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About the StoryWhen the monks took me, aged six months, into their care, they named me Wren. Maybe because I was small, insignificant, and happy to eat any crumbs they threw my way. But these days I'm Wren, 2nd Assistant Clock Polisher; and that's a role that's about as important in the workings of the Cathedral of Time as the large deaf man who re-stretches the worn-out springs.
Shadow in the Cathedral takes Wren on a great adventure. What does the shadowy figure want with the Abbott? Why are Calvin and Drake constantly bullying you? Will you ever make it to 1st Assistant Clock Polisher?
These, and many other questions will be answered...soon.
Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Story; Nominee, Best Setting; Nominee, Best Use of Medium - 2009 XYZZY Awards
[...] an extremely enjoyable, bordering on exceptional, adventure game. It's thoughtfully implemented for the most part, and the authors demonstrate deft prose through which they've crafted a rich and highly immersive world dominated by clockwork technology. The puzzles may be considered too easy by some and it is not without its flaws, but these are neither frequent nor pervasive enough to seriously damage the experience. If you at all enjoy steampunk and know your way around a text parser, you should absolutely play this game.
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Play This Thing!
Gears within gears
The Shadow in the Cathedral rarely left me stuck; it did often put me in a position where there was an obvious action, but it looked dangerous and I hesitated before committing.
In a weird way I actually found this far more satisfying than I usually find big action sequences in shooters: admittedly, I'm terrible at twitch-based gaming and tend to have to replay a lot in order to succeed at those. But to some extent the effect also fit the game and the protagonist. Wren is a scrawny kid, not a highly-trained, muscly badass. The daring feats aren't things you necessarily expect to work. They're things you try because you have to, and you're surprised and relieved when they turn out not to be fatal.
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The world of Cathedral is at bottom Victorian steam-punk, hardly a setting that has been lacking in fantasy fiction of the last twenty years. It's painted vividly, however, and embellished with some original details, the most obvious of these being the society's obsession with clocks, to the extent that the eponymous cathedral exists essentially to provide a scaffolding for and a place to worship the Cathedral Clock, which hangs "large as the setting sun" in its dome. You play Wren, a young orphan who was taken in by the nearby abbey to serve as a "2nd Assistant Clock Polisher." Shortly after play begins, you witness something you really shouldn't have, and then it's off to the races to foul a Dastardly Plot that reaches right to the top of the church hierarchy. Things don't slow down much at all for the next six to eight hours; the plot just keeps rushing you breathlessly along. You may well feel as out of breath as Wren by the time you get to the end.
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It goes out of its way to be fair, but without becoming dull. There are many potentially frightening moments in the game, but as far as I can tell no ways to get to a no-win situation. And despite the intended audience of middle-schoolers, I also didn't feel that the game condescended to me. It was, perhaps, a little less violent than the same plot might be if pitched for adults, and sexuality doesn't come into the story much at all, but the language, the puzzles, and the characters are all sufficiently sophisticated to hold an adult's attention.
Shadow takes place in a steampunk world, but one more individual and deeply thought-out than the average steampunk. This affects everything from the protagonist's attitudes towards mess (clockwork precision is the ideal) to the setting details (the glow of gaslight, the huge clock faces) to the puzzles. These are of easy to moderate difficulty, and most of them involve machinery in some way -- and often not "figure out which button to push" machinery puzzles, but "crack open the front panel and tweak the machine itself" puzzles, or "apply basic principles about levers and counterweights." They're mostly things I haven't seen before, they're a great fit for the setting, and I really liked them.
One small gripe: there are more non-reciprocal pathways than I'd like, where you go north one way but you have to go east to return. I had to make a map. That's rare, for me. But it's totally worth it.
The design is smooth. The story is fairly linear and there isn't a lot of scope to change the outcome of anything, but I played for seven or eight hours and was rarely at a loss for long. With a small handful of exceptions, interaction is well-clued without being too horribly blatant. It's one of the best-paced long IF works I've played.
The ending is a cliff-hanger, looking forward to sequels. In spite of this, there's enough of a shape to the story that I was content for the time being (mostly; I would have liked a little more wrapping up).
Bottom line: this is extremely accessible and very satisfying. I ran into a couple of cosmetic bugs (now reported and, I believe, already ironed out by Textfyre), but overall it feels solid. There are fun things to play with, surprising and memorable images, and neat turns of phrase. I keep going back over the good bits in my head. I'd especially recommend it to people who enjoyed the plottiness and period-specific puzzles of The King of Shreds and Patches.
Obligatory disclosure: I played a free review copy of this work; and, because I run MacOS X, it was necessarily the Glulx version. I haven't worked with the Standard UI for Windows. I can say that the Glulx game file played smoothly, without the delays that some people reported in Jack Toresal and The Secret Letter. It did take a long time to come back after saving the file, but that was the only significant slowdown I noticed.
It's a shame, then, that the story cannot quite live up to this excellence of execution. A fascinating setting, where Newtonian mechanics has become a religion, is squandered in service of a dull villain-steals-a-macguffin plot. Your character, a low-level clock mechanic, gives chase, explores the Steampunk city, solves some puzzles along the way, that's it. It's rote Harry Potter level stuff. It's the first part of the aborted "Klockwerk" series, which will never see the light of day since the company shut down, so it has to do the grunt-work of introducing people, places and concepts, without any of the pay-off, thanks to its cliff-hanger ending.
You play an assistant clock keeper who must investigate a future robbery. The game is a very long example of what I call the linear thriller type of game. You encounter a more or less linear sequence of challenges where you are given a good amount of hints on what to do, there is always a sense of urgency, and everything you do is the right thing in just the nick of time.
This game is what I wish the illustrated book Hugo had been from its cover; you jump and leap and fall all through a giant clock early on, you use an early calculating machine like a computer, etc.
The writing is as good as Anchorhead, in my mind, and the implementation is smooth. The story wasn't as compelling to me at first, but the last few chapters really got me into it.
The game has probably not received very much attention because it was a commercial game for a while. But everyone should try it now.
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