CAYNE Review

(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?

Score: 76/100

Resident Evil 7 Review

(This review is featured at Steam Shovelers, which can be found here)

The hype bullet-train started by Capcom for its latest numbered entry in the veteran horror series Resident Evil has come to a final stop, with Resident Evil 7: biohazard finally unveiled to the public and made available for purchase.

Between cryptic trailers and playable demos, Capcom promised to satiate our appetites for nerve-wracking, spine-tingling, and nostalgia-driven survival horror of the late 1990s and early 2000s. But, as the Bakers did in the Dinner with the Bakers trailer, did Capcom serve us a genuinely heartfelt and respectable numbered entry?

The short answer: Yes. The long answer? Yesyesyesyesyeysyes OH GOD YES! That is not to say that RE7 is without its flaws, or that it is a perfect game; it is an amazingly well-built and fine-tuned horror title that fits perfectly in the Resident Evil atmosphere. Between years and years of survival horror releases that failed to meet our expectations and had notable growing pains, it’s a refreshing change. Silent Hill: Homecoming, Silent Hill: Downpour, Resident Evil 6, the cancellation of Silent Hills, this list goes on with failed titles that betrayed expectations for survival horror gamers.

As a fan of survival horror, ever since I first completed my Claire A campaign years and years ago, I felt disillusioned. I felt my childhood and teenage years were forcibly put in the past behind me by the industry, and that I needed to suck it up and eat the games that were put in front of me. No more! As 2017 is the year of resistance, it is also the year that survival horror made its triumphant comeback.

Resident Evil 7 is, just as Capcom promised us, well aware of its roots, predecessors, and genre defining moments from many different media that helped make horror a mainstay in our culture. It has a mix of everything, and it does each trope fairly well.

The game has many influences from old horror movies, making it reminiscent of horror from the 1970s and 1980s. Previous Resident Eviltitles have been out-of-tune, as the latest titles have gone for a large Hollywood Blockbuster action-oriented experience, playing an almost super-human main character destroying giant bosses. Whereas RE7 dials this back down to what initially made the series great.

The escape from the house, the Baker family, and even specific scenes in the game are echoes of the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and proves that horror is “all in the family.” “Welcome to the family, son” indeed.

“Welcome to the family, son” indeed.

The VHS imprinting and cassette type save system felt like a recollection to Ju-On (2002), known in the states by its American remakes as The Grudge. The idea of emotions and moments in time imprinted on VHS tapes is a nostalgic reminder of our childhood, a juxtaposition between the fear of a growingly tech-focused, nigh tech-obsessed world, and the marvels of what technology brings.

The body horror and deceptive supernatural undertones seem to call back to The Evil Dead (1983), bringing warm memories of Ashley back into our minds. RE7 does justice to these and other strong, deeply rooted horror titles by bringing them into a modern context.

How is this survival horror? Or, on the other hand, how is is Resident Evil? The exploration of the Baker house feels very similar to the mansion exploration that was a key asset to the early Resident Evil titles with a modern facelift: there is an indescribable sense of claustrophobia that governs the entire design of that game.

Between shimmying through bug-infested shortcuts in the mansion, panic-inducing chases through cramped hallways, drudging through small crawlspaces and tunnels, the game makes you feel the ‘weight’ of the estate in every sense of the word. This new interpretation of the old feels both incredibly nostalgic and refreshingly new.

I felt myself falling back on old survival horror habits, with some of my thoughts ranging from ‘Okay, I need the Snake key to open this door. Themed keys this is amazing’ to ‘Okay where was that door with the Crow on it? I remember seeing that during the early part of the game. Backtracking to it would probably be rewarding’ to ‘Oh my god these mansion puzzles are amazing, it’s great how all of these new things fit into my idea of RE.’

However, I did also have my reservations. The Baker estate, naturally being smaller than say the Spencer estate or the huge vastness of the Raccoon Police Department, leads itself to fewer rooms and less exploration. I felt myself wanting a bit more of this, noticing that I had explored most of the estate by the time I fully felt immersed in it.

By the time I finished the campaign, I felt like I knew it like the back of my hand. It’s a war between the area being unnecessarily convoluted and too linear and straightforward, but I feel that Capcom did a good job balancing the two poles.

I had a tough time running through the hallways in the beginning, but I found my mastering of the area and second-nature exploration started a little too soon for my expectations walking into the game.

The combat is strong, though with some hiccups. It does seem to take from the later trilogy more than it does from the original trilogy and friends. However, I found it satisfying.  RE7 rewarded me well-enough for accurately placed headshots and I felt adequately punished for missing them. The range between when I made shots and when I missed shots felt fair, and I always knew why I missed shots.

It felt like I was really in combat with these creatures: I was rewarded for taking my time and calming down for my shots, and my own aiming and skill suffered when I was rushing and becoming a frantic mess. I found myself finding a ‘flow,’ where I realized how to properly engage, disengage, and even skip altercations altogether.

At that point, however, it felt like I was fighting both enemies and the claustrophobic design of the mansion as hallways are incredibly cramped. Once I realized certain pathways, especially in the estate portions of the game, I was able to give enemies the slip.

Chase sections, when a constant and difficult enemy follows you around the area, felt well paced and tense. Though the enemy AI feels a little dimwitted and easy to avoid, these sections reminded me of the Mr.X chases from Scenario B in Resident Evil 2. Bosses did, again, take more from the later action-oriented trilogy. They’re big baddies that command space and attention, but the intimacy of space is respected like in the original trilogy and feels like a great balance between the old and the new.

The biggest criticism I have on the combat system is that sense of bullet sponges has not left. Many normal recurring enemies requiring headshots to efficiently take down, as body shots will soak up bullets, and dismembering enemies with shots is much less efficient that simply head shotting.

Resident Evil 7: biohazard is a fine addition to the series and an amazing blend of the future of the series with its past. It respects your expectations and also provides experiences I’d never thought I’d have, or even knew that I wanted. It serves up something I’m very fond of in a new way, allowing me to both walk forward with survival horror and glance back at where it came from.

It held my hand and whispered, “Shh, it’s okay… survival horror isn’t dead.” Though it does feel like a short campaign, with my final time clocking at about eight and a half hours, I’m left wanting more in both a mostly positive and minimally negative light. Its replayability seems strong enough, though. However, if you blaze through Madhouse increased difficulty and find all files and items, there isn’t much of a replay factor. We’re left to wait until the DLCs drop, as well as a promised free content later in Spring 2017.

Although RE7 isn’t a clone of Remake, it stands out with its own toddler-like legs and gets its first steps firmly planted. It has convinced me that Resident Evil can exist in an FPS space and still retain the hallmarks and atmosphere that define it, more so than the Gun Survivor series ever did.

I can’t wait to see what else Capcom does with the series, with survival horror gamers foaming at the mouth for Resident Evil 2’s remake details. However, if Resident Evil 7 is any kind of a clue for what we might see for Remake 2 and further numbered titles, I’ve officially regained my faith again in Capcom and in their ability to churn out horror hits. Now, the pressure is on for other IPs to follow suit.

Score: 91/100