Cradle – Almost Amazing

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I can usually tell when I’m not going to like a game. I know the genres I tend to enjoy and which mechanics I’m not a fan of. I’m sometimes surprised by how much I end up liking a game, but I usually know ahead of time if it’s not going to be my cup of tea. That’s why, playing Cradle was almost worse than playing something I knew I wasn’t going to like. It started off so strong, but I barely forced myself to finish it. If it weren’t for the interesting story and world building, I would have quickly given up on this fascinating game.

Cradle takes place in a future where a disease has rendered humans sterile. In order to continue living, humans transfer their consciousness into android bodies called M-bodies. You begin the game with no memory of who or where you are. I’m usually not a fan of amnesia in stories, but this is actually explained well later on in the game. The game takes place in a relatively small area: the yurt (it’s a big tent) you wake up in, the wilderness outside of the yurt, and a structure nearby. The point of the game is to figure out who you are and what is going on. This is accomplished by searching the yurt and clicking on the many readable objects. There are pieces of paper all over the place, and each gives a little bit more information about the world you find yourself in. This was by far the best aspect of the game. Unfortunately, the game takes a sharp turn about halfway through and this searching mechanic goes out the window.

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Yurt sweet yurt

When you first start searching around the yurt, one of the first objects that you will notice is a female M-body. About halfway through the game, you are able to activate her and begin speaking with her. This is where I began to get frustrated with the game. The character herself is fine, and she is able to provide more information about the interesting world. The problem is that the game-play changes from here on out. Up until the point that I began speaking with Ida (the android), I had spent the game slowly walking around and looking at all the detailed items in the yurt. World building is my favorite aspect of fiction and this game is full of interesting information about this world. I assumed that I would continue to search different areas and read new documents to discover information. In reality, you start playing mini-games.

The game devolves into fetch missions wherein you must beat (or fail and skip) a mini-game to progress the plot. The mini-game in question involves throwing certain colored cubes into an upward stream while also jumping around differently colored cubes and avoiding an enemy who destroys cubes. The problem isn’t with the fact that these mini-games take you so far out of the mystery and tone of the game; it’s that they’re just bad. The colors, controls, and sounds of these sections just aren’t good. To make matters worse, you’re forced to play these mini-games multiple times in a row. The game shifts from open-ended searching to straightforward fetching in order to surface the next bit of information. After having returned from one of these fetch missions, I was rewarded with a small amount of dialogue and instructions to start another fetch mission. I quit the game. I just couldn’t do another one for so little reward.

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The bane of my time with this game

I finally did push through to the ending of the game purely due to the fact that I wanted to know the rest of the story. Unfortunately, the ending was in no way satisfying. I won’t give any spoilers, but I will tell you to not get your hopes up for any kind of clear resolution. There’s also a strange bit towards the end involving a live action cut-scene and some pretty terrible rock music. After the credits had rolled, I was happy to close the game and be finished with it.

Even with all of the negative points I’ve brought up about this game, I would still recommend playing it. The bad parts are bad, but the good parts are phenomenal. I can’t remember the last time that a game so quickly drew me into its mystery. I immediately wanted to find and read every scrap of paper in the yurt. If they had chosen to keep the same play style and tone throughout the entire game, I would have been sold. However, the drastic shifts in game-play and structure keep this game firmly in the just ok category.

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Look at all those notes just waiting to be read

Cradle is full of some really fantastic content, but inconsistency causes it to eventually fall flat. Whether the shifts throughout the game were used as a way to stretch out a fairly short play time or just an attempt to add more action, the end result is the same: it doesn’t work. If you love slow burn mysteries in sci-fi settings, give Cradle a shot. You might lose your temper half-way through the mini-games, but, thanks to the intrigue, you’ll be back to see the ending. Cradle is currently $12.99 on Steam. You can get it here.

You can follow me on Twitter @jakecrump.

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