There’s a line of three black cells in Sequence 1, Strand 101, floating in a three-dimensional sea of tranquil green. Three white outlines are connected by dotted lines in a Y configuration, a genetic chalk outline of sorts. Some of the cells light up as you move your circular cursor over them; when you hold the mouse button down, white shadows indicate the valid points to which the cell(s) can be dragged and dropped. If you’re still stuck, an upper-left “?” notes that each cell can have at most two “children” (and only ever one parent): This one bit of logic dictates how the increasingly complex strands that make up Splice can be solved. And that’s it for instructions. Over the course of seven mutating sequences (that’s 49 unique puzzles), the game challenges you to figure the rest out for yourself, providing you with little more than an aesthetically appealing and safe environment, with some relaxing piano-driven soundscapes for good measure.
Splice wants you to experiment, so there’s no penalty for taking more than the required number of splices; at the same time, however, the level isn’t “complete” until you increase your efficiency, and some bonuses await the savvy geneticist gamers who can beat the allotted number of moves. (This can’t be done in every level.) You’re also given a handy rewind feature; as in Braid, this undo/redo ability eliminates the need for guesswork and makes you a more active participant in these logical conundrums. This is particularly helpful once the game starts introducing mutant cells: splitters, which copy everything following them in sequence; clones, which generate an additional child; and bombs, which terminate themselves and all their children. Other twists await too—particularly in the game’s brutal yet fair epilogue, which contains an additional 28 strands.
Cipher Prime set the bar high for themselves with their initial release, Auditorium, in which you redirect and manipulate light waves in order to make music, but they’ve only grown since then. By distilling the splicing concept to an exact “science,” players need no longer stress over making frustratingly precise tweaks. Forming bonds in Splice is literally a snap (these building blocks are almost Lego-like) and each strand is small enough to be solved in a single focused sitting. However, rest assured that while the presentation may be a minimalist’s dream, these casual-seeming puzzles are deep enough to satisfy amateur gamers and Mensa members alike.
If there’s one glaring omission, it’s the lack of a level editor. That’s hardly a requirement for developers, but then again, Splice is a game that’s essentially about the act of creation. Whereas similarly smart and science-y titles like SpaceChem, or even Portal 2, can continue indefinitely, the experiments here will eventually end, and it’s a testament to how much Splice gets under your skin (as cells do) that you won’t want them to.