Brain Cell is the brain child (pun definitely intended) of Ryan Gibson for the U.K.-based development team DESQ, an organization devoted to the development of Web-based and digital learning projects. In a recent attempt to contribute to casual gaming, DESQ released Brain Cell in the hopes of enhancing your typical room escape game and taking it to the next level. In many ways, it succeeds; featuring a gorgeous (yet bandwidth-intensive) take on the usual point-and-click, room escape genre.
Like many other games of this kind, you awake in a strange room, clueless of who you are or how you got there. In the case of Brain Cell, you begin in a futuristic cargo hold, (sort of "space marine" setting), surrounded by cryogenic hibernation beds and strange spaceship-like gadgets. Controls are fairly simple; [arrow] keys to move, [N] and [M] to strafe and the spacebar to use/interact. The most prominent aspect of the game that immediately catches the eye is the 3D rendering and modeling. You have a third-person view of your character, with a beautifully textured environment surrounding you, complete with dynamic reflections and lighting effects.
When you approach an object you can interact with, a magnifying glass appears in the upper-right corner, signaling you to push the spacebar. Depending on the object, 3D cut scenes or mini-games appear. Cut scenes give you clues about the object or your surroundings, while the mini-games are the means to help you escape. Similar to other games in the genre, Brain Cell never hints or nudges you in the right direction. Although linear in game play, there are no road signs along the way to make your job any easier. The mini games can be frustrating at times (although they require critical thinking, the underlying logic isn't wrapped up into a pretty box and handed to you).
Analysis: Brain Cell's puzzle-solving elements are nothing new to the genre, although the 3D engine allows much more immersion into the game than older classics like Crimson Room. Unlike its predecessors though, Brain Cell seeks to break the mold somewhat, attracting gamers who might otherwise not give "escape" games a chance. The whole "Starcraft/Warhammer40k/Doom"-style of the character and environment lends itself nicely to the third-person feel of the game, enticing new players of the genre to give the game a shot, which is what the developers were striving for. On the flipside, such a graphically-intensive flash game requires lots of bandwidth. The game can be launched in a 9MB low-bandwidth or 13MB high bandwidth version. Either way, however, expect to wait awhile, even with a broadband connection. Even more annoying is that the cut-scenes and mini-games aren't cached into memory, meaning when you click to interface with one, it takes even more time to load in-game. Waiting for these elements to load gets tiresome, and distracts from the overall experience.
All-in-all, Brain Cell is a commendable effort, hopefully paving the way for more third-person games of this genre. After all, wouldn't a Flash-based, fully-3D, first-person escape game be something to see some day?