I’ve been following HBO’s superb Lovecraft Country which has had the unsurprising side effect of putting me in the mood for Cthulhu-based games. Having just come off Magrunner: Dark Pulse, I guess that wasn’t enough and maybe I can keep a good Lovecraft streak going, at least until the HBO series wraps up. So I hit up my favorite games provider, Steam, and found two more, one of which is called Old Gods Rising by Bad Blood Studios. At $12.99, I figured the worst case would be a short adventure game and best case would be another surprise hit. Alas, it’s more of the former.
That said, make no mistake: the game isn’t bad. It’s got some decent graphics and plays very smoothly. The movement is intuitive and the mouse is used to select between dialogue options very easily, requiring less than 1 minute for the learning curve. You play as Tom Winston, a man interested in occult things who was recently the subject of some mockery for falling for something “mysterious” that was anything but! You get a call from a movie producer who wants you to meet him at a college campus to look over some odd things. Right away, it has all the hallmarks of a setup. When you arrive, no one is around, so it’s established quickly that there will be no NPCs (non-player characters). In other words, it’s purely exploration; you won’t be meeting people to help you through the game. For help, you find convenient payphones to call your aide and she helps fill in some blanks. The only other voice is the guy who hired you who is stuck in traffic and can’t get to be with you, which just further makes you feel like this is an elaborate hoax, but hey, he has some things you can examine while he’s making his way to you so why not…
Right away the game opens with a sense of humor, though comedy is far from center stage. It just doesn’t take itself so seriously which ends up being a benefit to the game: there’s always the sense that the whole thing is a prank. In fact, one discovery comes off rather deftly as a major discovery but if you take the time to investigate what you encounter, you find out it’s a fake. The game manages to add to that sense by being intentionally “meta” where the voicemails you listen to talk about making a movie or a video game based on the events you are going though, even quoting you from earlier in the game. The dialogue between you and your assistant helps create that sense of a prank because she’s of the mindset you’re being set up and says so at every turn, which just starts to get into your head but the puzzles you find seem too big to be faked. She wants you to examine things with a clear head because she’s convinced you are being setup for another embarrassment. (I got a kick out of her international units of scrutiny: sherlocks!) In other words, she is the voice of reason. That said, the sense of menace is constant and you can’t shake the feeling that there’s more going on here than meets the eye. That razors edge is where the game succeeds: is this really a college with a strange history, or an elaborate hoax put on by a crazy director who could be filming your every move?
The game manages to be slightly more walking sim than adventure game. Adventure games tend to have a lot of puzzles, while this was more exploring a college campus. Yet this still manages to capture the feeling of some old adventure games like Barrow Hill, which was nice since it gave me some happy memories of those classic games. I used to play quite a few of them and this had that old school feel with some new school graphics. One of the biggest successes for this game, however, is non-game related: there are sculptures all over the campus and finding them is immensely enjoyable; figuring them out is even more fun. Alas, I am certain I missed a lot or simply didn’t understand what was being said, but I really enjoyed this element of the game! I would actually recommend going back for screenshots of all of them! However, the main game is very linear and pushes you through to completion so there’s no frustration for long; you just need to find signs around the campus to figure out where to go next. What ends up taking so long is that I could get lost in a wet paper bag in most games. This is no exception.
The game comes in at about 3 hours, but I waited through the credits and was rewarded with a major genre-twist with an added chapter. Until this point, the game saves on its own as you explore the grounds, but the post-credit sequence doesn’t save at all as you wonder the surrounding lands with a magic wand that can shoot hot or cold blasts at creatures roaming the land. It’s not a good ending, if I’m being completely honest. It was too radical a change and while I appreciated getting a bit more bang for my buck, it didn’t fit with what we had done before. And it took me a while to figure out if this was just an endless battle sequence or if there was a point. I did figure that out and even felt a sense of accomplishment at the end but it wasn’t as rewarding a game as, say, Magrunner. And for the price, I would have liked to have gotten more than 4 hours out of the game.
Was the game worth $13? I’d argue probably not, but it’s not a disappointment either. After that nightmare that I have now uninstalled (Remnant), I am far happier with this game than the free game that almost hospitalized me. This captured the Lovecraftian horror that I crave, without making me angrier than the Hulk on a bad day. Check out the trailer here. ML