A “Choose Your Own Adventure” Audio Drama?: Codename Cygnus (Stories for the Ear #12)

I used to love reading those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books; didn’t you? It was fun skipping pages and then going back to get a different ending. Usually I’d try to be smart and think the way I would if it was really happening to me… I almost always chose the path that ended in me dying. But it was still fun, interacting with the different companions and villains. Well, on my quest for obscure audio drama that needs showcasing, I found one that brings all the fun of those CYOA books to life. Ever wanted to star in an audio drama? Now you can, with Codename Cygnus

Codename Cygnus (CC for short) was released by Reactive Studios in 2013 as a mobile phone app, which technically makes it a video game, but the entire purpose was to create the “Choose Your Own Adventure” experience while also paying homage to old-time serialised radio dramas. In CC, you are the star, playing as a secret agent working for Cygnus. You’re informed that several foreign dignitaries are being held hostage by the evil spy organisation known as Trident, run by the ominous Neptune. Your mission is to find out how and where Neptune is holding these hostages and rescue them, while also allowing Cygnus to nab Neptune red-handed.

The game is broken up into six episodes, with a prologue and a silly bonus episode. In each episode, you are informed of choices you can make, whether it involves saying or doing something (though your voice is never heard, as it’s supposed to be you). You’re met with a nice good-sized cast of people who work with you in Cygnus, enemies in Trident, and all sorts of in-betweeners. And yes, you do get to meet Neptune. Each choice you make determines your personality, which is kept on a simple chart on the screen, the only visual in the entire game. Your personality affects how people treat you, and each choice, combined with your personality and your relationships with the people around you, determines the outcome of the adventure over the six episodes. You don’t even have to tap the choices in the game if you don’t want to; through your phone’s microphone, you can speak the choices. So you don’t ever have to look at the phone; you can simply be immersed in the audio drama. It’s pretty cool.

The saga is written quite smartly, with plenty of complexity involving Neptune’s position in relation to Cygnus, the people involved helping you from Cygnus, and the people involved on a more personal level with the hostages or with Neptune. There’s lots of action, most of which you decide by picking moves, so you don’t get lost in a sea of random sound effects. And your options of what you can say to people are pretty satisfying, whether you want to play it safe or risk everything.

The acting is just a bit above average, on par with shows like “The Blackburn Gaslight Audio Adventures” or “Night at the Ballet”, but I should give credit to the fact that CC does feature an appearance from voice actor Rob Wiethoff, who is known for his character John Marston in Red Dead Redemption and its DLC, Undead Nightmare, and as usual, he hit it out of the park with his performance. Overall, it was a very good effort, with a full soundscape and cast, and I enjoyed it very much. And just like the old books, CC allows you to go back and replay episodes, making different choices and potentially hearing a different ending. Which is good, because I happened to pick the ending where I died.

My biggest complaint about the game/show, which most other listeners/players share, is that this is supposed to be one of several missions, but in four years, the second mission has never been released to the app. So that’s too bad. But maybe, someday. There’s always hope, right?

If you’re a gamer out there, this is by definition a video game, but only by a very slight margin. It’s just like Late Shift, but it’s an audio drama instead of a movie. But if you’re looking for a fun audio drama experience to play around with and explore with the different paths and endings, I’d recommend checking out Codename Cygnus. It’s on the iOS app store; the prologue and episode one are free, and the other five episodes are something like $7.50 all together. If you do get a chance to listen to it and lay the game, let me know what you think! Happy listening!

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