Play” video on Youtube was “step outside”. There’s lots of infuriating examples of this all throughout the game which shows the developers were too lazy to chuck in a couple of extra phrases that people would realistically type in while playing. The other major problem with the game is that it’s a bad translation filled with spelling and grammar mistakes. Now don’t get me wrong, I hate grammar Nazi’s almost as much as real Nazis. This could be due to the fact I’m always getting “their” and “there” confused or maybe it’s because correcting other people’s grammar makes you look like an absolutely vapid twat. Regardless, when you’re in the business of making text-based adventure games it’s kind of in your best interest to get on top the whole English language thing. Or maybe, you know, proof read your fucking game before you release it. I understand that English isn’t the developers first language (It would be pretty scary if it was), but getting a person who did speak English natively to have a quick read through the game before releasing it onto the English market should have been a priority.
The game’s manual claims: “You can do pretty much anything in Cypher if you know how to describe your actions” and “The game picks your input right up and responds with a scenario according to your actions and current situation. The possibilities are limitless.” These two statements are bald-faced lies. There is an astoundingly small amount of things you can do that don’t pertain to linear flow of the game. The gameplay itself is largely composed figuring out the specific phrase the game wants you to use. Conversations with NPC’s are also unnaturally stunted as the first three I met conveniently didn’t speak English and the fourth couldn’t hear me due to the loud music in the nightclub. Way to find excuses out of actually writing dialogue guys! As a text adventure it’s not hard to put in a couple of extra lines of text here and there and to give some life and variety to the world, the lack of this in Cypher is inexcusable. The developers say they didn’t want to create anything that even closely resembled a graphic adventure. This means a lot of attractive and exciting art used in the game’s manual and website did not make its way into the game. This is a real waste because there’s some cool art work that could have been used to really spice the game up without it turning into a graphic adventure game. If you’re not going to do a graphic adventure game and purely focus on creating a text-based one, you should take advantage of this, opening up the world and letting the player have a few paths to choose from. Cypher though is just as linear as any graphic adventure game with the puzzles working much the same way but having the added bonus of being described in horrible in convoluted English. The puzzles often won’t even make sense thematically or logically. One scene sees you trying to get upstairs to a VIP section of a club. There is a bouncer blocking your way but he looks agitated. You try to ask the bartender what’s wrong with the bouncer but the bartender refuses to talk to you in person (because you’re white no less). So you go to the phone outside the bar and call the bartender. You then ask him about the bouncer, and he tells you the bouncer’s name and that he is agitated because his wife is about to have a baby. So then all you do is tell the bartender that the bouncer’s wife is now in labour during the very same conversation that he told you this. The bartender mindlessly believes you and relays the information to the bouncer who then just leaves the scene. So a bartender tells you something, you repeat it back to him and you pass on to the next area. It’s silly and lazy and not even fun to play through.
My patience wore out when, after escaping a gun-fight in the aforementioned night club, I was tasked with buying train tickets. That’s right; I had to buy train tickets. What’s worse the whole ordeal took me 15 minutes because I guess I still hadn’t worked out the games bizarre text recognizing logic. It doesn’t even take me 15 minutes to buy train tickets when I’m in a foreign country. Cypher does a nice job of integrating visuals and sound into a text-based adventure, the inventory system works well to give the player a couple of visual clues to stimulate their imagination. Unfortunately the core text-based adventure of Cypher is in need of some serious work as it’s missing a lot of phrase and sentence structure recognition that make the game a constant irritation to play. It’s also lacks any depth, in terms of actions and conversations, that should be included considering the genre. I was constantly annoyed and disappointed by Cypher and as such it’s getting a dystopian 1/5 stars.