Cloud Chamber Review (PC)

good
key review info
  • Game: Cloud Chamber
  • Platform: PC
  • Gamepad support: No
  • Reviewed on:
  • Written by:
  • Show system requirements
Cloud Chamber is nebulous like a nebula

Cloud Chamber is a very strange experimental piece, a new kind of experience that's best described as a massively multiplayer crowdsourced investigation or something to that tune.

Developer Investigate North set out to create a new kind of video game, merging real-life online interaction with the structure of a classical point-and-click adventure and replacing picking up everything that isn't nailed down and using that on every imaginable object until the desired outcome is reached with a social component.

Cloud Chamber centers around an intricate narrative thread, divided into episodic and separate morsels of media, ranging from pictures and document scans to videos, and scattered all across the game's landscape for players to go through.

Story

The story mainly follows the investigation that a young scientist named Kathleen Petersen starts in order to uncover a secret that may be a signal from another world.

Fortunately, being the daughter of the owner of the Petersen Institute comes with some perks, so she is able to access a lot of data and document her findings much more thoroughly than an outsider would.

Her motivation however is not entirely related to having the truth uncovered, but is also of a much more personal nature, trying to uncover the secret behind the curious circumstances of her mother's death.

Her mother, Ingrid Petersen, discovered a mysterious signal forty years ago, embedded in the smallest of sub-atomic particles floating in space, and the institute covered it up. After her murder, Kathleen is determined to bring the secret to light.

Most of the footage comes from a documentary she attempts to put together, with clips from the European Space Agency and the Petersen Institute, one of the most prestigious scientific centers of the world, that harbors one of the greatest secrets that mankind has stumbled upon.

Things start out pretty investigative
Things start out pretty investigative

Gameplay

Your mission is to enter a massive database and watch and analyze everything to the last minute detail, trying to piece the story of what happened together, and the gameplay lies mainly in cooperating with other players and speculating on what each of you found noteworthy in the perused information.

You will go through various journals, diaries, documentary footage and documents, but the real game lies in talking to people and interacting with the community, leaving comments and starting discussion threads related to each and every bit of information, trying to find out where each piece fits in.

Cloud Chamber is a massively multiplayer game in which the actual playing part consists of talking to other players. The navigation between the various pieces of information is done through a virtual 3D landscape, where altitude is an indication of the importance of a particular item, and the links between them are a sort of roller coaster that you ride between investigating and speculating.

The game differs in a crucial way from traditional adventure games, where uncovering the "truth" or the one particular way to interact with the environment translates into progress, and instead progress is linked to how much you contribute to the community.

This is the game's biggest boon and its most wretched detractor at the same time, as in theory it means that the best ideas get up-voted and inspire others, while in practice it means that a crack team of people who believe that humans rode on dinosaurs have the same bearing as the staff from the Large Hadron Collider.

This is what will essentially make or break the game. If you like wild speculation and expressing your opinion just for the sake of it, however worthless and off-based it might be, you'll quickly find a home here.

If, on the other hand, you hate speculation that isn't grounded in hard facts and people who express their opinion just because they are legally entitled to, not because it actually contributes something meaningful to the current state of the world, you will feel like strangling people through TCP/IP.

It basically boils down to whether you like J. J. Abrams or Michael Bay's style of entertainment, shiny and seemingly interesting, but ultimately devoid of all meaning. Or the "X-Files," raising questions without ever answering them or remembering that they were asked in the first place.

Pretty soon everything turns into a popularity contest
Pretty soon everything turns into a popularity contest

The mysteries are all presented in a manner that allows people to argue multiple potential solutions, and while the developers might have an idea of where it's all going, the big bad foot of truth never stomps down and crushes the pesky equivocal nature of all the material presented.

If you're a fan of hard science fiction, you will loathe the game, its uncertain ways and the muddy waters it encourages, but if you like thinking "what if" and arguing about possible alternative meanings of secretive and confusing messages, appreciating excitement without worrying about consistency, you'll love it.

