Cairn, the new point-and-click puzzle adventure by Aaron Price, takes place in a land that is cursed. For centuries, countless have tried to explore it; To discover its secrets. None have returned. Some claim it's coincidence, others say something keeps them from leaving, but you've never been one to take them at their word... The intro goes on like this for a while, but let's speed ahead to the point: You're in a meadow. It's eerie. That monument over there looks like a sliding puzzle. Get to it, dude. Cairn is played entirely with the mouse. By moving to the left or right side of the screen you pan across the meadow to find various ruins, plants, and journal entries. Clicking interacts with them. Explore the world, unlock its mysteries, and find your way home.
Cairn reminds me quite a bit of Myst, and I mean that with both positive and negative connotations. On the good side, Cairn builds its atmosphere perfectly, with a intriguing fusion of the organic and the mechanical that reminds me of the tone of the Samorost series. Also, there are some pretty neat brain teasing challenges. Yes, some of them are a little familiar (or maybe I've just been playing a lot of Curvy lately), but they're well presented and give you that satisfying moment of "A-Ha!" when you've figured out the logic behind them.
Of course... that implies that you've figured out the logic behind them, which brings us to the downsides. Very few instructions are given in Cairn, something that, in no small part, contributes to its air of mystery. However, the logic behind the puzzles can be quite obtuse, even opaque. There were puzzles I solved by brutely forcing every combination, and others that I didn't realizing I was solving until something happened. I don't think I'll be alone in saying that I spent a great deal of time furiously clicking everything, trying to make something happen, then feeling a little dumb when I realized what it was I was supposed to do. Also, there is the game's text. Boy howdy there's quite a bit of it, and it doesn't convey much. It's well-written, yes, but there's only so many ways to say "Man, this place is vaguely mysterious" before you run out of adjectives.
Despite the above, I quite liked Cairn. It's short, it's sweet, and it put my brain through a gauntlet. It's the perfect thing for coffee-breakers looking for a challenge.