One of the best moments I could ask for as a…game critic (sort of?) came from when I was criticizing Master Reboot and someone said “well here’s an idea, if you think it’s so bad, why don’t you make a better game” whereupon I was able to respond (while also quoting Jim Sterling) “no, because when I don’t know how to do something, I don’t do it anyway and charge people money for it.”
Which is why I find it interesting that the Escapist’s most famous game critic Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, essentially puts his money where his mouth is, after years of criticizing games, actually makes them as if to say “here’s how you do it right.” (I don’t know if that’s really the case, it just seems funny to me)
Yahtzee has long been on record as a horror lover, often remarking that Silent Hill 2 is one of his all-time favorite games, so it should be no surprise that his eighth entry into the gaming world “The Consuming Shadow” draws a lot of similarity to it. What is delivered is a well-designed, incredibly challenging game that, despite its basic design, is actually pretty scary.
The Consuming Shadow story is simple: one of five ancient gods is trying to invade our world bringing about a reign of darkness and destruction. For reasons beyond our mortal comprehension, one god is trying to assist the invader, while another is trying to stop him. It is known that the invading god will be emerging through a portal located at Stonehenge in exactly three days and a banishment ritual can be performed to get rid of it. It’s up to the player to drive all around the United Kingdom, visiting towns and collecting clues to figure out which god is invading and also what runes make up the banishment ritual.
The mechanics of The Consuming Shadow are simple, clean and incredibly effective. Largely text-based, the game switches between two styles of play throughout your experience. The first are the “car moments” which play very similar to that of “The Oregon Trail” as you set destinations for towns to explore and gather information. As you make the journey you’ll receive texts about suspicious towns worth exploring, but given the random nature of the game it’s possible to find corrupted towns on a whim. Also like “The Oregon Trail,” you’ll experience random encounters as you drive and the choices you make can either help or hinder you. Given that the whole game is procedurally generated, you can never know what result your choices may yield and you may find yourself with some egg on your face when you encounter the same event twice and picking an option that had positive results, suddenly goes the other way.
When you find yourself in a corrupted town, you can choose to investigate it wherein the game becomes a 2D side-scrolling, dungeon crawler. The player is given a gun to fight off the eldritch horrors, however in true survival horror fashion, combat is clunky and supplies are limited. Furthermore, much like “Eternal Darkness,” the game implements a sanity meter and when monsters damage you, you lose a bit of sanity as well as health (you also lose some when you leave a room with monsters in it, which doesn’t really make sense but whatever…)
Not unlike Eternal Darkness, the game starts to become strange and actively works against the player when sanity is low. Monsters appear then disappear, doors move around, the players flashlight becomes unreliable and even text based options can turn from “help the stranger” to “KILL MYSELF” in an instant as they slowly lose their grip on reality.
Also I think it’s worth mentioning that there is a very convenient and handy spell book and notebook that assist greatly in solving the mystery of the game. The spell book is used for keeping learned spells as well as the banishment ritual, and the notebook stores clues about the invading god, as well as providing a helpful table where players can make notes of certain god’s associated rune, color, intention and affiliation. It’s a very useful thing to have in a game like this, and given the random nature of the game, falls to the player to remember key information about each god in order to save a lot of time in gathering useless information about the gods.
There is a bit of a level-up system that works around a sort of “Dark Souls” logic. Every time the player dies, they gain a bit of experience. Upon leveling up, they are rewarded with “birth stars” that they can assign to constellations that are randomly generated at the start of each game. These constellations give minor buffs that range from increased health and sanity, to increased research that yields more concise clues.
While The Consuming Shadow does a lack a bit in the graphics department, looking very much like it was made in MS Paint. The Consuming Shadow certainly could’ve done well with a bit of polish, but what it lacks in looks, it makes up for it ten-fold by its atmosphere and its commitment to the survival-horror genre. Everything about this game feels foreboding and dominating, and you never quite feel safe. The environments are dark and you never know what’s lurking in the shadows as your flashlight only illuminates a small radius ahead of you. While it’s no P.T, there were a few moments where I felt genuine dread entering a dungeon, and even a few where some particularly gruesome-looking monsters gave me a bit of a fright in that “what the hell is that” kind of way.
Even the driving segments have nice touches as day turns to night and the interior of the car becomes almost pitch black, or the way the roads seem to wind around giving the sense of progression. Even the way everything is silhouetted adds a nice layer of mystery to the monster designs and makes the things lurking in the dark scarier since you can’t get a good look at them.
The music in The Consuming Shadow is simple and eerie. It’s very reminiscent of old “Resident Evil” games with very off-putting piano tunes and simple, yet strange ambiance. The monsters all make pretty creepy sounds, and it’s helped that they’re all pretty quiet, adding to the overall tension. Not unlike “Resident Evil” when key objects come into view, they’re backed up by creepy piano keys adding to the feeling that even simple things like key objects offer no comfort to the player.
The Consuming Shadow is an excellent game, and one of the more refreshing horror experiences I’ve played in a while. It’s simple in design, has an engaging mystery and its overall feeling of tension and dread is better than most triple-A horror games that have come out recently. If you’re a lover of horror games, or even just a fan of Yahtzee, I’d say it’s definitely worth a play.