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Jailrat horror adventure Centum was the wrong game to play on this crowded London Underground train

The gods may be merciful, the children keep invading my personal space

A rat with a humanoid head talking about death in Centum
Image credit: Serenity Forge

This piece is being written on a train as I trundle towards our very first staff meeting with Rock Paper Shotgun's new overlords. The morning is cloudy but bright and calm, the north London suburbs are a blissful checkerboard of red roofs and flourishing lawns, hope glistens faintly in the gutters and ditches beside the tube. How unlike the innards of Centum, a point-and-click horror game (Steam page here) that begins with a dreary retro desktop interface on which there are curious text files, curioser decryption tools and most curious of all, an .exe of some kind that drops you into a simulation consisting of a stone prison chamber. Hang on, I'm changing trains...

...I have now changed trains. Stuff and tarnation, there's nowhere to sit in this one and the carriage is full of excited children with musical voices and untarnished souls. How unlike the stone prison chamber of Centum, in which you are alone save for the occupant of a rathole - possibly a rat, though a talking one with unnecessarily large teeth - and a monstrous, multiple-headed jailor called the Judge, who appears each in-game morning to ask questions such as "What was the promise you made?" and then accuses you of lying, regardless (I think) of your answer.

Not all that alone, then. This is quite a populous prison cell, actually. There's a boy made of darkness, too, who wants to know if you're his friend, and I guess those disembodied eyes in the shadows count as cellmates?

There's also a window which - once you've found an object you can use to clean it - looks out over a city of tombstone-shaped blocks and towers. "The sky is dead," reads some accompanying text. "The gods are dead. The gods are merciful. All the city can do is weep." Still, it's easier on the eyes and ears than Finchley Road. Turn back to the table in the middle of the cell and you will find a nice cup of what could be tea and a wailing cosmic cube, a bit like Hellraiser's puzzlebox but a touch more Macintosh. Who you are is a matter of guesswork, but if you spill your "tea" you'll see the face of an old man in the puddle, an old man "with the eyes of a child".

The game's branching dialogue choices make mention of old wars and bloodshed. Perhaps you are an imprisoned dictator of some kind. Not a feelgood game, in short. Also not a game you might enjoy if you dislike unfiltered literary thought experiments. "What's in a name?" asks the rat thing. "What good are names in your deranged and coal-gray limerick, where all is bound to die in flames?"

I've now found a place to sit on the train, but still, Centum is a difficult game to write about on the tube. People keep looking over my shoulder and seeing the wailing cosmic cube and moving to the other side of the carriage. We pass through Kings Cross. Yet more children get on. Six squalling teenagers surround me, kicking my bag and jostling my elbows with scant regard for my expression of vast concentration. Three of them try to sit on the same chair, stacking themselves like Goombas.

They're speaking French. Probably they're on an exchange visit? Do they read English? Are they reading these very words as I type them? Où est la clé de la prison? A hush settles upon the Gallic throng as they catch sight of the above screenshot of the talking rat-thing. I flip hurriedly through my folder in search of one that doesn't contain any images of rodents or other unpleasantries that might irreversibly damage the flower of French youth. Here you go, how about this shot of a smiling chatbot. Pretty sure that's PG-13 or below. Centum seems to hinge on repeated trips between the jail simulation and the opening desktop interface - clues found in the cell can be fed into various software so as to expose possibilities in the simulated world.

A grinning chatbox interface in Centum
Image credit: Serenity Forge

To reword the quote above: "The sky is dead. The gods are dead. Les enfants m'ennuient. Oh hell, I've missed my stop". Centum is an extremely gloomy point-and-clicker with disgustingly rich pixelart that doesn't feel worlds away from Pony Island, though it's more verbose and less (obviously) comedical. I suspect the high-handed writing will turn a few people off, but I'm looking forward to playing the full thing. At home.

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