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Burn: Cycle (Mac) artwork

Burn: Cycle (Mac) review

"Burn:Cycle is an early generation (1994) 'interactive movie' style sci-fi adventure, hot off the CD-I to your Mac or PC. While it's very ambitious and succeeds on many levels, enough to be memorable, it does suffer from the typical problem of this genre: too-low interactivity. Yet the overall story experience is dazzling enough that you won't really notice. "

Burn:Cycle is an early generation (1994) 'interactive movie' style sci-fi adventure, hot off the CD-I to your Mac or PC. While it's very ambitious and succeeds on many levels, enough to be memorable, it does suffer from the typical problem of this genre: too-low interactivity. Yet the overall story experience is dazzling enough that you won't really notice.

You play Sol Cutter, a data thief and hacker in the 'Johnny Mnemonic' age, where human information and digital information have become interchangeable in the human brain. The brain can be used as a receptacle for data... and viruses.

Burn:Cycle is the name of a virus which you've just jacked into your own brain after a data theft gone wrong. You now have only 2 hours to find out what's going on, who's trying to kill you, what's the importance of the data you have in your head, and how to destroy the virus before it eats your brain. A killer set-up, no doubt about it, and which gives us the brilliant tagline:

'Sol Cutter has something on his mind... In two hours it's going to explode!'

All of the characters in the game are played by real actors, who are blended appropriately into the game's neon-lit Blade Runner style world. Performances are variable. Most are fine or good, one is laughable (I'll enjoy talking about those soon). But crucially, the guy playing Sol is very good. He's intense, broody-looking and agitated, as you might be with a computer virus eating your brain. He has a nice line in sarcasm and timely quips too. Some of the dialogue he has to chew through is pretty heavy-handed, and he still deals with it well. He reminds me of one of those film noir detectives who are always being knocked out by a blow to the head. Then he'll knead his brow in closeup and say, 'It was like someone had put a shotgun upside my head and blown a hole clear through my brain.'

Other film noir touches include his bumbling qualities (locked out of his apartment, on the run with no money) and the way he often stumbles to safety thanks to the actions of pals who end up dead moments later. All around, he's a very well considered character to have as the centre of the game.

The style of the game is an interesting free-form. There are some consistent features which come into play for sequences where you are walking around in the first-person, such as clicking towards where you wish to go, or moving the mouse off the screen to bring up your inventory strip. But overall, the game presents you with a series of tasks and new control systems which may only last for the extent of one puzzle or scene. They're mostly intuitive enough not to present problems, but not always.

In the game's tense opening, you escape the scene of the data-theft through a circular maze, having to zap any gunmen who leap out from behind cover before they blast you. This is really fun and plays like a small-scale 'Time Crisis' with a mouse. When you first get into your vehicle, the display switches to the dashboard, and you have to click on all the different controls and panels to work out what they do. But then the third control system smacks into you with unpleasant speed. As your vehicle lifts off, you have to shoot down missiles that are zooming towards your windscreen. The sudden arrival of a dangerous sequence like this one, where one hit will kill you, can be very frustrating the first time you encounter it. You just don't know what's going on. So from this point onward you learn to save frequently.

What might have started to bother you by now are the number of cinematic interludes during which you must listen and watch but take no active part. The story is great, so it's involving, but still this aspect is the main problem with the game. Even the interactive scenes can be low on interaction. The way the city swings around you as you move is cool and seductive, but it's a point-and-click system, not free-roaming. The moody score and graphics will hopefully make you forget that the scene you're in might have as few as four points between which you can walk. Puzzles aren't usually difficult. There is more difficulty in working out how to implement the solution, or just what you're even expected to do next. Only in the city section of the game do you really have a large environment to explore and an inventory to play with.

What I can't fault (and what is really good) is the game's consistently dark and bleak atmosphere. It's the overall feel of the story and the world you're in that will keep you involved, as you might get frustrated at times with linear or un-intuitive gameplay. The soundtrack is especially good, a mixture of dismal mood pieces and more exciting techno themes. The score is by Simon Boswell who has worked on many film soundtracks, most notably for Italian horror films. It's a great bonus that the musical soundtrack is included on its own separate CD in the Burn:Cycle package.

The world of Burn:Cycle has its own Internet/ Matrix/ Virtual Reality, call it what you will... In this game, it's the Televerse, and eventually you have to go in there to look for answers. It's a surreal world of mazes, helix-like structures and puzzles. The graphic design is very distinctive.

The characters are an intriguing bunch. Zip is a youthful layabout Televerse freak with dreadlocky hair and a mellow way with words. Gala is the 'spunky' mercenary lady who'll help you out. Her acting is a bit overripe with some unintentionally funny moments. ('While I MYSELF...' Well, you have to be there.) There's a golden Buddha figure - yes, a big guy with skin painted in gold, just like in a certain James Bond film - who says stuff like, 'You must search within in order to find that which you seek'. His pop-psychology stylings are pretty charming when they're not being too annoying. Plus he always has blissful accompaniment on the soundtrack that will make you feel peaceful.

Most of the hands-on puzzles involve symbols and patterns. Manipulate elements of a lock to release a door, or create a triangle of symbols in the zany 'Psychic Roulette' game to win a prize from the bar. Point-and click is the style for shooting/action sequences. More elusive puzzles include audio, musical and voice recognition games in the Televerse, and the truly bizarre 'thermal goggles' sequence. What happens here is, Sol puts on some goggles so he can escape from a smoked-out building. Suddenly you're presented with a bizarre interface featuring a spectral analysis graph and a sliding needle... it took me ages to work out what I was supposed to do here. But when I did, I realised what a unique idea it was.

I like the way they included extra items and features in the game which aren't necessary to win, or even useful. They just add texture to this world. At the bar you can win useless items such as mind-boosting pills or pornography. While browsing the computer to gain access to the Televerse you can also watch news broadcasts or a collection of ads for future products. The virus clock is cool too. You can pause the game to an image with a scan of your brain revealing how much time you have left, and while you're there, listen to Sol's musings or ideas about the situation which may help you progress in the game.

All things considered, Burn:Cycle is a fun, well-conceived and involving game. Its ambitions in mixing up so many different gaming styles as called for by the story are genuine explorations of this genre of game, which was hardly a well developed one at the time of Burn:Cycle's release. (Is the genre well-developed now? I'd say point-and-click multimedia adventures are pretty turgid all around! BRING BACK REAL COMMAND-LINE ADVENTURE GAMES!) Burn:Cycle is tons more fun than most similar and larger games I've seen since, and we're talking 7+ years here.

The resolution of the graphics isn't the best, but who cares? All I care about is that I can see all the imagination that went into creating the world of the game. The soundtrack is excellent. Gameplay is erratic, but the game is swift enough that I can enjoy playing it over again, even when I know the solution. There are some fun puzzles and action sequences and I love the atmosphere. Sure, you might be annoyed by the fact that you can never skip cinema sequences, even ones you've seen. But on the other hand none of the sequences are extremely long.

Looking back at Burn:Cycle, I think it's far more impressive in all ways than I felt it was at the time I bought it. It now looks like an especially adventurous early game of the multimedia genre, a genre which has since reified into something a lot bigger, a lot more staid, and a lot more boring for my money.

Check out Burn:Cycle for a game which is far more succinct and which is a really tense ride!

-- Burn:Cycle -- 8/10 --

bloomer's avatar
Community review by bloomer (February 06, 2004)

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