The Shadow in the Cathedral is a member of a supposedly extinct species, the commercial interactive fiction game. It's the second work out by Textfyre, and was designed by Ian Finley and written by Jon Ingold -- both well-known in the hobbyist community for diverse, gripping, and sometimes disturbing work, though Finley's last notable game came out back in 2000.
Textfyre's corporate purpose is to write IF suitable for an audience of middle- and high-schoolers, but The Shadow in the Cathedral is a rollicking adventure story with a strong crossover appeal to adults, in which neither the language nor the characters feel dumbed-down.
The protagonist is Wren. (Not "you": The Shadow in the Cathedral is first person IF. The first-person presentation gives Wren a chance to assert a bit more personality, to baulk at making foolish or dangerous choices a little more freely.) Wren is an orphan child who polishes clocks in the abbey of the Cathedral of Time. Then -- in the manner of children in adventure stories throughout history -- Wren finds out something that the adults don't know, or are ignoring, and must act fast to save the day.
Wren's universe is all about clockwork, accurate measurement, and the trustworthy behavior of physics. It is steampunk, but not generic steampunk: steampunk that emphasizes the correct meshing of gear teeth and the proper pressure in the gas pipes.
That attention to physics and engineering affects everything about the game, from the religious and social practices of the society to the imagery of the room descriptions to the structure of the puzzles. Lots of games have puzzles about machinery, but few have puzzles that so delight in the details of how machines work; puzzles that are not just about pushing the right buttons on the mysterious panel, but about opening up that panel and messing with what's inside.
The pacing is also a standout. The Shadow in the Cathedral is a pretty linear piece of work, without many opportunities to go off-path, but it's very effectively structured. Scenes build in intensity; puzzles are just hard enough to produce the necessary suspense; and major achievements are paid off with big, gorgeous set-piece sequences.
Action-adventure pacing is something that IF often fumbles completely, largely because it's turn-based. Instead of offering the player a finite amount of time in which to solve a problem (as in a first-person shooter, say), they give the player a finite number of actions; taking the wrong action on one turn, or simply not making yourself understood to the parser, can throw a sequence off. Unless chase scenes and their ilk are programmed very defensively, they're brittle and easily broken if the player does anything unintended.
Moreover, even if the programming is solid, sometimes the clueing isn't -- and any confusion, any stuckness for the player can slow down a scene that's supposed to play out quickly. That again exposes the artificiality of the whole scenario. Your character's fingers are clutching at the cliff edge. You have one turn to rescue her before she slides into the abyss. Time to get another cup of coffee and think about what to do, right? And don't forget to save the game first.
There are various approaches to solving this problem: Øyvind Thorsby's done some interesting work based on really narrowing the protagonist's options, removing EXAMINE as a time-wasting verb, and encouraging the player to try to play through without ever saving or restoring the game.
Another approach, even harder to pull off, is to write the sequences to be suspenseful but still very well guided, and that's what this game does. The Shadow in the Cathedral rarely left me stuck; it did often put me in a position where there was an obvious action, but it looked dangerous and I hesitated before committing.
In a weird way I actually found this far more satisfying than I usually find big action sequences in shooters: admittedly, I'm terrible at twitch-based gaming and tend to have to replay a lot in order to succeed at those. But to some extent the effect also fit the game and the protagonist. Wren is a scrawny kid, not a highly-trained, muscly badass. The daring feats aren't things you necessarily expect to work. They're things you try because you have to, and you're surprised and relieved when they turn out not to be fatal.
Whether all this is worth ten dollars to you, I can't say. (Obligatory disclosure: I played a free review copy.)
What I can tell you: The Shadow in the Cathedral gave me seven or eight hours of solid play, and when I was done there were things I went back to try in different ways. There's some beautiful imagery. There are a few bugs that I saw, but they were largely cosmetic; I've reported them, and I know Textfyre is already making edits, so they should be fixed by the time you have a chance to try the game. Gameplay ends with a semi-cliff-hanger, leaving many threads to be tied off in a sequel, but there was still enough there to make for an intriguing story arc. I'd especially recommend it to people who enjoyed The King of Shreds and Patches: like TKoSaP, it has an ambitious, swift-moving plot and a strong engagement with its period, but the design is if anything smoother.
Try out the demo and see what you think.