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Splice Review

/ Jun 28th, 2012 No Comments

Splice

Splice Review

Splice Review

Puzzle out the mysteries of cellular life in Splice, a new experimental puzzle game for PC and Mac created by studio Cipher Prime.

I’m going to be honest – I came at Splice fresh, with no eyes on previews, videos, or even screen shots before I installed the game. I came at it with a sense of wonder, discovering everything in trickles and splashes, something I’d advise anyone else to do. Splice is the kind of puzzle where the game itself is the mystery, and one worth exploring on your own.

Gameplay

Splice has a simple interface and simple graphics, but still waters run deep in this case. The entire game can be played with mouse clicks, though there are a few keyboard shortcuts for those so inclined. The purpose of the game itself is left vague, as are the instructions on how to play it. The only way to play is to experiment, and the only thing to do is advance.

The game advances as a series of sequences, broken up by individual strands. The strands themselves are the heart of the game, a smattering of small colorful ovoids that can be dragged around to different positions. Each strand shows a dotted-line style map, a goal for you to reach, a blueprint for the pattern you are building. The cells can split it one or two paths, called “children” in the help menu. The idea is that by moving the cells around, you can force the microbes into chaining together in a very particular way that fits the blueprint. As the game advances, the blueprints become more complicated, and the cells themselves begin to develop abilities. Some cells can generate children, one or two, depending on the symbol on the cell. Many more symbols pop up later, all of them putting a new exciting twist on the gameplay, shaking you out of complacency. None of these symbols are explained, and the only way to learn about them is to try them out and watch the consequences of your horrible decision unfold.

Naturally, though, you must complete the strand in a predetermined number of moves, usually two or three max, so your solution to create the blueprint has to be elegant and brief.

Be not afraid, however. The game includes a marvelous fast-forward/rewind mechanic, and in fact may be the very heart of the game itself. There are no instructions for Splice: the help menu contains only three pieces of advice, and they read more like zen koans then walkthroughs. Even the start menu is wonderfully devoid of words – starting the game involves a bit of puzzling. As such, the time mechanic is a lifesaver, allowing you to step back or step forward after making move, erasing a mistake or just allowing yourself the ability to test out a theory.

If all of this sounds painfully vague, it’s to the developers credit. You discover Splice more than you play it, and it works spectacularly.

Graphics

Splice

Splice

The graphics are simple and clean, and I even managed to get the game running on a five-year-old PC without a hitch. The cells are crisp with a faint sensation of dimension, and they float in a sea of sharp color. There isn’t much to say about Splice’s graphics except that they work perfectly to illustrate the puzzle, and yet are artful enough to keep you interested for a good long while.

Sound

Oh my God the sound. Cipher Prime is known for their musicality, and they do not disappoint. A haunting piano tune lilts behind the action, a relaxing but somehow eerie motif designed perfectly to create deep thoughts. Though many times I felt frustrated and confused during the game, having no instruction on how to proceed or even what I was proceeding towards, the game’s music always centered me. It brings you into the moment and demands your attention, but is light enough to slip into the background when the puzzle takes over. The soundtrack itself is a marvel of cognitive support, and is available for purchase separately from the game. I might just pick it up to listen to whenever I’m doing something brainy – I can feel synapses firing just thinking about the songs.

The little bursting sound effects, bings and bops, and in particular the time-rewinding effects are all top notch. Whenever you slide time back a step, the soundtrack distorts and drops you back earlier in the song. It’s a delightful detail that helps ground the whole game, every little part working toward the whole of a fantastic puzzle.

Overall

Splice is More Than Just a Puzzle Game

Splice is More Than Just a Puzzle Game

Splice is a puzzle game, but more than that, Splice is the puzzle. Imagine if someone set you in a dimly lit room, started up a lovely string quartet in the corner, and handed you a Rubik’s Cube. Imagine now if you’ve never seen a Rubik’s Cube, don’t know how to use it, and don’t even know what your objective is. Imagine too if the man who handed it to you (likely an older but classy looking man, like Alfred from Batman), simply told you that it was a puzzle, and that you can solve it if you like. Or not, no big deal, there are refreshments in the foyer.

Discovering how to maneuver the cells, why you’re maneuvering cells, and the different abilities of each cell has real charm. The game really takes off when you begin to get a feel for it, when you slide into the groove created by the music and the gameplay, and find yourself pushing through strands without thought. In the middle of a groove, someone could walk up to you and ask you how the game works, and you probably couldn’t explain it to them. Even if you were crushing it, you probably couldn’t outline why you were making the moves you were.

Splice is the kind of game full of brain-breaking challenge that somehow, paradoxically, makes you feel smarter. I’d recommend Splice to anyone with a penchant for puzzles, anyone who likes to meditate, or just people with a good ear and a sharp eye.

Oh by the way, funny experiment. Play Splice for an hour or so, then turn and look at your room. My game had a bright pink background most of the time, and when I looked away the entire world was awash in sickly green tones, like I’d been stranded in the Matrix.

Don’t look at guides, don’t look at walkthroughs. Play it, let it wash over you. We’ll talk Eastern Philosophy afterward.

Overall Ratings – Splice (PC)

Gameplay:

8/10

Graphics:

7/10

Sound:

9/10

Concept:

9/10

OVERALL SCORE:

83%

B.C. Johnson
Part-time swashbuckler and full-time writer, B.C. Johnson lives in Southern California and yet somehow is terrible at surfing or saying "whoa." His first published novel, Deadgirl, came out this year and is available for Kindle, Nook, and even old dusty paperback. When he's not writing or playing video games, he can be found writing about playing video games and occasionally sleeping.
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