The upside to the game is the fact that you will spend a lot of time outside of it, researching a bunch of stuff you have likely never heard of, and the developers are encouraging this. You will do a lot of reading and searching for real-world topics and events in order to gain a better understanding of what's going on in the game, in the hunt for the locked missing pieces.

The downside is that you will be tempted to keep a photograph of the Giorgio Tsoukalos meme handy and just spam the Reddit-like structure of the discussions with it every time you see comments that seem so outrageous that you will likely believe they were automatically generated to further confound the game.

It's not as bad as I make it sound, but if you like to nitpick and bemoan every little inconsistency in movies, like I do, you'll feel like trying to watch "Lost" (or a similar work of art, from someone who likes the concept of mystery but lacks the interest or skills to explore what is actually going on behind the curtain) a lot of the time.

The Reddit-like system allows discussions to be up- and down-voted, making the meaningful (by popular accord) contributions rise to the top, and the time-decay system will make older discussions fade, so that newcomers to the game don't get spoilers ahead of time.

People who get involved in many discussions and get their messages up-voted will gain access to locked pieces of content, being able to uncover more about the story, and that's pretty much how you play it.

This installment is the first episode of four planned, so there will still be an aura of mystery around the entire thing by the time you're done.


Visuals and sound

The game can't really be criticized on the visual front, as the videos are pretty well put together, with a lot of editing to spice things up, and look impressive and authentic enough. The footage is delivered in the vein of "The Blair Witch Project" movie, in an attempt to make the entire experience more believable.

Of course, there are a ton of inconsistencies and quirks, but the entire experience is overall pretty solid, with maybe a bit too much editing and highlighting, but still good for the first of this kind of project.

It overall looks too much like an art project, and not like a convincing account of the portrayed events. The actors' delivery does not always convey the urgency of the plot, and many of the things taking place on screen feel contrived due to the clunky directing and dialogue.

Although the novelty of using live-action performances is a big plus for the game, it's also one of its main detracting factors, as it makes the entire thing more engaging and less credible due to the low-budget television production sheen that fails to sell the decades-old grand scheme that it attempts to unravel.

The music, on the other hand, is pretty good, and it features performances from consecrated artists, making the entire thing a little bit more believable, and offering a complementing background for the times when you'll be stuck looking at a video without having any idea of what to say about it except for "did anyone figure out what is going on?"

The Good

  • An innovative experience
  • It makes you read stuff outside the game
  • You can learn a lot of interesting stuff
  • Somewhat decent live-action videos

The Bad

  • It requires Quick Time
  • It relies too much on peer approval
  • Way too much unfounded speculation
  • Confusing story and delivery
  • Clunky writing

Conclusion

Now, the best thing that Cloud Chamber has going for it is that there is nothing quite like it out there right now, and it can comfortably score points on novelty alone, without having to actually put any kind of effort into it.

The bad thing is that although real scientists from CERN were consulted in order to get the theoretical physics stuff right, they were most likely discarded when it came to the actual production, and the materials you will come across will have a lot of holes you can poke your intellect through.

Another aspect that might not fly well is the fact that the game is overly reliant on peer approval, making it seem like more of a Kim Kardashian fan club than a crowdsourced mystery investigation from time to time, where everyone is saying something just to be a part of the discussions.

The bits of story that you get to see don't have enough weight to carry the entire plot, and unlocking new content through votes cast by random strangers seems like hardly the best way to go about progressing through the mystery.

However, being one of the only alternate reality mystery video games in existence, it's still a worthwhile title to try out, at least for experiencing an unusual gameplay format and a whole new way to enjoy a multiplayer game.
story 5
gameplay 4
concept 9
graphics 8
audio 9
multiplayer 5
final rating 7
Editor's review
good
 

Cloud Chamber screenshots (22 Images)

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