Keyword: A Spider’s Thread Review: The road to hell is paved with good intentions
One day, as Buddha sat relaxed in his garden, he peered deeply into a well. Instead of water, his eyes beheld the fires of hell, those suffering for their sins wailing and moaning within. One villain in particular caught his eye, and as their gaze met, the condemned man cried out to Buddha, begging him for help escaping his wretched fate.
Buddha considered the man’s deeds in life — surely, he was an evil, evil man who deserved this miserable destiny. But even though he was a murderer and a thief, he must have done at least one good thing in his life?
Again, Buddha pondered, and concluded that he had indeed committed one act of kindness: in a moment of compassion, the man had gone out of his way to avoid stepping on a spider, sparing its life. A small deed, certainly, but a good deed nonetheless.
Finding it fitting that a spider should return the favor, Buddha took the silver silk from a spider and lowered it into the depths of hell. Seizing the opportunity, the villain grabbed the spider’s thread, climbing towards freedom as fast as he possibly could.
When the other damned souls saw one of their own escaping, they all clambered to the silken rope, attempting to free themselves of such an accursed existence. Instead of focusing on climbing quickly, the villain shouted to those beneath him, claiming that the thread was his ticket to salvation and not meant for them.
The moment he uttered those words he yet again condemned himself to damnation, as the strength of his compassion he had shown in life was as strong as a spider’s thread, broken the second he committed yet another selfish deed. As he tumbled down into the fiery depths below, he called out to Buddha once again for deliverance; this time, however, Buddha was unmoved.
It’s this powerful story of karmic retribution that Keyword: A Spider’s Thread aims to drive home in its retelling of this timeless tale. Developed and self-published by City From Naught Inc. with publishing assistance from Gamera Game, Keyword: A Spider’s Thread is a narrative-based hacking thriller that asks players to do whatever it takes to find their missing daughter. Set in the not-so-distant cyberpunk future of 2048, Keyword: A Spider’s Thread will please fans of many genres, including mystery, hacking, detective, cyberpunk, mythology, and more — all for a pretty decent pricetag at just $16.99.
Keyword: A Spider’s Thread’s premise is pretty straightforward — your daughter, Sala, is missing, and you, a seasoned P.I., are going to get her back. Unfortunately, there’s a police-ordered curfew at the moment, so you can’t leave your condo; luckily, you won’t have to, as you have a computer, an internet connection, and your stellar sleuthing skills. As you tap tap away at your desk, you remain focused, but always thinking of these questions: where is Sala? Why did she disappear? Who is behind all this? And what else will I uncover along the way?
Let’s talk aesthetics — I absolutely loved Keyword: A Spider’s Thread’s approach to its design. Far, far too many simulator games go above and beyond the call of duty, making unnecessarily large, sprawling worlds with an enormous amount of detail only for the player to only occupy a small corner (looking at you, Streamer Life Simulator). Instead, Keyword: A Spider’s Thread focused on very few scenes, but made them feel extremely rich and interesting. I would 100% live in that condo, its deep reds and dim lighting making me feel like I could melt into the furniture. I swear, I could almost smell the incense coming from the hallway shrine!
Controls in Keyword: A Spider’s Thread are pretty simple — if you’ve played one simulator game, you’re already ahead of the curve. Although you’ll spend plenty of time seated in front of your computer clicking around for clues, there are other times when you’ll need to walk around and search for specific items — luckily, those are always glowing, indicating which items are of interest and what’s just part of the décor. Some of the most exciting moments are spent in front of the window, binoculars or other tools in hand, using the surrounding skyscrapers to glean information that could lead to Sala’s whereabouts.
When it comes to puzzles, Keyword: A Spider’s Thread is an interesting case. You start with the most basic of leads — hacking into your own daughter’s social media accounts — and you follow any and all promising leads that come from the last. In her emails, she confirms meeting with a mysterious person; in her DMs, a creepy stalker pursues her relentlessly. How will you find out who these people are, and what do they have to do with Sala’s disappearance? Luckily, the puzzles aren’t too complicated, and the hint system is fantastic in that it reveals breadcrumbs little by little until the task has been completed, never fully giving away the answer. If nothing else, you’ll walk away from Keyword: A Spider’s Thread feeling pretty smart, even if you used a hint or 20.
I felt like the concept was right on the money, but like Song of Farca, I felt that there was some compromise on logic or mechanics for the sake of spinning a narrative. So many clues are uncovered through an ungodly amount of luck; for example, one lead happens to be your next door neighbor, who just happens to have his password hint written on a photo in his living room, and his password reset code is on a monitor that just so happens to be on and facing you. It’s like this for so, so many aspects of the game, and while I credit the dev team for creating a glorious cyberpunk world that makes these coincidences feel a tad bit more believable, I couldn’t help but just go “what were the odds?” every single time.
As for that narrative, I enjoyed what Keyword: A Spider’s Thread set out to do. Without going too far into spoiler territory, I love that the twist isn’t the climax of the story and instead serves to fuel the protagonist’s purpose for seeing things through to the end. If you recall the tale it’s based on, this makes sense, but mostly in hindsight. Again, I don’t want to spoil much, but I will say that I do wonder if, by the end of the game, I actually redeemed myself in a karmic sense. In fact, I’m left with a lot more questions than answers, leaving me feeling like there are still some loose ends to tie up. I guess that’s kind of like life, in the end, and maybe our spider’s thread out of hell isn’t strong enough for a certain escape.
I have a few smaller complaints, like how the notes system doesn’t react to the scroll wheel on the mouse which complicates organization, or how some surveillance footage has the juicy bits starting 17 minutes in but you can’t skip to that part right away and the fast-forwarding is at a snail’s pace. These complaints do pale in comparison to the overall experience, however, which was one of intrigue, excitement, and surprisingly higher stakes than originally anticipated. The fact that this game manages to condense a super scintillating tale of misplaced affection, forgiveness, and karmic retribution into a 4 – 5 hour experience is commendable, so if anything at all jumps out at you about Keyword: A Spider’s Thread, just grab it — it’s definitely worth the short but sweet ride.
Keyword: A Spider’s Thread is an intelligent take on an ancient tale about karmic retribution, asking players to not only save their daughter but redeem their soul… through, of all things, hacking. Which is utterly fascinating, as these seemingly unrelated topics work really well together, especially with this specific narrative and setting. It may have some choices in favor of design over quality of life, but that doesn’t stop Keyword: A Spider’s Thread from being surprisingly elegant and unique. If you love hacking/narrative games like Song of Farca, it doesn’t take a genius detective to surmise that you’ll love Keyword: A Spider’s Thread.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: City From Naught Inc., Gamera Games; Developer: City From Naught Inc.; Players: 1; Released: September 27, 2021; MSRP: $16.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Keyword: A Spider’s Thread provided by the publisher.