March 17th, 2012 | By Mark O'Beirne
Few games can get away with causing players to get lost endlessly in a level, but that is the challenge that DeadEnd: Cerebral Vortex presents to players from the start. Taking place inside a surreal labyrinth, DeadEnd: Cerebral Vortex challenges players to collect pieces of their shattered soul, which are scattered throughout each maze. Nothing is as it seems however; players are presented with illusions throughout the maze as walls appear or floor tiles disappear. This means that even the most straightforward looking maze can become a much more complex affair.
Soul cubes are vital for progression but players may also find lamps, paint cans and eyes. Lamps expand a player’s field of vision so that they can determine what is real and what is imaginary from further away. Paint cans leave a trail of footprints so that players can identify where they have been. Eyes are the most valuable collectible if they are in a level because if players collect them all the true surroundings are revealed. These collectibles add an interesting dynamic as they may cause players to second guess if they should chase down the next soul cube that was visible at one point or if they should pursue an item of interest. It is worth keeping in mind that knowledge is power and vision equates to knowledge.
The choice is made even more daunting on certain levels that feature inverters. These switches cause illusionary walls or tiles to become real while areas that were previously real may become impassable. This means that players must think about how they will approach levels, which path they should take and how much exploration they should undertake before flipping the switch.
The various mazes and chapters are quite varied with a mix of close and cramped mazes to open and scenic expanses. While the first chapter is best described as creepy in the way it uses visual cues and atmospheric sound effects, later chapters are entirely different affairs. The visual style is subtle but impressive throughout. When the skyboxes are visible, they are a sight to behold. It is unfortunate in a way that players do not spend more time in open areas.
DeadEnd: Cerebral Vortex challenges players, but it is not unforgiving or frustrating. Players can exit a maze at any time without recovering all the soul cubes or finding the exit, but they will take a penalty for the latter. Of the available soul cubes, 75% need to be recovered in order to progress to the next level and players need a 75% completion of one chapter to unlock the next. This is achievable but it will still take some work, perseverance and patience.
The game is laid out well. Players learn as they go and learn by doing, but will never feel out of their depth. Additional features such as the inverters are carefully introduced, but not overly relied on after their introduction. As players progress they will develop a sixth sense as to where hidden passages may lie and where walls may appear out of nowhere.
There are minor grievances with DeadEnd: Cerebral Vortex. Players must use the mouse to look around and click to move forward. For a maze-based game such as this, it would have been more natural to use a keyboard. This is particularly noticeable when players find a straight path that is unobstructed. Players could very easily wear out the left mouse button with rapid clicks to move forward. The paint cans are helpful, but it should be possible to manually paint walls as a marker as to where the player has been. Paint markings stay, but players only have a limited supply and this would have added an extra strategic element to the title.
There are minor touches or tweaks that could have been added, but overall it is an excellent title. If you’re in the market for a mind bending labyrinth puzzle game then DeadEnd: Cerebral Vortex should be the game for you. It is surreal, it is cryptic and despite its challenge, it is still fun to play. While simply progressing through the various levels and chapters is quite manageable, the real challenge is finding every soul cube and all the extra collectibles in each level.