Online, Jun 2020
A medical condition caused by too many puzzles? No, the Cyphstress is, in Deadlocked’s narrative, a mythical siren from Greek legend notorious for riddles, and perhaps also brewing beer – because this game was developed in collaboration with craft beer company Siren. The beer theming isn’t subtle, and you should expect some clear signs of corporate sponsorship, though I never found it detracted from the game.
Deadlocked’s previous game The Insiders was a huge six-hour beast, famous (notorious?) for one particularly demanding section as well as a relatively high challenge level overall. The Cyphstress is not as vast, but with two parts of 90 minutes each, it’s still a very substantial game, and of a difficulty level that seems more tailored for enthusiasts than beginners. As before, it expects you to tackle the two parts on different days, but provides an option to continue straight through if you wish.
Also as before, it combines several very distinct styles of game: ARG-style online investigations, point-and-click explore & solve, and other media. Despite a sudden shift in style and pace after the intro puzzle, all the many different elements are well integrated – everything fits into a clear narrative and there’s never an impression of doing puzzles just for the sake of them. Unlike the Insiders there’s no print-and-play component – one early puzzle would be a little easier if printed, but the intention is that everything can be played printless.
As soon as I opened the game, the presentation impressed me. At all stages it’s slick and glossy, with pretty visuals backed up by audio. That’s not just surface eye candy, it’s also used to create a couple of puzzles that would not be possible with a less sophisticated platform. It’s harder for ARG sections to look slick since these by definition take place within the environment provided by other websites, but there the game instead impressed with how well it gave the illusion of having a real person talking to you. The Insiders did a similar thing; Cyphstress takes it a step further, and this illusion of interaction extends even to the hint system.
Although the game is officially structured in two parts, I’d describe it as having three main sections. One of these is reminiscent of that puzzle from The Insiders, though is considerably less likely to make you tear chunks of hair out. While the puzzles are solid throughout, most of those I found most memorable were later on, with a couple in particular being just really satisfying multi-part puzzles.
Deadlocked’s low pricing means Cyphstress is superb value for money – but don’t get it because it’s a bargain, get it because it’s as good an online game as I’ve seen yet. It keeps what was good about The Insiders and packages it in a prettier, more sophisticated form. It’s packed, varied and a good mental workout, a blend of several very different elements that somehow successfully combine into a single game. Binge it in one go if you must, but I’d recommend splitting it over two evenings; the second half in particular is worth savouring.
Disclaimer: We played this game on a complementary basis. This does not influence the review or rating.