(This review is featured at Steam Shovelers, which can be found here)
While Resident Evil 7: biohazard pulls a sick and torturous twist on the idea of a “Happy Birthday,” CAYNE, by independent developer The Brotherhood, brings this reference full circle.
CAYNE is a sci-fi horror isometric point-and-click adventure title where you play as Hadley, a woman who decides she wouldn’t be a fit mother and chooses not to keep her baby. After falling asleep on the operating table, she wakes up to a hellish nightmare: she has been taken to the Cayne facility and must find a way out of this gory and demented laboratory. It’s visceral, dark, and not afraid to show its insides to you.
Where CAYNE shines is how its story connects its nature as a point-and-click: by deemphasizing combat and focusing on puzzle solving and story development, it allows the horror to be more cerebral. As we investigate the Cayne facility, the horror of its experiments and the people conducting them become more and more evident.
The environment design — a twisted mix of hard gray steel and squishy red flesh — become the main theme of the game, creating a squeamish body horror that fits in well with the genre. Where it shines the most is in its exploration of themes not commonly found in any gaming genre: motherhood, abandonment, demented and repressed sexuality, the social and societal implication of scientific experimentation, and much more. Though I can’t say all of these themes are explored well enough, or with enough finesse and subtlety as other point-and-click titles, they are present and explored; they give weight to the story and how it impacts the player.
Puzzle-solving is also fairly decent as well. While balancing on the rope of leaving the player to their own faculties and guiding them along, sometimes CAYNE is inconsistent on how it brings on puzzles. I found myself gliding elegantly through some puzzles and horrendously stuck on others. The puzzles I was stuck on I eventually solved, however, small bits of information and light guiding may have made the experience exponentially more rewarding.
Part of that puzzle-struggle is also rooted in the UI system which, although functional and relatively straight forward, could use work to make the point and click experience much more intuitive. Hovering over objects with the cursor to see their description disconnected me from interacting both with Hadley and with my environment. Clicking and interacting with objects also felt slightly disengaging: I picked up which cursor icons meant objects were actively interactable, however being able to click a non-interactable object and have Hadley move to the object wordlessly and with no feedback outside of a hovering UI description felt like a bad point and click choice.
The characterization shines strongest on how we interact with and peek into the mind of Hadley: our pregnant protagonist. The voice acting for Hadley is great, provided by the amazing voice actress Sarah Anne Williams, and actively engages us in her story. Her quips and personality feel at home in the point and click genre, and helps CAYNE as a whole reside within that genre comfortably.
Though the character list is long, the list of characters that the player interact with in-game is much smaller. It lends itself to a more personal and private experience, allowing us to explore Hadley’s motivations, thoughts, and background. Other characters that aren’t alive at the time the game begins are explored through other means: we see their photos and diary logs through PDAs scattered throughout the environment.
The UI and environment description writing as a whole in CAYNE feels a bit verbose and pedantic, but the diary entries feel engaging and paint a portrait of the struggles and perversions of those working in the Cayne facility. Each one drives a new character through their own viewpoint and thoughts, allowing us to understand these characters from a perspective that’s almost as intimate as we understand Hadley.
As a tie-in to the STASIS storyline, and from my not having played STASIS beforehand, I felt slightly unhappy with the ending. Though CAYNE is a standalone title and is playable with no previous experience in the STASIS, I personally recommend trying to piece together a synopsis of the STASIS before heading into CAYNE.
Without spoiling or divulging details, I will say this: I felt like I had just finished the game holding a Little Orphan Annie decoder ring, reading off “Be Sure to Drink your Ovaltine!” from my computer screen. Though its tie-in and pushing of STASIS is understandable, I felt odd that it’s advertised as a stand-alone title when I also felt pressured to buy STASIS to understand the storyline and how the implications of the ending affect it. Without previous knowledge of the universe the game is set in, the ending feels dry and begs too many questions while answering none.
Overall, CAYNE is a fun point and click horror title that fills a niche I hadn’t explored in years. And, for the better part, has put the Brotherhood games on my radar: in my own gaming sphere that is dominated by MOBAs, action-packed triple AAAs and (insert quirky indie puzzle-platformer with 8-bit graphics here), it’s refreshing to see a developer tackle this genre with the know-how to bring on a point and click like this.
Though I may not jump into the STASIS pool just yet, I will be paying attention both the developer and their overall IP. What more could I ask for from a completely free title?