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About the Story
The sand stretches around you in all directions.
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Number of Reviews: 3
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The opening sections of this game I found extremely evocative. The player is in a dreamlike environment full of unnerving scenery that can't be real. That's been done plenty of times already, but Parish's surreal vision is more menacing than most -- not for the bloodstained room in which the game starts, but for the way even seemingly harmless and everyday objects take on personality and voice.
Unfortunately, there's not a lot of direction about what you're supposed to be doing in this nightmarescape, and after a little wandering around and feeling creeped out, I had to admit to myself that I was just stuck. So I went to the walkthroughs for a clue, and the things they suggested were so surprising and (as far as I could tell) arbitrary that instead of trying to play further I just followed the walkthroughs word for word.
There does appear to be a kind of logic behind some of the surreal features, and I gather that some players have finished the game (by giving it a lot of playtime and working as a group to figure out its stranger bits). So perhaps I was wrong to give up so quickly on solving it on my own. The problem is that the game doesn't do a lot to foster the player's trust in its own fairness. On the contrary, important entities appear and disappear apparently capriciously; descriptions don't always lead the eye to the most important items in the room; rigorous searching and examination is required throughout.
I still don't think I understand the story, though I've been through all the recommended steps. I have the vague outline of an idea of what it might be all about, but it's pretty messy. (Spoiler - click to show)Like, I might be a human, but all of humanity's been caused/invented by some huge alien experiment gone wrong. Or some other lifeform entirely, and the people experimenting are human. Or I might be an awakened AI and the machine of which the researchers speak is some kind of computer model or internet. I'm pretty sure it's one of those, unless it isn't.
At the end I came away with the feeling that Parish's starting premise was to make a lot of creepy stuff happen and then come up with an explanation for it later. That's the same starting premise I think they had for Lost and The X-Files, so he's in good company. (Or, well, he's in some company.) But I'm bewildered enough that I don't even have the conviction to say the game doesn't make sense. Maybe it does, and I just didn't get it, or I played it wrong.
I do think that the game would've been a lot stronger with a clear goal for the player at the outset and stronger hints about where to direct one's attention and efforts. That doesn't have to mean spoon-feeding, exactly; just more to keep the player from being wholly lost.
Cacophony puts the reviewer in a difficult situation: I am certain that this game is worth reading, but I'm not sure that it is worth playing. Reading without playing, is that possible? Certainly--just type in the walkthrough. But read the rest of my review before you decide to do so.
Owen Parish gives us a game that is strikingly non-linear. This is true for the locations, between which you switch almost instantly and as often as you wish. It is true for the endings, of which there are at least three, all of them wildly different. And it is also true for the plot: you can progress towards different endings in completely different ways, and relatively few of the objects and locations in the game are needed for any given ending.
The non-linearity makes for a strange gaming experience that is strengthened by the fact that there is very little hand holding here. There is no list of goals; there is hardly even the suggestion of goals. Even if you have goals, it is rarely apparent which actions will lead to those goals--no ends-means rationality here. Rather, this game is about exploration, and the directions you explore will lead you to one ending or another, to one set of insights or another. We have non-linearity, but we do not have choice.
This may not be the kind of gaming experience we are after regularly, but it is certainly interesting to have it once in a while. However, and this is were the dichotomy between "reading" and "playing" becomes important, Cacophony involves so little hand holding that the player is bound to get stuck very often, and for potentially long times. This game is hard not so much because it has hard puzzles, but because it requires a lot of non-obvious actions. Isn't that the same? No, because a puzzle is an obvious obstacle that the player can circumvent by careful thought and experimentation. But Cacophony is full of points where you have to do something without knowing that you have to do it, without knowing why you would want to do it, without even being able to guess what the result will be. This makes the game very disorienting, which is good, but also incredibly hard to finish, which is not good.
So whether you are willing to take the time and experiment as much as you will have to in order to progress, is very much up to you. I did not persevere, but that is merely my choice. For those who follow me, the author has provided three excellent walkthroughs for three different endings. For those who have a stronger will... well, good luck!
I had high hopes for Cacophony, based on the intriguing and well written prologue. Unfortunately, these hopes were soon dashed. Interaction with the game is frustrating, not because of "bugs" persay, but because you can only interact with people and things in a very limited fashion. In many cases I tried doing things to objects or conversing/interacting with people, getting more and more frustrated as each attempt was refused, until I found the correct solution either by randomness or by consulting the walkthrough. I found the NPCs especially frustrating; if you had been able to converse with them, they could have nudged you in the proper direction - but instead when I tried "ask Mr Green about [insert subject here]", for example, I always got the response "He seems to look at you for a moment." Also very frustrating was that (Spoiler - click to show)the poster says "You can talk to me", yet when I try talking to it, I am told that it's only an inanimate object. Perhaps an attempt on the author's part to show the PC sliding into insanity, but it ends up a frustrating red herring.
In regards to the setting, it seems as if the author is attempting to present a surreal world that may or may not be partly the PC's imagination, but it never quite worked for me. The talking objects and such always seemed more out of place than actually surreal.
I also would have liked more backstory on why I am in this surreal state and why the PC (Spoiler - click to show)feels suicidal but none is given. Perhaps one of the other endings would have provided this; according to the walkthroughs, the ending I achieved was the quickest/easiest one.
On the positive side, there were occasional bits of compelling writing, and the notepad puzzle is very clever (though really could have been clued a bit better).
Cacophony on IFDB
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This is version 9 of this page, edited by Zape on 18 April 2021 at 5:03am. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item