I admit, I like trying games made by people from cultures different to mine1. They often structure games differently t my expectations, or the story might have a different angle from any I’d come up with.

Cradle is a game by Flying Cafe for Semianimals, a group from the Ukraine. It’s a first person perspective game which I’ve tagged it as an ‘explorable story’, but there are more puzzle and action elements to the game than that might imply. On the other hand, to get as much as you can out of the story requires a bit of poking around.

Set in the Steppes of Mongolia in the not-so-distant future. You wake up from what appears to be some sort of VR type experience, in a yurt. The yurt contains a mix of traditional2 and hi-tech. There’s the VR headset/box you awoke from, a 42″ TV, what looks like part of a robot, what looks like a photocopier and so on. At the same time, there’s a fire/stove in the middle, a couple of traditional looking3 beds, some chests, drawers and, well, you’re in a yurt

There’s a lot to read in the yurt, with snippets of articles, posters, notes and more. You can read it all, or not, but I’d suggest reading it now as that will help put more of the later story into some kind of framework.

One of your first tasks is to make breakfast for Ongot – whoever that is. This involves lighting the stove, getting a pot of water boiling, and finding the ingredients. This gives you a decent introduction into how the game world works.

It’s also at this point that you might also have your first difficulties. Where is the pot you need to use? How do I find the ingredients. How do I find what I need to prepare the ingredients – and so on. The interface gives you a few hints, but sometimes they’re just not clear enough. At least, for someone like me.

In gathering the ingredients, you need to step outside the yurt. Around you you’ll find the Mongolian Steppes, which is a whole lot of area with not a lot in it. Unless you count mountains, rocks and some stringy looking trees.

Your yurt and the world you live in.

A bit of wandering does show a few other items of interest. The first appears to be some kind of colourful dome.

If you venture towards the dome you’ll see some things that look a bit like either power poles (with lines strung between them) or perhaps an unfinished monorail.

Power poles?

Still, that’s not really a lot of things for such a huge area. So, on average it’s empty. And lonely. So far you’re the only person here, which, frankly, suited me fine. I liked the views, and sounds, of the steppes and enjoyed just wandering around for a bit.

Once you’ve fixed Ongot’s breakfast and met him, then the story begins to move forwards. It’s no surprise that you want to fire up this robot looking thingy, and also perhaps find out what’s going on – given your memory loss.

I want to avoid more spoilers, so I’m going to just talk about the game itself now, the good and the bad.

Once you get beyond any initial issues you might have finding things, probably the next issue you might notice is the stuttering. Sometimes the game stutters horribly, other times you’ll get a brief pause4. Then there are the times it appears the game has hung, but then comes back to life as if nothing had stopped it.

Still, the hints of story, and the world (barren though it might look) were intriguing and helped me to ignore that issue.

One slight struggle here was the voice acting. While the supporting characters are well voiced, the main character is … dull and doesn’t always seem to pull off the intonation I feel they should be using. It’s a pity, because that drags the experience down. It doesn’t kill it – at least for me – but be aware of it.

Speaking of dragging the experience down: there is one element of the gameplay that I question them including. Or perhaps I should say: including so much of. That’s a mini-game where you enter a cube world and try to finish a task within it.

There is justification in the story for this mini-game, and I don’t have a huge problem with them including it from a story perspective. What bugs me is twofold:

Firstly, it’s so different to the rest of the game that it feels wrong, from a play and atmosphere point of view.

Secondly, it’s that you have to play it four times, with only slightly different rules each time.

The only saving grace, and it’s a very tiny saving grace, is that if you lose you can skip the mini-game. However, you still have to play it enough to get to the ‘You Lose’ bit.

I’d have quiet happily only played it once and then done a ‘skip’ for every other instance. Or perhaps not played it at all.

One other area of contention with this game is probably the ending. From what I’ve read there are roughly two camps:

  • Wait, it ended? What the hell was that all about? It was just getting good!
  • What an interesting ending. I’ll have to go through all of the information gleaned from conversations, notes and the environment to work out what really happened and what it all means!

And I can see both points of view. The ending does come as a bit of a sudden shock, and if you haven’t managed to find and read the right bits of backstory it probably makes no sense at all. There’s also the fact that there are so many potential story hooks throughout the game that it feels disappointing to leave so many dangling.

For me, however, the ending was just the right amount of mystery and hints. It didn’t spell everything out too much, while also giving enough information to at least guess at what happened.

Plus there’s a rather nice song that plays over the ending ‘cut-scene’ called ‘Leave The Cradle’.

For all of the negativity, what story exists is a good one. The world-building is solid, and the actual rendered world feels right for the game (ignoring ‘cube world’).

I’d still recommend this game. Though I add a few caveats to that:

You won’t like it if you don’t like ambiguous endings of any kind. You probably won’t like it if potential plot hooks are thrown away by the ending. You probably won’t like it if you’re not the sort to dig into all the corners and find all of the little snippets you can read. You probably won’t like it if poor voice acting drives you up the wall.

On the other hand, if you like a short-ish game set in a well-realised world that contains more than a hint of ambiguity, then dive on in.

About Lisa

A Geeky Gamergrrl who obsesses about the strangest things.
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