This game has a bunch of math conundrums, including a non-base ten math system. If you’re an engineer or have played around with software programming, you will solve these challenges more readily than someone who uses numbers just once a year at income tax time. (In case you haven’t guessed, I’m in the latter category.) But the puzzles go beyond tricky math to include guessing which patterns should be compared and contrasted, which order makes sense, and which number operations should be used – with significant trial-and-error required as well.
You’ll also encounter sequences where you’re translating glyphs from an alien language. This is tough because most of the glyphs have multiple meanings. I wrote pages of translations that made little or no sense until I looked for hints. A typical fumbled translation of mine: “They move slowly, take, or give direction or point their big planet out of the world symbol.” The only glyph puzzle I managed fairly correctly was the shortest one and made no difference to any later outcome. It came out thusly: “This manmade, small book ends.”
The level of puzzle difficulty is ameliorated by Catyph’s hint system, a series of images without text explanations. Peeking at the hints is helpful even without using them, because you gain an idea of the general order in which the challenges should be solved. Occasionally the hints were hard to interpret or told me what I’d already figured out, but for the most part the system was exceedingly helpful. There’s one drawback, of course: you can only access hints by using Blue Matter points. So unless you’re playing in Story Mode (where points are never depleted), you’re back doing the manage-the-resources thing.
Even with hints, one of the challenges falls squarely in the crazily-difficult realm – or at least, it did when I played, though Mesnard has since added a puzzle skip option after a number of failed attempts. Disclosure: I am not an expert at tracing images with the mouse – memories of drawing on the slate in Myst V still make me shudder – but Catyph’s ball pathway device takes mouse movement to a whole new level. You have to trace a path without hitting any of the serpentine walls and do it within a short time period. At first I assumed that I needed finesse with the mouse, plus speed. I attempted this dozens of times, triggering only the “you have failed” buzzer. I then moved along the pathway veeery slowly (even if the timer would run out) to find the correct placement for each portion of the path. No luck. Surprisingly, I got further in the challenge by throwing accuracy to the winds and swiping up and down and around as fast as I could in a general serpentine pattern. At long last, success! Well, sort of. I received a message that I would have to try again because I had overlooked something. Grrrrr. The hint system gave me a clue that I had indeed ignored so I tried again. No joy. I was still missing something even the hint system didn’t make obvious. At last, after staring at the screen for several minutes, I realized that I had misinterpreted a detail, and finally I was able to advance.
Catyph has been compared to Myst, and in general I agree that it scratches that itch, should you happen to be happily afflicted. The worlds have the same imaginative “wow” factor that draws you in and then makes you gasp. Two areas in particular brought back memories of Riven with stone cliffs, quirky architecture, and unusual plant, animal, and insect life. Brief joyrides in vehicles that go underwater or up in the air are also Cyan-like. The puzzles in Catyph are much more frequent than in the Myst series, however, and more difficult. And rather than using handwritten journals, the futuristic story here progresses via video transmissions and datalogs from an Artificial Intelligence device called M.A.I.D.EN., containing much background information about Catyph and its moons, as well as Terran culture and history. Some minor grammatical errors can be found in the large blocks of text, though perhaps that’s to be expected since it’s been translated from the original Terran.
Also like the Myst games, much effort has been put into ambient sound – the buzz of insects, the creak of metal, lapping waves and singing birds – and music. Background scores includes pensive piano and orchestral melodies found in rustic areas, uncanny techno tunes in the massive metal ships, and imperative strings during moments of drama. A vocal solo at the end took me by surprise, but works extremely well.
Catyph is a point-and-click adventure combining slideshow and 180-degree panoramic styles with animated transitions between scenes. In classic first-person fashion, you are an AFGNCAAP: Ageless, Faceless, Gender-Neutral, Culturally Ambiguous Adventure Person. Hotspots and directional arrows are tiny, though they do pulse to attract attention. Nevertheless, I sometimes missed an indicator, particularly where there was snow blowing across the screen or pools of lava flowing by (most of the arrows are red). The inventory is easy to use by merely sliding the cursor to the top of the screen. The game contains an autosave plus three save slots, which originally contained an odd glitch that has now been corrected.
It took me almost 35 hours to finish this game, and by the time the credits launched, I really did feel as though I had been on a space odyssey. Apparently there are different endings, depending upon whether you’ve accessed all the transmissions. The final cutscene I saw was mind-blowing, and I watched it several times. It contains a couple of tantalizing ambiguities, and it’s worth paying attention after the credits to see what else occurs.
The moments I relished in Catyph: The Kunci Experiment were the long stretches of eye-popping, varied exploration; the video communications with bossy General Lantier and the elusive, golden-eyed Germinal; and the varied conundrums in each new area before the final, remarkably tough head-scratchers. But I also enjoyed the slow revelation of the story and the sense of desperation that was building toward a climax. At its heart, this is a game that aims to test your gray matter over and over again. If you are the type who finishes adventure games thinking: “that was way too easy,” this game is definitely for you. Well-thought-out, twistily-elaborate puzzle adventures don’t come down the pike all that often anymore. I recommend that you hop on board this one.