The Consuming Shadow Review: A Lovecraftian, roguelike delight
The Consuming Shadow is a Lovecraftian, procedurally generated roguelike game set in the United Kingdom. Ancient tablets speak of the day when the sky will darken and a shadow will wash over the entire world, consuming all in its path. That day is coming. The skies darken more with each passing day, and monsters are being sighted throughout the entire United Kingdom. The shadow is coming, and unless it's stopped, it will consume and corrupt everything.
60 Hours to Save the World
You take on the role of The Scholar, the last person who can stop the shadow from entering your world. All you have is a car, a handgun, 6 Bullets, £15, a phone, and 60 hours. You must travel through a fictional United Kingdom, gathering clues about which one of three gods is invading our world, and finding the correct ritual of banishment.
Once you have figured out which of the three ancient ones are about to invade our world, and after you've found the appropriate ritual of banishment, you arrive at Stonehenge and enter its depths to cast the ritual, and hopefully get rid of the ancient.
Is 60 hours enough? Will you have the full ritual of banishment, or will you have to make blind guesses and hope for the best? Will you be able to find all the clues required within that period? It may not sound so bad, but traveling from place to place takes up a lot of time - not to mention the many inconveniences that can befall upon you on your journey, including the loss of your own sanity.
This Game Will Drive you Insane
You can counteract your sanity loss temporarily by taking illegal substances, but they will not last forever and the effect will lessen with each one you take.
Keeping your sanity is one of the major mechanics of the game, and how you experience the game will change drastically depending on how sane you are. Unlike most games that feature a sanity mechanic, losing your sanity truly does put you at a disadvantage and can quickly turn an almost definite victory into instant death.
Sanity will decrease for a variety of reasons - losing health, for example, or witnessing any one of the many horrifying events that can occur. As your character's sanity begins to dwindle, they will begin to hallucinate monsters that are not really there, lose perception (causing vision to blink in and out rapidly), and possibly even take their own life.
Inferior in Visuals and Animations, yet Superb in Atmosphere and Depth
The first thing you will notice about this game is the rather poor graphical quality. The only way to truly describe them would be to compare them to that of older flash games, the likes of which you'd find on Newgrounds or Armor Games. The character animations are just as basic, too.
Despite the rather inferior graphics and animations, the atmosphere of the game is easily one of the best I have experienced in a horror game in a very long time. From the main menu right through to the end of the game, the music and ambience is simply fantastic, giving you a sense of hopelessness and dread throughout.
As the 60 hours count down, the closer that you get to the deadline, the more intense the music becomes on the world map while travelling from place to place. It truly gets the adrenaline pumping as you watch the clock on your dashboard and the hours rapidly counting down.
There is a lot of depth to the game, which you wouldn't expect, given the less-than-stellar first impression made by its simple graphics, UI, and general gameplay. As you progress on your journey and through further plays, however, you begin to notice the immense number of different random encounters that you come across while travelling to each place.
Some are more rare than others, and there are multiple outcomes to the choices that you make for each random occurrence. Some lead to rewards or gaining sanity, but others lead to losing sanity, time, or even health. Some random encounters will have a third option available to you, provided you have a certain item in your inventory that will lead to the best and most rewarding outcome.
In most cases, you are left with two choices, and you have to hope that it's not as bad as it could end up being. But that is in the hands of the random number generator.
It's Never as Easy as it Seems
The gameplay is in most cases quite self-explanatory. You go from town to town buying items to help you restock on ammunition and medical supplies. While you are driving to each town, time will fast-forward to keep the pace of the game going. You will come across towns that have taken by the shadow and corrupted. In these cases, you'll have the option to explore a dungeon and complete a mission.
Missions can come in a number of forms, from finding and killing a certain monster, to destroying nests, to finding missing persons. As you progress through a playthrough, the missions begin to get harder and the dungeons bigger, leaving more rooms to explore but also bringing in more risks of dying and losing sanity.
It's possible to suffer any of four different injuries or symptoms int he game - the mildest being anxiety, and the most severe being gravely wounded and at risk of bleeding out over time, even while driving. You would be surprised the amount of times I died attempting to get to a hospital for treatment due to bleeding.
As you drive along you will receive text messages, some from unknown numbers, some from family and some from "T" at the Ministry of Occultism. Each text, like any other decision throughout the game, can sometimes lead to nothing. But others lead to rewarding gains or dangerous losses. There is always a choice to ignore the texts, you may lose out on an extra bit of money or sanity gain to protect yourself from potential consequences.
Some texts can also lead to various jobs - such as delivery, extermination, or helping the citizens of a town fight off some monsters. Each job has a time limit on it, and should you fail to arrive and complete it within that time, the entire town will then become corrupted and a dungeon will be available in that town. As horrible as it may sound, sometimes it is better to let a town become corrupted than to save it, as it gives you more chances to find clues.
Once you start collecting clues, you can begin piecing together which of the three ancient ones are invading using the table in your notebook. Each god has their own name, color, rune, and aspect. Your job is to find the correct god and then cast the Ritual of Banishment on them. Doing so on the wrong god will lead to complete catastrophe. Collecting the clues and piecing together which god is responsible is one of my favorite features of the game.
