Pregnancy is often portrayed as something beautiful, peaceful and loving. The reality is often much more unpleasant, filled with all kinds of gross symptoms as your body copes with the presence of an alien life form for nine months. It’s something that rarely plays a part in media except as a humorous aspect of a comedy or an experience that’s glossed over in a drama that mainly uses the moment of finding out about being pregnant or the act of giving birth rather than the months in between. Brotherhood Games, the awesome guys who made STASIS, have released a free standalone chapter and the fact the protagonist is pregnant yields a unique kind of horror.
Players take on the role of Hadley, a woman who goes for a medical procedure to terminate her pregnancy, only to wake up months later in a strange facility, many months pregnant. That alone would be cause for horror for most women, but the fact she appears to be an experiment in a lab filled with a crazy and terrifying cast makes it so much worse. Players will need to solve a series of puzzles in classic point-and-click adventure form in order to save Hadley and escape.
I have always been abysmal at point-and-click games. They usually end with me trying to combine every single thing together, applying any item on any device in the hopes that eventually something results in progress. CAYNE is no such point-and-click game. With one notable exception, I progressed through the game without getting too horribly stuck. That’s not to say the puzzles are easy – they most certainly are not. You will need to use your own gray matter; there are no hints, no flashing signs pointing you in the right direction.
Of course, it’s the lack of hints that makes the game so very rewarding. When you figure out how to reach new areas, unlock the next puzzles and uncover more of the horrifying plot, it is so very satisfying. You might need to backtrack to find the next clue, the next way forward, or simply to scour the environment for an item you might have missed, but with answers that were always there for you to find, it never feels unfair or convoluted.
With all the gore and violence, you would think that would be the main source of horror in the game. However, CAYNE draws its most terrifying elements from the slow-burning psychological implications. What was going on in the facility? Why did they want to steal Hadley’s baby? How were so many of the characters killed?
The fear factor is compounded by the excellent sound design and unique approach to lighting. Environments have far too many shadows, are far too quiet save for the occasional screams, or hum of fluorescent lights. Flickering lights, blood stained floors and the gross squelching of gore sets players on edge in a more controlled and calculated way that is rarely seen in modern horror games. Without relying on jump scares, CAYNE instead finds a far more invasive way to permeate the game with horror.
Hadley is an intriguing character. How would any woman cope when an unwanted fetus is all of a sudden an almost-full-grown baby inside her? What about the people trying to steal said baby? It feels so vulnerable to be barefoot and pregnant in a terrifying environment, but also so much more powerful to watch Hadley take action. She is scared and confused, but also introspective and brave. It’s a rare combination, and one that I particularly appreciated as a woman and a mom.
I have two main gripes with the game – the speed that Hadley walks at and the unstoppable, game pausing dialogue. As you can imagine in a game like this, there’s a lot of back tracking and walking around areas looking for clues and attempting to interact with various objects. I get that Hadley is knocked up, and I know how slowly I maneuvered when I was carrying a leech, but it makes the game drag and feel unnecessarily sluggish to have her walk so slowly. Perhaps the areas should have been smaller, or requiring less back tracking, but I ended up rather frustrated and didn’t want to explore the impressive environments as much as I would have if she moved faster.
The dialogue is necessary to break up the game and give some modicum of explanation to the story (although many things are left unexplained and I still have many questions). However, when it takes place, the mouse disappears and there’s not option to skip. If you die without saving, you’ll have to listen to it all over again. In some areas it is remedied by the fact that Hadley keeps walking, so at least it doesn’t feel like a total waste of time, but when she stands still to talk only to do her slow amble where you need her to go, it can feel rather tedious.
Despite my gripes and confusion, I am so impressed with this standalone chapter. I now have faith that I might actually succeed at trying STASIS, a game I still haven’t played. I think I understand how the puzzles will work and I’m sold on the idea of a point-and-click isometric SF horror game. So really, even though CAYNE isn’t perfect, it does it’s job perfectly. The Brotherhood Games are making horror games in a very specific niche that not everyone will enjoy. Instead of taking the risk and buying STASIS only to realize it’s not the game for you, CAYNE gives a free taster for that world that might just lead you to jump in on the main course. Plus, at two hours, it’s ideal for those who have spawned a baby to play during nap time.