The Shadow in the Cathedral

Posted by David Tanguay.
First posted on 07 August 2014. Last updated on 07 August 2014.
Have an opinion? Leave a comment!

The Shadow in the Cathedral
The Shadow in the Cathedral is set in an alternate universe in which science, not religion, is the gospel.

The Shadow in the Cathedral is the first title of the Klockwerk series and the second game released by Textfyre. In this game, you play as Wren, an orphan raised by the Church. On the edge of puberty, you are working your way up the hierarchy, currently as the 2nd assistant clock-polisher. In the course of your duties, you overhear talk of a conspiracy that threatens the existence of the institution of the Church. You decide to find out what is going on so that you can alert the authorities.

The world of Klockwerk is set in an alternate history. It is a world of windup wonder, in which the technology of cogs and springs has been highly refined. In this world, the Church does not worship deities and mystics but engineering principles. The saints are great scientists and engineers, such as Newton and Babbage.

A large part of the plot in this game consists of Wren chasing after a suspect, trying to follow him to see what exactly is going on. Throughout this chase, there is a sense of urgency: Wren does not have time to doddle. In a wonderful balancing act, the game manages to press this urgency without punishing you by requiring the puzzles to be solved in some limited time or number of commands. Rather, the urgency is simply conveyed by the action Wren must take. You are required to take bold, dangerous actions. You constantly expect death, but it never quite happens.

The supporting characters are quick sketches. With the possible exception of a clock-maker near the end, you do not interact with other characters enough in the game to feel much depth in them. Despite a lack of character development, there is a wide diversity of personalities, going beyond the cliché. The characters do not feel like they are from a cookie cutter of overused archetypes.

The star of the game is the world itself. The text descriptions are kept to a proper, short length, but they still manage to convey a great depth of detail. Wren's observations of the objects he encounters add details of usage and history that highlight the uniqueness of his world. Each little detail is a snowflake that builds up to an avalanche of verisimilitude. The world comes alive, beyond a sterile, plastic dollhouse to a gritty, oily world of stone and metal. It is a great world to be immersed in for a text adventure.

The story's imagined steampunk technology lends itself naturally to puzzles. Fortunately, the game does not lean too heavily on this. The puzzles involve reasonable tasks, though most of them can also fit in to just about any game set in a similar era. The few puzzles that lean on the mechanical nature of this world are about machines that are natural parts of the world; that is, they are not ridiculous door lock mechanisms or other variants of that ilk. For example, Wren must figure out how to use the Difference Engine, a mechanical computer that can answer just about any question. The operation is baroque and finicky, but it matches the fantastical nature of the machine. It is a device that fits uniquely within the context of the game world, with an appropriate but underdeveloped user interface.

The puzzles strike a good balance. They are not difficult, but they are complicated enough that you must think about what you are doing and what you are trying to accomplish. This immerses you into the game world, but it does not slow you down overly much, so that the sense of action does not falter. Of course, what is easy for some players can be a stumper for other players. The game has a good hint system that allows those impatient players to quickly proceed past any difficulty.

The game is available in both the Standard Edition and the Hobbyist Edition. Differing from the Standard Edition, the Hobbyist Edition includes the Glulx game file which can be played using any compatible interpreter.

The Shadow in the Cathedral does not break any new ground in the genre of interactive fiction. It is conservative with its gameplay and storytelling, adding little new to the genre's body of technique. While staying within the orthodoxy, however, the game does so with solid competence and offers good entertainment.

• (0) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalink