Dead Cyborg: New Old School Adventure

A Linux gaming blog post that I have since lost track of alerted me to an indie game in development called Dead Cyborg. Being a devout System Shock fanboy, this name immediately piqued my interest and was lead by said blog post to a teaser trailer. What struck me first about the trailer was that it touted itself as a first-person, text-based, Sci-Fi adventure game. To my mind, this said an Infocom adventure set in a System Shock-type universe that moved like a first-person shooter.

That's an innovative concept and I could only assume that, like all interesting concepts, it would be: a) Dumbed down for the masses or b) Never be released. Well, episode one is now available for download but it's c) You misunderstood, that wins.

Dead Cyborg tries hard to be old school with it's keyboard-only driven interface, it's password-based save system and it's text-only narrative, but it's all superlative and comes across as lazy. Firstly the "text-based" is not parser, it simply means no voice acting. Secondly the keyboard-only interface is WASD movement and arrow keys to look with space as interaction, no mouse support whatsoever. Lastly, the password-based save system is simply a new password for each level, there is no carry over from previous levels either narratively or objectively. It all comes across like a quick out in development rather than design choice.

Text-only narrative is fine but good God man, make it interesting. Messages like "I'm a Robot, I'm Happy" is not narrative, atmospheric or even respectful. The text is large and the box to contain it will fit two lines at best, this is an adventure game and as such it needs story. Since there are no cutscenes or voice acting, one and a half lines of text is simply not going to cut it unless you are clever. "I'm a Robot, I'm Happy" is not clever.

Marginally better than, "It's not Important!" I guess.

The game is a pain to play in it's native state, the amount of searching required to advance the story is tedious and requiring that I use the keyboard to do so is inexcusable. Play-testing of any kind involving new players would have brought this to light. I played suffered through my first run of System Shock using only the keyboard but there is no excuse to punish people like that in this day and age. The author even acknowledges this via the FAQ by suggesting using a third-party app to employ a gamepad.

With such fastidious exploration, the level password save mechanic is further a kick in the gratuities requiring that I either write everything down, keep a walkthrough handy or play it again before my short-term memory expires. The amount of objects required for each level is not large, just hard to find and a save option should be simple enough to implement. Refusing to do so is not a nod to old school games as much as a reminder of how much better things are today.

The graphics engine performs pretty decently but will not play properly in full screen. Messing around with the batch file that runs the game will merit you some more graphic options but a config tool should have been present and would be quick to program. The art itself is serviceable but for a game with a name like Dead Cyborg, it's lacking ambiance and atmosphere. It would serve the game better to have had a darker, more serious graphical tone; require a flashlight, robots that don't look like kids toys, something that would pull you into the game like the story doesn't. I realize this is episode one and the next episode looks to improve on this, but that assumes that players will bother.

Outside and open... corridors.

The payment option is generous but obtuse, giving you the option to pay whatever you like and if enough is collected, the next installment will be released. There is a percentage bar indicating how close the amount collected is currently at, but no reference to how much 100% is. If I like the game and pay $10 towards the next installment, will it even be a drop in the bucket?

Based on the level of polish here, I would guess the developer doesn't expect this title to go anywhere and is therefore placing little effort into anything but the core of the project. If this is meant to be a jumping point to bigger and better things, the all-around quality and effort have to be pumped up. Something may be better than nothing but something done haphazard is something better to have not done at all.

Although I sound down on this game I really just want it to be more. Part of my discontent is that I was expecting something with innovation. A first-person text adventure sounded pretty amazing, engaging my imagination on how such a premise would work. This suggestion also coerced a much more interesting story to go with this innovative idea and thus far, Dead Cyborg has done little to appease.

I support indie developers whenever I can, but give me a reason to do so.
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