You gain clues by searching various containers and furnishings throughout dungeons. Sometimes a clue will be the reward for a mission. New items, ammunition, spells and money can also be foud in in dungeons. Spells can be cast once you learn them, and if you cast them in the exact rune order as shown within the time limit given. While in a dungeon you can warp out of it should you need to retreat in an emergency, but doing so takes up more time.
Spells come in various forms, some to heal you and even restore severe wounds and broken limbs, while others are meant for attacking enemies. Casting spells can also be used to backfire or negate enemy spells.
Casting spells lowers your sanity with each use, and should you fail casting a spell, it will lower your sanity even further.
Combat is quite clunky, to say to the least.
You have two ways of defending yourself against the monstrosities that lurk in the dark dungeons. You can either shoot them, or you can mêlée attack them. Ammunition is very scarce and should only be used when necessary. There are only three different forms: standard 9mm, which are the weakest of ammunition; armor-piercing ammo that can damage numberous enemies in a line; and hollow point to deal the most damage.
In melee, you get to hit an enemy with your gun. It doesn't do a lot of damage and can easily lead to taking damage, but it is nevertheless necessary to survival.
The controls of the character while in the dungeons are quite simple, easy to use, and fluent. You can play using either a keyboard or an Xbox controller.
The Monsters are the Heart and Soul of the game
Often I've played a horror game and thought to myself "a few less monsters would have made this an overall better experience", but this game is very different. Again, despite its simple graphics, the monsters within the game are nevertheless the heart and soul of it.
The reason for this is that they are extremely well-made both visually and audibly. Between their attacks and the horrifying noises that they make as they move and attack you, you can't help but cringe at what you are hearing and seeing.
This is something that is not often done correctly in horror games correctly. Often I could look at a monster and wouldn't bat an eye lid at it. But the monstrosities that you meet in this game the game, truly are memorable and horrifying. No matter how long you play the game, their impact doesn't lessen to any degree.
Each monster has its own strengths and weaknesses, and learning these can really make life a lot easier for you. Finding their weaknesses however, is not always an easy task, especially with that of the tougher enemies.
Special monsters also have their own unique ambience to them when they enter the room - something that really amps up the fear factor, as you generally hear the ambience before you see them. These near-unstoppable killing machines are easily some of the scariest and most fear =0inducing creatures in any video game. Once they are pursuing you, you cannot warp out of the dungeon like you could otherwise. You must face it or run for the exit.
You Will Leave Your Mark in the Multiverse
Another one of my favourite features of The Consuming Shadow is the Birth Stars. Each time you die or complete a playthrough, a score is calculated and placed into your level up bar. Enemies defeated, dungeons completed, and clues and items found or bought, contribute to your level up.
With each level up, you gain a Birth Star. These are used at the beginning of each playthrough. You place Birth Stars on or around various Star Constellations, each one having its own gains, such as increased Health or Sanity, higher chance of finding a spell or an item, and more.
Some constellations are more rare than others and are not always available in each playthrough, such as The Chariot for Car Speed and The Bull for Melee Damage. But there's more than enough to suite your needs.
This actually explains the procedural generation of the game, as each time you play you are playing as the same person but in a different universe - which also explains the different times, dates and years of each playthrough.
Secrets to Unlock
There's a lot of unlockable content available in the game, which I find are always fun to attempt seeking . Unlike a lot of games, however, this unlockable content gives you insight or even detailed back story into the game, as oppose to being there to collect for nothing more than the sake of it.
Each time you meet and fight a creature, you gain more intel on it, which will then be revealed bit by bit in your files. Once you have completed a file, a picture of the monster along with a profile of it will be available for you to read in full.
There are also journal entries throughout each play through, a total of 32 to find. These pages contain the diary of "T", one of the people who send you texts throughout the game. The diary gives you the backstory from T's perspective of the days leading up to the events of the game.
A total of three other characters are available to unlock as well, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. The Scholar us the roundest of the four characters available to play with. Each character also has their own unique backstories, endings and certain aspects (such as text messages) that change in accordance to which character you are playing.
I've found at least seven ways a playthrough can end, and there may be more.. Most of them are of different ways that you can die, but some others are different victory endings.
Does it Consume You?
I found myself completely and utterly absorbed and addicted to The Consuming Shadow for well over a week, playing nothing else. It was often a case of saying to myself "just one more dungeon before finishing up," only to look at the clock and find several hours have past.
It's so easy to get sucked into this game with its engrossing atmosphere, incredible depth, enjoyable gameplay, and each playthrough being ever different from the last. What it is lacking in general visual beauty it more than makes up for in creating an incredible and enjoyable experience, with plenty of content to keep you going for hours on end. It is an experience I would recommend to any horror, Lovecraftian and or roguelike fan out there, as this game has plenty for each to greatly enjoy.
Admittedly, the graphics may turn a lot of players off this wonderful title, but if you can look past that, you will find a game that has a ton of content, and it'll give you more than enough playtime to make the price worth it.
At present, The Consuming Shadow is available on the Humble Store. It has been approved on Steam Greenlight but there has been no release date announced. It is also available to buy for Mac users through the Mac App Store.