The term “video game” can be used to describe a vast array of titles and genres, and for no two people does the definition bring the exact same thoughts to mind. But for anybody who takes the time to play Investigate North’s massively multiplayer story, Cloud Chamber, the term might just become a little hazier.
Cloud Chamber is a strange take on a mystery thriller and leans more toward a movie as the only interactive aspect comes from posting thoughts and opinions about the story that is being told. The story is the “game”‘s most important and interesting aspect and has the distinct aroma of a sci-fi drama the likes of which might be featured on the Syfy channel. Video clips, pictures and text entries are placed and interconnected throughout ten different levels and used to drive the story forward and create a sense of mystery as the player doesn’t always receive them in chronological order. After every entry, players have the option to post about what they think the information means and how the story will unfold from that point on. Other Cloud Chamber investigators will then like or dislike the comment and discuss the topic further. Awards are then given to players based on the amounts of likes they’ve had, having the most likes in a single comment and just having insightful posts. So, in a sense, whoever is the most interesting theorist that can present those theories in a social media friendly way will be the best… er…. cloud chamberer. That’s where Cloud Chamber starts and ends.
Unlike other mystery games such as Myst, Professor Layton or Carmen Sandiego, where the player must find clues, question suspects and make decisions, CC is purely based off of the community’s opinions alone. This is both incredibly freeing and insanely limiting all at the same time. It’s nice to be able to just talk about what my thoughts are and what I think is going to happen in the story, but games are supposed to be interactive, not just a journal of your thoughts and emotions! I struggle to use the word game because the experience feels more like a weekly book club.
The worst part is that in order to unlock more information on the story, players are forced to comment and get likes. After enough comments are made and enough likes obtained, more of the story becomes available. There’s a huge problem right there. The plot is the best part of the entire experience. It’s the main draw to CC, and without it there’s only peoples’ comments and other peoples’ validation of those comments. If I wanted to play a game like that, I’d sit on Facebook all day and count how many times people liked the memes and kitten pictures I waste my time sharing every day (an average of 87 likes each day FYI). This theory-heavy, must comment mentality will be a difficult hurdle for many people to get over. Not everybody is going to find the story intriguing enough to post about with strangers online. Hell, some people won’t care how entrancing the story is, they’ll just get to the first clip and lose interest all together. In this, Cloud Chamber will lose much of the gaming population because it’s not really, well, a game.
This is mostly due to the fact that video games usually aren’t successful unless they have strong gameplay elements. Besides posting and liking comments, which I’m not sure qualifies as full-blown gameplay, the only interaction the player has with Cloud Chamber is clicking on entries and enlarging text documents so they can be read. This makes for a very shallow experience, as far as games are concerned, and one that will leave most people looking to PLAY a video game begging for more. That’s not to say it ruins itself for the people who do accept CC for its minimalist take on gaming.
Production value in Cloud Chamber was quite impressive as both actors, music and general feel all combine to keep commentators busy. The actors played their parts admirably and have appeared in shows and movies ranging from Casino Royale to hit HBO show, Game of Thrones. CC’s soundtrack adds to the story’s cryptic vibe and meshes well with one of the main character’s background as he plays an underground DJ who has a musical gift that could unlock the mystery of an interstellar signal. Like I said, if you love anything science fiction, the story will be right up your alley. However, it might be a better idea to invest in a Netflix subscription and watch the Star Trek seasons to satisfy your space-loving appetite as the price drops in at $20 on Steam.
Cloud Chamber is a “game” that makes me feel like a child in a bad way (and yes, I know how ironic this is), because of how impatient I get when playing it. I want to control something other than my thoughts and ability to click a mouse and type. I want to rescue a princess, get chased by the cops and even put multicolored bricks next to each other like an architect with a mad case of OCD. Either way, I want to feel like I’m doing something more than watching a show and posting about my thoughts on Facebook only to hope for a massive amounts of likes so I can unlock more in said game.
Look, I know we’re in the midst of a very internet-obsessed, always connected, streaming everything, “I hope everybody likes my comment”, “check out the 1,023,946 ALS ice bucket challenge” generation – but it doesn’t work for everything. Cloud Chamber is strong proof of that. It has a colorful cast of characters played by more than competent actors, a strange plot that has viewers scratching their heads and a soundtrack to wonderfully complement the whole thing, but I just don’t feel like I’m “playing” anything. I’m watching, hearing, thinking and analyzing, but there’s no physical interaction. That truth gets in the way of the gaming experience.
Maybe I’m just stuck in the past or possibly too dense to appreciate the story for what it is, but Cloud Chamber would greatly benefit from a few well placed puzzles or questioning segments in the same vain as L.A. Noire. For those of you who care only about a game’s storyline, give this one a try. If you play games to… well, play games, don’t bother picking this one up.