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The Butterfly Sign is a game that took me three days to beat. Rather, it is a game that took three days to get running, and then about ninety minutes to beat. So we’ll start with that.

For overview, The Butterfly Sign is an episodic first-person investigation game in which you play as Jack, the sole survivor of a terrorist attack upon a psychiatric facility that performed clinical trials of an experimental memory-restoring drug. Jack finds himself under suspicion by a mysterious organization and must prove his innocence by using the experimental drug, Rammex, to delve into his memories and piece together what happened. It’s like Memento meets Source Code by way of Assassin’s Creed’s Animus, with some inspirational nods to The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. It is also nowhere near as good as any of those things I just mentioned.

The main mechanic in The Butterfly Sign is discovering and interpreting evidence. Discovering evidence is a no-brainer since all clues shoot off red sparks and have giant floating dialogue boxes over them that tell you exactly what you’re looking at. To interpret the clues, you click on them and pray that your install was stable enough for the game to advance you to the little multiple-choice quiz that follows. I’ll credit the game on this one; it really captures the essence of real life: sometimes your prayers go unanswered, and you’re left with a game where you cannot perform the central, vital action as I was on the second of three devices I had to use just to get this game running.

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Whoever thought of the name “Memority” for a facility studying memory deserves an award.

If you are one of the chosen few lucky enough for the game to register your left mouse button presses, The Butterfly Sign presents you with a couple of textboxes describing ways that the evidence can be interpreted. Most of them are fairly obvious to figure out. If a guy is lying flat on his back with a pool of blood around him and no dragging smears, it’s pretty apparent he was killed on the spot. Others are a crapshoot since the environmental storytelling is not up to par. Looking at a gun, your options may be “He used it to defend himself” or “It was planted to stage a suicide”; however, both scenarios are equally plausible and implausible. There aren’t really signs of a struggle, but he doesn’t seem to have a bullet wound on his head. On the other hand, the loading screen shows a guy pointing a gun at his head … is this that guy? Another one: a door at the end of a hallway says “The mercenaries entered through here” or “This hallway hasn’t been used in a long time.” Up to now there’s been no mention of mercenaries. There are no footprints in the ash and dust so you’d think no one came through there. However, the second option doesn’t really shed any light on what happened, so one can infer that they want you to pick the first explanation. So, to recap, you can’t arrive at the answer for this one based on the data present at the site, but you can based on your own narrative instinct that one choice is more likely to advance the plot than the other.

Then occasionally there are options that I’m pretty sure are meant to be jokes, which are just entirely unfitting to the tone, and feel like your high school history teacher’s attempt to be funny by asking whose assassination started World War I and listing Bugs Bunny as one of the answer choices.

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Turns out Bambi was the real killer all along.

After you’ve reached a certain point in your journey through the asylum, you’re teleported to the House of Exposition, in which you run back and forth between rooms of a house activating random clues with names that seem ripped straight from lorem ipsum text. The answer choices for these are all the same and in Cyrillic, so it doesn’t even matter what you click. There’s a subplot about Rammex’s head researcher and religious bigotry, and I could not be less interested if I tried.

Along the adventure, Jack can collect documents with varying degrees of relevance and hack into the doctors’ computers. Getting into the computers is a completely missed opportunity, though, since all of them have had their files erased and contain only a single email each. Finding documents and emails is meant to provide passwords so you can get into more areas and computers, but I only used two passwords over the course of the game and never used the code combination around which so much of the plot seems to revolve. So that’s a wash, but at the very least you can use a fully functional web browser on all of the game’s computers for some reason. If you’re an Internet Explorer user and really itching for something even less stable, consider making The Butterfly Sign your browser of choice.

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If Jack gets lost, he can always just look up a walkthrough of his own life!

A whopping total of two times over the course of The Butterfly Sign, you’ll also come across circuit puzzles. They are short, simple, and easy once you know what to do, which you should, seeing as this puzzle variety has been used in about five thousand other games. I would share a screenshot, but ever since I completed my first and only playthrough on the sheer whim of the wind, I have not been able to get the game running again to reach that point.

For you see, The Butterfly Sign is not actually the story of Jack Henderson’s memory investigations. It is instead the harrowing tale of a player that spent three days and three separate computers just trying to play the game. Like in a fairy tale, this intrepid lad tried the first computer, but it crashed right at the splash screen for the developer! He restarted his computer, he reinstalled the game, he verified the cache, but the poor boy couldn’t catch a break. “Oh fiddlesticks, this just won’t do,” he said and moved on to the second computer. Eureka! This one worked! But when our young hero reached the inner confines of Memority, he found he could not click a clue, not a single clue could be clicked. “What a bother,” he said, and moved to a third computer. This one loaded to the Start Menu, but it was only after a half hour of loading screen crashes that he finally got the game to start, and oh how he celebrated. That is, until he realized that what came afterward wasn’t much more promising.

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Math! Equations! Gotta crack the code!

About the only credit I can give The Butterfly Sign is that the environments rendered in the Unreal Engine are quite pretty to look at, and it is pretty cool when the shadows of doctors and patients sometimes show up on walls of the building. Everything else is such poor quality, though. The translation to English isn’t terrible, but there are some obvious phrases that don’t fit conventional English dialects. I suppose the best was done with a poor script that contains such mawkish gems as “Time spares no one at all.” Then there’s the twenty-minute opening sequence before you even get into the asylum, where you have to run down a long, grassy road and into the Memority basement, where your run ability is suddenly taken away to force you to bask in the lighting effects. It also ends with what I’m pretty sure is supposed to be a Metal Gear Solid “Snake? Snake? SNAAAAAKE” reference. It probably goes without saying that it feels very out of place.

The Butterfly Sign is barely functional to begin with, and even if you manage to get past its myriad technical problems, all that’s waiting for you is an undercooked husk. It’s a mystery without intrigue, a character study with a bland boiled potato of a protagonist, and a squandered meditation on the limits of memory and medicine. The plot reeks of “we’ll make it up as we go along,” so it naturally ends up tangled in its own web of loosely anchored twists and revelations. This just left me itching to play one of those mediocre CSI games from the mid-2000s. I think that speaks leagues about the quality on display here.

TechRaptor was given The Butterfly Sign for the purposes of review. It was reviewed on PC.

More About This Game

3.0
 

Bad

Summary

The visuals may be nice, but the core experience is dull, streamlined, and hard to follow—if you can even get past the scores of crashes and glitches that make it a challenge just to start the game.

Pros

  • Cool
  • Pretty Environments

Cons

  • Bugs Make It Nearly Unplayable
  • Poorly Implemented Investigations
  • Incomprehensible Plot
  • Unoriginal, Sparse Puzzles

Christian Mincks

Staff Writer

Speedrunner and fiction writer. Also that one guy who loves Star Fox Adventures and will defend it to the death. You'd better watch out. I know about timed hits.


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