Cradle. What is it? Cradle is an undeniably inspired vision of an amorphous future dystopia, a visual treat composed of many layers that sharply contrast with the cramped boundaries of the canvas framing it. Cradle is a tantalizing story that teases the player as it piques interest when it emerges from dialogue and peeks slyly from textual tidbits before scampering off to hide, mocking the poor soul who dares to follow and laughs long and hard at one foolish enough to attempt to capture its mystery. Cradle is a Siren, perched among the flowers of Anthemusa, seducing and beckoning the player with a beautiful song full of promises, only to lead them headlong into the rocky crags of disappointment.
That’s an overwrought introduction to a review for a PC game! But if you play Cradle, you might understand. Your gaze will linger over the screenshots before you pull the trigger and install, transfixed and tempted by their promise. The first few minutes into the game, the part of the soul that is touched by mystery and originality and the need to be told a story will be intrigued and then drawn in like a moth to the flame as pieces of the narrative puzzle fall into place. And when the short journey ends, you’ll stare at the screen in disbelief and mutter …”what the FUCK just happened?”
The basics: Cradle is set in a future world that has been ravaged by an epidemic, forcing the majority of the human population to migrate from fleshy bodies to the safety of robotic vessels. As Enebish, the enigmatic protagonist with a convenient lack of short and long term memory, you find yourself in a yurt in rural Mongolia. The yurt is humble and modest, but the detail within is rich and complex. You’re on a quest of self-discovery and a mission to save an abandoned soul trapped in a long-forgotten robotic chassis/flower vase. I would go into more detail, but to do so would venture into the realm of spoiling major elements of the story, such as it exists.
Cradle is an FPS, story-driven experience. I hesitate to call it a “walking-simulator” because the confines of the game are essentially limited to three areas. It’s more of a quest driven story game, focused on setting tasks to be completed and then rewarding you with more of the story. Rewarding, however, is a loaded term, because as the story unfolds more questions are created than answers given. There are limited instances where you can die or fail, specifically in a number of mini-games that receive a superficial explanation as the story is told, but that feel disconcertingly out of place with the general pace of the game and its setting. Cradle is not a conflict-oriented game…unless you factor in the conflicting emotions you may have once you’ve reached the closing credits.
The task-driven aspects of the game are frustrating at first, because while Cradle is set in a limited space, direction is often ambiguous and the amount of trial and error encountered can be a major distraction from the main goal, which is to advance the story. This advancement starts with numerous clues scattered about the yurt, contained in newspaper clippings, notes and other devices that help build a hazy view of the world that contains Cradle. Once the player has advanced to a point where they can interact with Ida, the stationary robotic female, flower vase and displaced entity in need of help, the story is continued mainly through dialogue sequences that are linear in nature…but by no means clear when it comes to grasping a solid understanding of Enibish or Ida’s identity or the world they mutually exist in. The more you learn in Cradle, the less you know.
Cradle is not for everyone. I finished the game two weeks ago and have bided my time in writing this review, mulling over exactly what the story and the developers were trying to say and accomplish. Loathe as I am to admit it, I am at a loss when it comes to understanding Cradle when taken as a whole. Judged solely on its technical merits, Cradle is a gorgeous treat and inventive experience confined by generic game mechanics and a small but deep setting. As a story, Cradle starts strong with a powerful premise fully decked out in gleaming sci-fi trappings that become opaque and obscured as the player progresses, culminating in a climax that is confounding and bewildering.
If you’re looking for a narrative experience in a video game and are a fan of experimental poetry or art-house sensibilities, impenetrable symbolism and care more about the journey than the destination, then Cradle is the feast you may have been craving. If you seek more traditional story-telling or gaming fare, Cradle is likely to leave you unfulfilled and hungering for more.On Steam Website