>> Sunday, August 5, 2007
Sol Cutter's latest data theft has gone straight to his head, along with the deadly vius BURN:CYCLE. Even now, the virus is eating his brain from the inside out. As Sol Cutter you have two hours to deactivate the virus by using your brain - while you still have one. BURN:CYCLE features state of the art fully digitised live action sequences, magically surreal 3D environments, and interactive gameplay of mind-blowing speed and sphistication. It's the most beautiful CD-i game which doesn't require the Digital Video Cartridge. It's the mark of the "Interactive Movie". Read on for the full review!
Burn:Cycle is a revolutionary game for the simple reason that it is less of a game and more of that holy-grail of new-media synthesis: the interactive movie.
On the surface, it looks like a cyberpunk extension of The 7th Guest. The clean interface consists of a first-person perspective with an on-screen cursor that changes into an arrow (indicating possible movement), cross- hairs (for shooting or selecting objects), a hand (for picking up objects), and other abilities or tools, depending on the context.
But the key difference is that whereas 7th Guest had classic puzzles with just enough story to hold it together, Burn:Cycle takes the opposite tack. The story comes first in this title, with such adventure-game staples as puzzles, searching, bartering, shooting, etc., serving only to advance the story.
That's a pretty risky approach when you consider how absolutely wretched most adventure-game story lines are. Generally, they consist of:
1. You are pretty-boy prince who must rescue the beautiful kidnapped princess.
2. You are the noble young knight/elf/hobbit/fuzzy-bunny who must go on a quest to recover a powerful object.
3. Whatever happened in the movie that the game is based on.
Burn:Cycle's basic hook is a high-concept premise: you're Sol Cutter, a data thief who's just downloaded a computer virus that has spread to your brain, and it will kill you in exactly two hours. Oh, and the people you just stole that data from are swarming towards you with guns. Who got the virus in your head, how'd they do it, how do you get it out, and what does it all mean? It's a great idea, combining classic paranoia (from Kafka's The Trial to TV's The Prisoner) with the aesthetics and nihilistic world-view of the cyberpunk genre.
Ordinarily, of course, you don't talk about aesthetics and story-lines in a game. But here, the whole really is more than the sum of its parts. The acting and writing create a believable and interesting world, while the pasting of the low-resolution actors onto computer-rendered backgrounds makes for a unique look -- one that's appropriately hi-tech and inhuman.
Furthermore, the plot developments are well-conceived so that you keep with the game and have a sense you're getting somewhere. You learn more about other characters and your world, through conversations and video ''cut scenes'' that advance the plot. The game has an interesting design in that you have an ability to determine what parts of the world you want to visit and interact with (non-linear media), but still has a traditional plot development as you accomplish important tasks and make discoveries (linear media).
At first, it may seem like the average wandering-around adventure game when you get to the city, but things start happening after you meet Gala, and really pick up steam once you get into the ''televerse''.
Technically, Burn:Cycle pushes the CD-i's capabilities and is a powerful statement of what the base-case machine can do. It rarely takes more than a second for the disc to bring up video scenes, jump from place to place, etc. The video is also surprisingly good for base case -- the hard- edged compression is evident, but visually appropriate against computer- rendered backgrounds.
Lots of nice touches throughout: initial pressings include an audio-CD soundtrack by British TV and film composer Simon Boswell. The disc comes in a fold-out box that also includes a packet of e-mail messages to Cutter that may help explain characters' motives and reveal the Big Picture.
Games can be saved any time your cursor is active and take about 9% of your player's memory each. You can also re-view the last video sequence to listen for clues, hints, definitions, and revelations you missed the first time.
So who wouldn't like Burn:Cycle? For one thing, people who've played lots of adventure games. I don't think they'll get it. They'll get to the puzzles, which are generally quite simple, and wonder what the big deal is. Of course, I think ''the deal'' is as much the story as it is the game elements. Burn:Cycle is a pretty easy game to finish, and if you get into the story, that's a good thing. Who'd watch a movie that took 20 hours of frustration to get to the end of?
To its credit, Burn:Cycle is unapologetically violent, scary, profane, and cynical. Those stylistic elements fit the plot-theme of the work, but there are certainly people who don't care for such R-rated fare, and they'd be best to avoid the title entirely.
I'll admit to one gripe about the game elements -- too many of the action sequences and even some of the puzzles have lethal consequences for failure. I'd thought we'd gotten away from the ''Zork'' tradition of killing the player every time he or she does something wrong, which in turn places an inordinate importance on saving the game every time you do something right. For example, a guard paces outside the hotel. How are you to know he'll kill you if you approach him? And what happens if you haven't saved your game? Frustration! Furthermore, this doesn't have to be a lethal threat -- he could just shoot at you and you'd watch Cutter dodge and maybe do a voice-over hint about needing some help to get past the guard.
Still, Burn:Cycle is a revolutionary title, one that goes ''outside the box'' by moving from adventure game to interactive story. At its best, it's art.
Credits: Chris Adamson, Daan, CD-i Collective, The World of CD-i