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Disorienting in good and bad ways, October 2, 2009
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!