Cradle – PC
Developer: Flying Cafe for Semianimals
Publisher: Flying Cafe for Semianimals
Release Date (NA): July 24, 2015
ESRB Rating: N/A
Nerd Rating: 3.5 out of 10
Reviewed by: Variand
*MILD SPOILER WARNING* – A major reason for my low score was the lore and story of this game, and these will be touched on briefly.
Welcome to the Cradle Support Group. Don’t worry, we don’t judge here. You’ll find many who are just like you. So let’s find out which subgroup fits you best. Are you here because the ending confused you so much that you’re forgetting to breath while trying to figure out what it meant, or are you here because you feel traumatized or angry at the underlying messages and themes in the game? *Speaking softly* Did you start feeling a little tingle in your nethers over the subliminally sexualized Freud-tastic imagery? Oh! You’re just here out of curiosity. No problem, let me give you one of our pamphlets.
Let’s just start out by saying that Cradle is an indie game from a Ukranian studio, Flying Cafe for Semianimals, so there are bound to be some issues with translation and cultural context To be fair, the game does have a fair amount of polish to it. Models and textures are stunningly detailed, the art style is alluring, and sound and music is spot on. Environments do well to make you feel alone and secluded. Even more interesting is the way the science fiction themes were included into the most rural of settings, a desert in Mongolia. Unfortunately, this is where things start to take a dive.
You know that ol’ chestnet, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder?” Yeah, that wonderful little motto that teaching us what one person finds appealing another might find disgusting and vice versa. In other words, beauty as a quality cannot be quantified. Well, turns out that in Cradle, it IS quantifiable, and everything organic now has their “beauty” number listed on their person for all to see. Worse, turns out that ugly people in the world get over-emotional at beautiful people, building up so much “Bitter Passium” in their systems that they literally explode. What is done about these Uglies blowing up and killing Beautiful people? ‘Voluntary’ Deactivation – essentially suicide. WTF!?!
Here are just a few of the choice quotes from the dialogue players must listen to in order to progress: (Click for screenshot of full context)
- – “They were called all sorts of things, including “lower class” and “ugly people”. I still remember the slogan, “Protect society from the emotions of ugly people.”
- – “What is sweet passium?” “That’s the valuable substance produced by beautiful people. […] Beautiful people are therefore valuable, whereas ugly people are dangerous.”
- – “Uglies are dangerous merely by living and feeling; in that they deprive the rest of any hope of returning to the way things were.”
Seriously, what the actual $#!%? Speaking as someone who would likely have a very low beauty number in this world, this is friggin’ ridiculous! I probably would have just ignored this until you find out that the main “dungeon” area, a rundown dystopian circus dome, was a special school for ugly kids. Holy Crap, can we say ugly people holocaust? If you read between the lines even a little you can easily see the many disgusting parallels to the Nazi regime’s “Final Solution.” The only saving grace is that most people will be so confused by the rigid dialogue or drowned in so much background reading that they’ll just ignore it for the sake of moving on with the game.
Outside of some extremely toxic views of beauty, Cradle’s story is disjointed and convoluted, stumbling all over itself at ever opportunity. There is a overarching plot that barely holds this all together, but when the multiple story strands of Ida (your ranked 74 hotty flower vase), Enebish’s mysterious (read: “boring”) past with his dead grandfather, anything to do with Ongot the eagle, or the level 32 fuggle bus driver try to converge, they miss by miles with most not even intersecting at all. Ongot specifically is on every bit of title artwork but plays no significant part in the story outside of a quick shock of, “THIS BIRD HAS A HOLE IN ITS CHEST!” after which, you only see him one more time. Even after reading all the lore in the game hidden through out Enebish’s yurt, while most of it is very thorough, you’ll be confused with your eyes likely rolling into the back of your head with its clinical tone. The ending is even worse as there is no dialogue or explanation, only a weird music video of people walking. As best as I can tell after reading every bit of in-game text and even lurking around in a couple of forums, it boils down to time traveling texting even though it won’t explain how it’s important.
The worst part about this mangled story is that there are moments where real potential does shine through. Be it through some striking visual moments, or some interesting scenarios, I found myself actually enjoying a bit of the mystery up to the point where the story and the google-translated dialogue falls flat on its face writhing around on the floor like a spoiled Russian gymnast that lost a sequin off her outfit.
Freudian Field Day
There are some underlying fetishistic (say this word out loud, it’s fun!) situations at play in Cradle that would give Sigmund Freud a psychiatry-boner. The female character, Ida, is trapped in a stationary sitting position, the player has the power to turn her on and off, and can remove and change parts of her body. This is classic Power/Control fetish play. With the fact that she’s an android, or non-organic simulation of a human, the Power/Control Fetish also becomes a doll fetishism, especially when you consider her high Beauty rating. There is an even a darker portion of the game where you carry around her lifeless torso; I’m not even going near that one. The name Cradle can even be an allusion to the woman’s genitals, this is reinforced when you see Ida cradling a flower that appear to be growing out of her vagina or at least being held in her thighs. Hell, even the game’s logo is essentially three vaginas separated by three phalli. It could say a lot about me for seeing it as such, but I can’t be the only one.
Anita Sarkeesian should probably have used this game in her arguments about her women as sexualized objects tropes because where her Hitman video tries to falsely argue that players were encouraged to drag around lifeless stripper corpses (even though the game does not require you to do so and punishes you for doing so), Cradle forces you to act out this fetish fodder. Turning Ida on and off is required to progress. Ripping off her chest, replacing her lungs and other parts, even putting a brain in her skull – these are all required to proceed with the story. So while the intentions of the developers may have been benign with the understanding that this was just a simulated consciousness in a decorative flower vase that needed repair, the fact remains that the subliminal encouragements are still present. That said, based on the game’s promotional art and screenshots, which are essentially all just naked metal tits and the ability to play with your lady vase, this was probably an understood effort to tickle these Id-centric interests in hopes of increasing sales.
The story is not the only wonky part of Cradle. The gameplay has elements of horror/survival, mystery/adventure, and even some interactive novel, but none of them feel as if they were woven together cohesively. In fact, there are essentially three distinct areas in this game with each using only one of the mentioned genre elements. The yurt is your interactive novel, the dystopian circus dome is your adventure, and the field in between these is your survival/horror. To make things even worse, they forcibly tacked in a Minecraft inspired minigame of action/platforming with pick-up/put-down block style of gameplay, which, oddly enough, has just enough action to break up the dullness of the rest of the muck that is Cradle.
Hidden Useless Gems
The entirety of the game feels like several game school projects woven together with all the grace of a redneck with a roll of duct tape, but there is something to be said about that too. If you take each individual part – sound/music/voices, models/textures, the visual experiences – they all on their own are quiet impressive. So I think what we really have here is a game equivalent of a geode. Several small hidden gems with an outside that looks like a typical worthless stone, but when you look at the shiny insides, it’s a bit wondrous to look at. However, even though geodes are fun to look at, the gems inside are generally not usable for jewelry or much else.
That’s what this game is: interesting to look at in the stone dealer’s workshop, but there is absolutely no reason to buy it unless playing with robot flower vases really strokes your jollies.
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