Traitors Gate 2: Cypher

Developer:  258 Productions
Publisher:  The Adventure Company
Year Released:  2003

Review by Steve Ramsey (November, 2003)
Marketed as "The sequel to the best selling original Traitors Gate", this game was a disappointment for that very reason, as well as a few others.

A sequel is a difficult thing. Make it the same and you stand to be criticised for simply pumping out the same old fare; change it and people will complain that it is not enough like the original. So there is an inherent dilemma that I am prepared to acknowledge. But branding something as a sequel is done for a reason, and in my opinion a sequel needs to be enough like what went before to enable players to identify with the original, and find enough of what they liked first time around.

Traitors Gate 2 is too different in too many ways. Apart from having the same main character go on a secret mission armed with a few high tech gadgets, that's about it for similarities. It played, looked and felt like a totally unrelated game. To me it simply wasn't a sequel.

So from here on in I am calling it Cypher, and I will tell you about it as a stand alone product.

A group of extremists is using a hostile computer virus to attack and destroy international targets. Aided by the defection of a high ranking communications officer, the group now has the means to target even the most secure satellite and communications systems. The Pentagon has traced the source of activity to a lab in the Middle Eastern deserts, and your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to infiltrate the lab, obtain a copy of the virus, and rig the communications equipment to act as a homing device. Stealth bombers will do the rest.

"Should you get caught, we never heard of you"
Agent Raven is not a man to shirk a challenge, which is just as well, because a challenge he will get. He was skewered by spikes before he had even made it down the first hallway. A little less haste, perhaps, would be a good thing.

Except, of course, in the "slice and dice" room, where haste is the name of the game. As it is at the elevator, and in the "kettle" room.

These puzzles may well frustrate some gamers. In the slice and dice room, you can at least use timing and judgement to make it out before being smashed, stabbed or squished. With the elevator, it is simply a question of whether you can manipulate the keyboard quickly and accurately enough to get Raven onto it. The amount of time you are given is ludicrously small. There is a suggestion that there is a glitch involved, but I suspect that is more an indication of how frustrating this puzzle is. Most players I know have used a save game to get past this bit. I managed to get on board, but on about the 50th attempt, and I doubt I could do it again.

The kettle room, too, requires you to "run like your pants are on fire", as one player put it to me. For many adventure players, the keyboard control will only add to the pressure.

Raven spends the first two thirds of the game trying to get into the lab through an old Egyptian-ish tomb that is linked to it. The tomb is a big place, and he will spend a fair bit of time wandering and wondering where to go next. It is by no means a straightforward place, and is reasonably open in terms of where Raven can go and when, although some rooms and some objects are essential components of being able to access other parts.

I confess I got lost, and wasn't sure several times that I knew what I was doing. But that is part of the challenge.

So too is the fact that there is nothing to indicate that you can push or pull or use an item somewhere. In that regard you are on your own. Some things will be obvious, others will be indicated by clues, but I nevertheless spent a whole lot of time getting Raven to try to do things with inactive spots and items.

The need to position the third person perspective that is Raven in just the right spot in order to try and interact with something adds another level of complexity. Several times I tried to use or take something, and got no response from Raven, so moved on. Only later did I find that what I was trying to do was correct, but I wasn't positioning Raven correctly. Some spots are forgiving, others are not.

Needless to say, pull the wrong thing and Raven may very well expire. Dying happens a lot in the tomb. So save often.

Catch your breath
Thereare some quiet moments in Cypher, and some not bad puzzles. I was particularly pleased with myself when I solved the flipping walkway, and blowing the boats around the water maze was a peaceful, if repetitious, interlude. The chime room left a bit to be desired though, music puzzles not being my forte and trial and error being the only way to complete one part, but the maze room was surprisingly easy and interesting. And in none of these places was death going to occur.

I suspect there are many ways through the tomb, and I found out afterwards that I missed a whole portion, but its completion clearly wasn't essential. It had something to do with a room full of revolving knives.

My overall impression of the tomb was rather mixed. Some puzzles were enjoyable, others not so. The elevator should be scrapped, and more time allowed at the kettle. You shouldn't fail because you can't steer Raven quickly enough. Some puzzles had good clues, and an old journal contains important information, but the key to others was particularly vague. This exacerbated the lack of any "action" indicator, and too many times I was forced to literally bang Raven's head against inanimate objects hoping something would happen. The need to work out the mechanics of many puzzles was a plus, as was the relative openness of the tomb, but the sum of all of the parts made for a lot of going nowhere more than once, and with no idea as to what to do. You may revel in the challenge, but I thought it was unbalanced.

Slow and sneaky
The lab was different altogether. Adopt the right cautious approach and you can explore without too much trouble. You will be shot once or twice, but there are no knives or spikes or booby traps, at least not that I found.

Except that once you do work it out, it's a bit the same. And again, the lack of any indication that you can do something in any place means rigging the homing beacon and finding the virus will take some meticulous and concerted trial and error. But you do get to use your gadgets

Neither the sound effects or the soundtrack made an impression, concentrating as I was on what I was doing. Graphically, Cypher is middling, and Raven merged with or bisected what was meant to be a solid edge more than once. Also, there was a bit of stutter in Raven's movement in places, which there probably shouldn't have been given the lack of any other moving objects and my system specs. The camera orientation wasn't a problem though, as it can be in third person games, which is just as well because you can't change it. You can, however, make it look up or down, the only thing you do with the mouse. Everything else is keyboard.

Using objects is mechanically easy. Highlight the object you want to use in the inventory, press enter, and if Raven can use it in that place then he will. Most things get used but I was left with some that weren't, and a few things get used more than once. I didn't find any subtitles but apart from Raven's at times wry comments there isn't much dialogue, although I did get one small puzzle insight from one of Raven's comments. If he provided more I missed them.

It loaded and ran without lock-ups or crashes. It has a security system that kicks in every time you start and checks that your code matches the disc, which gave me no problems but which others have reported caused them some grief.

All up, Cypher was disappointing. But I did feel a sense of accomplishment when I had finished, albeit with some help. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2003. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, Pentium III 700 MHz (Pentium 4 1.2 GHz recommended), 128 MB RAM Win 98/ME & 256 MB RAM Win 2000/XP, DirectX 8.1 video card: (ATI Radeon 7200, 8500, 9700, nVidia GeForce 2MX, GeForce3, GeForce4 Ti and newer or eqivalent), DirectX compatible sound card (Soundblaster Live or equivalent recommended).