My free time in the past few days has been spent masquerading as a microbiologist. Conveniently, thanks to the power of gaming, this has not meant donning a white coat and breaking into laboratories to ‘assist’ with experiments. Rather, I have been able to do so from the comfort of my own home with a game called Splice, from Auditorium and Fractal developer Cipher Prime.
As with everything Cipher Prime have released to date, this is a sublime and unique puzzler that offers an initially simple dynamic and rewards exploration as new elements are introduced. Your basic aim is to reproduce a template ‘strand’ utilising the cells provided within a certain number of ‘splices’, which counts as any separate cut or rejoining of these blocks (though a cut-and-join performed as a single splice counts only as one move). Trust me when I say that it makes more sense in practice, even when the first puzzle appears before you without explanation.
Cipher Prime have always done a pretty decent job of easing players in very gently, before pulling the welcome mat out from underneath them and pointing and laughing and declaring “you’ll never be good enough!”. But in a good way. Once I had worked out the basic mechanics, I felt hardly as though much was being asked of me at all through the first score of puzzles. I soon realised this was a cunning ruse to absorb me into the game, but by then it was ready to fight back. Hard. Every time I thought I knew how the game was thinking, it evolved outside of my current scope and forced me to try to do likewise. So far, the game has provided some hours of mental stimulation, and I am far from finished. Besides having a few of the ‘epilogue’ levels still to beat, there is an extra layer of difficulty with their ‘Potential Angelics’, puzzles that can be solved with at least one splice remaining. There promises to be challenge here for me for some hours yet.
Thus, my main frustrations come where they ought from any decent puzzler – from my own limitations – but once a solution presents itself, especially on later levels, it is greatly satisfying (even when it does inform you that you might have done it better). The only other thing I found at all frustrating was the soundtrack which, whilst absolutely lovely, does grow a bit tiresome after a long session. On the other hand, a phone call to one of the departments at my university, who put me on hold with the same 16 bars of the first allegro movement of Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik playing over and over, quickly put that in perspective.
All in all, this is a great addition to any puzzle-fan’s collection and yet another masterpiece from Cipher Prime, who are still doing more than most to prove that puzzles can be about more than putting things in rows of three or minute variants on card solitaire.
Summary: Splice is aesthetically delightful, quite intensely stimulating and should provide a fresh challenge to even the most ardent puzzler.
Verdict: 9 out of 10
Platforms: PC, Mac