2016


It might actually be.

Yeah, gotta hand it to them: this is a game that really earns its title. It punishes you so thoroughly that you’ll swear you must have done something to deserve it.

There are a lot of “Lovecraftian” games out there these days, maybe because the copyright on his earlier work has expired and so it’s now public domain. Most of them just plunder wholesale the monsters, locations and lore of the source material, but this one’s a little craftier about it. Oh, you’ll find plenty of madness and a few batrachian abominations that could have crawled right off the shores of Innsmouth, but mostly it’s the language doing the work.

The prose! So torturously ornate, so delectibly purple! It echoes forth, hollow, dead, like an empty grave carved from the abyss of your soul, shrouded in

See what I mean? Now I’m starting to do it!

Combined with the distinctive visual style, where everything looks like it fell into a tar pit and they haven’t finished cleaning up yet, it sets the sort of bleak mood that makes cosmic horror seem possible.

Your happy home

Ok, I put off talking about the actual game as long as I could, but I guess there’s no more avoiding it. That’s really the darkest part of all.

You’ll spend part of your time building up your rotten little town and your gang of miserable adventurers, and the rest of it crawling through dungeons and fighting turn-based battles in a hopeless quest for enough gold to keep doing that.

Since it’s one of those “roguelike” sorts of games, you come in expecting that it hates you and wants you dead. Even so, I wasn’t quite prepared for the sheer malice I was about to face.

This is the kind of world where every apple has a worm, and no reward can arrive without some attendant curse trailing close behind. You’ll finish each dungeon, experience a short burst of relief, watch the “victory” screen unfold and hold your breath, because you’ll usually receive as many afflictions as rewards. By the time you account for the costs of outfitting the expedition and curing your party from their various new blights, most of the time you feel like you’re walking away as bad if not worse off than you went in.

And that’s if you actually succeed.

Your jolly crew

When you fail, you lose the bonus reward, possibly some of your team that you’ve spent thousands equipping, you’re out the supply costs and any items they were carrying, and you pretty much end up buried in a hole where it’s difficult if not impossible to dig yourself out.

The more you play, the more you appreciate how the whole thing is engineered to keep you off-balance. By playing ultra-ultra conservatively I managed to drag myself forward inch by inch through a decent chunk of the game, but at no point did I ever have the sensation of being on solid ground. You start to feel like that Free Solo guy, hauling yourself up a monstrous rock face where the slightest little slip means certain death.

Those little slips can take a thousand different forms. You pick up a random curse or disease along the way that cripples a key party member. All the enemies suddenly decide to gang up on one unfortunate guy. Your healer goes mad and spends her turn standing there gibbering into the darkness. You roll a 1 on your healing spell at the worst possible time. The boss busts out some impossible-to-anticipate surprise ability and demolishes you. Sure, you can learn the enemy tendencies through trial and error, but ultimately it comes down to our old friend RNG in all his many horrid guises.

They’ve always got some sneaky ability

It’s incredible how fast everything can fall apart. One minute you’re sure you have it all under control; next thing you know you’re running for the exit, shaking your head and wondering what the hell went wrong. Just one screw-up, one lousy roll can lead to a massive failure cascade.

In hindsight, maybe the right strategy was not even to try to keep my doomed heroes alive, but just feed them into the meat grinder and replace them as necessary with the next crop, even though that goes against every video game instinct, not to mention basic human decency. But I’m not nearly masochistic enough to find that out.

Look, I’m probably making this all sound like a terrible experience, but just like Blasphemous it’s really not. At least, not entirely. It fact, at times it can be pretty great.

The combat can be pretty satisfying

If there’s one thing you can say about this game, it’s internally consistent. I mean, the various parts fit together perfectly–the look, the sounds, the narration, the capricious brutality of the combat, the harsh consequences for failure, everything. This kind of coherence makes for a strong sense of immersion into this horrific world they’ve created. And hell, taken on their own terms, the dungeon crawling and town building are actually pretty fun, even strangely addicting. For some reason this game drives you to keep playing even as you wonder why you’re doing this to yourself.

Plenty of dungeons, and they are indeed dark

One fundamental problem is that this no-safety-net sort design likely disincentivizes more cautious players from experimenting with new approaches. In theory you have all these classes and abilities to choose from, but fear of death is a powerful deterrent which may keep the typical player stuck on what seems like the safest road, even if maybe it’s not.

So I think it just takes a certain mindset to really embrace a game like this fully. You need to have a certain lack of attachment to outcomes. If you’re willing to write off dozens of hours of progress and resign yourself to the possibility that all your effort might amount to nothing more than a great, drawn-out death spiral, then you’re probably the right person for this.

In my case, though, the last catastrophe was too much to bear. As I scried my grim future I could see nothing but 50 more hours of pain, which just didn’t seem worth it.

But hey, I guess they did warn us right there in the title, which all things considered might be the best part of this game. It gets the message across, and definitely rolls off the tongue better than Screwed by RNG: The Interactive Experience, so you can see why they didn’t go that route.


Developer: Red Hook Studios

Publisher: Red Hook Studios

Purchased on: Steam

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