Code 7 Review

Before adventure games got graphics, everything that was presented in them was written. They were also played by typing in words to communicate with the game world. How would this kind of text adventure work in these days, with games pushing the boundaries of photorealistic graphics for ever more authentic immersion? Pretty damn well, as cyber thriller Code 7 proves. A game based almost solely on a text can excite the imagination on a whole different level than a pre-produced fancy imagery.

Developed by a small German indie studio, Code 7 is a text adventure to be told in five chapters. So far, only episodes 0 and 1 are available. It’s a shame because the game turns out to be an edge of the seat stuff with chilling cliffhangers. In the year 2113 the earth is getting over-populated so the humankind must search for new pastures to live in. One of planned planets hosts Schroedinger station, a terraforming experiment with only a handful of settlers to test and hone the mechanics for a wider immigration. Something goes terribly wrong and the communications to the station are cut. A small investigation group is sent to the scene, including hacker Alex and co-agent Sam.

Episode 0 chronicles the mystery of Schroedinger station. Without spoiling too much, Alex and Sam are separated and to make matters worse, Alex suffers from a traumatic amnesia but still can access computer systems and networks, guiding Sam from the sidelines. Oh, there’s also a rogue AI involved, with a sinister plan to save the world by eradicating the human race with a virus Code 7. At the end of the prologue, a displeasing truth about Alex is partially revealed, and the agents’ escape shuttle crash-lands on a research station on Mars. In episode 1, Alex is now partnered with journalist Zoya. And stakes are raised in a true sci-fi horror fashion as they find about Phantom Plague, a mysterious disease decimating the Mars station crew, and Pasithea, an induced hallucination drug linked to it.

The game is commanded via a simulated computer interface with keyboard-only controls. The only graphics are the portrait of Alex’s current partner and a rudimentary map of the near surroundings. The player is completely dependent on how the partner describes the current area, which is both written and fully voice-acted. The player guides the partner to move and investigate around, but more importantly, hacks computer systems and manipulates the network to make passages and dig vital intel to solve the numerous puzzles. Commands don’t need to be written in full words as the game has an auto-input system. In fact, it only takes four keys to play the game: tab, space, escape and return. That’s pretty intuitive and user-friendly for a game reliving in retro sensibilities.

Within deliberately limited range of gameplay mechanics, pondering the puzzles and then coming up with solutions for them works remarkably well and is immensely rewarding. The immersion a sparse text-based presentation and interface evokes is intense, and is never broken with some unnecessary frills. Hacking minigames get the pulse pumping, as do timed escapades against the automatic defenses both in Schroedinger and Mars stations. It’s all very tense as the fingers tap the keyboard in a hurry.

Framed with its narrow form of expression, the isolated cyber thriller story of Code 7 plays out like a radio drama of a chamber play. Convincing and emotionally involved voice acting breaths life beyond words to the unfolding events. It’s quite remarkable how little is needed to create an engaging entertainment; a good old mystery and the necessary gameplay mechanics to convey it. Tech noir sentiments of Code 7 are all very 80’s - rogue AI, hacking, spartan computer systems and dreams of a man colonizing Mars - but I wouldn’t call it a retro game as such. Rather, Code 7 is a new entry in an adventure game sub-genre which has been dormant for the last 25 years. The only thing damping the experience down is the developer’s estimate that it takes some six months for the next episode to arrive. Damn it, I want to solve the mystery of Alex and Code 7 right away!

Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.