Indiewatch: Cthon - Old-School Shooting, Roguelike and Lovecraftian fun
Welcome to Indiewatch, a series where every Friday we take a look at a good yet unknown, unappreciated and overlooked indie title. It is time to give some appreciation, attention, and love to those games that deserve it but never got it. In order for a game to be covered on Indiewatch, it must fit into the following criteria:
- It must be an indie game
- It was not covered or given minimal coverage by mainstream video game websites and YouTubers (Destructoid, Polygon, IGN, Totalbiscuit etc.)
- It must be good! Nothing below 7 out of 10 will be covered.
Today we are going to take a look at Cthon, a sci-fi procedurally generated roguelike old-school shooter with permadeath developed and published by Gravity Games. It released on Itch.io in December 2015. It has since been green-lit using Steam Greenlight and will be available to buy on Steam in the near future.
Answering a distress call
You take on the role of a Sigmacorp surveyor, who is scanning the far reaches of the solar system. While on duty you receive a distress signal from a moon nestled within an asteroid belt of the Epsilon Eridani system. The research base has long been abandoned by Sigmacorp and is regarded as the corporations biggest financial failure.
Upon reaching the moon, your ship is hit with an electromagnetic blast causing it to crash land. You exit your ship and grab your weapon and make your way to the abandoned base in hopes of finding the materials needed to repair the ship.
It isn't long before you begin to realise why the base was abandoned. It is full of nightmarish creatures and the reanimated remains of humans that were situated there. As you delve deeper, you begin to learn the dark secrets of the base and what happened.
Overall the plot to the game is basic yet interesting enough. Just like most of the games that it inspires from, the gameplay comes first while the plot is simply there because it has to be. The story takes elements from DOOM, Quake and System Shock.
It takes the idea of portals from DOOM while taking the Lovecraftian influence of Quake and environment design ideas of System Shock. While not terribly original it is a mystery that is well paced that you look forward to unfolding as you progress.
As with many of these games, if you are looking for a gripping, complex and deep story, you won't find it with Cthon. But if you are looking for a game that focuses more on the gameplay, then it may just be what you are looking for.
From an abandoned facility to an alien hive
The object of the game is to battle your way through it's nine procedurally generated levels, and unravel the mystery behind the base and the creatures that lurk within it. As you make your way deeper into the facility, you enter different environments such as a temple and an alien hive.
Just like the classic shooters, it inspires from, each level has secrets to discover, each containing all forms of supplies. As to how many secrets a level contains depends entirely on how many the game generates, so you never truly know the total number each level will contain.
The levels are designed like that of Wolfenstein 3D, resulting in there being no looking up or down. Despite that being the case don't think that enemies will be any less dangerous. They often hide in the corners waiting for you to approach, and if you don't keep your guard up they will ambush you, often resulting in death.
The game uses the claustrophobic nature of such classic level design to create a horror feel it. Each of the environments works perfectly the horror aesthetic, from the large rooms and empty corridors of the facility to the mysterious alien temple to the grotesque hive.
The levels all ooze with a horror vibe and matching in with the roars of the monsters, they create a wonderfully dark atmosphere.
The level generation works well for the most part and the levels of each playthrough are varied. If I was to have any issues with the level design it would be the secrets and item placement. Due to the procedural generation of the level design secrets can at times be underwhelming, containing only the most basic of items, while I feel they should always have items of use.
As for item placement, it starts off plentiful but as you progress through the game it turns into barebone pickings. It results in you often running low on ammunition or struggling to keep your health up, even on the easiest difficulty.
In a standard FPS this would not be so much a problem but in a game that features permadeath, it could cause a lot of frustration for some players. Aside from those issues the general design of the levels are well implemented and have a tonne of charm that fit the game's plot and concept really well.
Choose your character class
An interesting feature of Cthon is the character classes. At the beginning of each game, you get to choose one of three character classes, each with their own benefits. Marksman, Berserker and Sapper. The Marksman specialises in the use of the cannon, a ranged firearm, resulting in higher damage, more ammunition and a higher rate of fire.
The berserker specialises in the blade, a melee weapon giving the player higher damage using it, faster attack rate and higher health. Finally, the Sapper specialises in explosives, giving the grenade weapon more damage, a higher rate of fire and increased splash damage.
The different classes do change up the gameplay to a certain degree but no matter what you choose you will need to use each of the weapons at some point. While choosing either of the classes does give a boost in the weapon of their expertise the difference it makes is minimal. A small increase to the boosts given for each class would be a welcoming change.
Fun and addictive gameplay
With the smaller features out of the way, it's time to move on to the meat of Cthon, the gameplay. As you progress through the game you will come across upgrades and implants. The upgrades include increasing the total number of inventory slots you have and the total amount of power you have that is used to activate implants.
The inventory slots are used to carry implants, the more slots you have the more you can carry at any one time. The more power that you have the more implants you can have active simultaneously. The various implants cover all three of the game's weapons along with your characters stats such as health, armour and movement speed.
For the weapons, the implants increase their damage, rate of fire, ammunition capacity, grenade splash damage and more. You will also find a currency called Nanites on your journey. These can be used to purchase supplies, upgrades and implants at their stations.
With all the upgrades and implants available to you there is no limit to the combination you can achieve
With all the upgrades and implants available to you there is no limit to the combination you can achieve, resulting in every playthrough being very different. It also adds a tactical element to the gameplay, as you will need to adjust how you fight your enemies depending on your implants and supplies.
If there was any issue I would have with the gameplay it would be that it is a tad bit too slow, compared to the games it inspires from. The upgrades to use the implants could also have their rarity lowered a bit too. Never did I have more than four or five implants active at any one time and in other playthroughs I was lucky to have three inventory slots for them, especially in the higher difficulty.
Despite those issues, each and every playthrough is different, exciting and ultimately fun. It is a game that will keep you hooked for quite a few hours.
A great game that needs a few tweaks
Cthon isn't without its few problems but those aside it is a great game. It takes the shooters of an era of gaming long gone and turns their gameplay into something very different and quite special. From its atmosphere to its gameplay to the enemies, Cthon is full of charm and personality.
It is a game that has changed how the retro shooter is seen within the indie scene. No longer will the standard Wolfenstein 3D and DOOM clones alone be enough. If such old-school games are to make an impression, developers will need to really pull out all the stops and add their own twists to them.
If it wasn't for the issues that are currently present it would be a sure 9 out of 10 scoring title. But as it stands, it is still a fun, addictive and engaging title even if it is a lot harder than it needs to be.