This one has been waiting a long time. When I first saw the trailers, I was enthralled. After all, I have always enjoyed creepy games and at the time, they were fairly few and far between. Still it wasn’t exactly rave review material when it came out and it was at a time when I still felt I could trust the reviewers, so I held back till it was on sale and when I did get my hands on it, I put it into my steam collection where it would reside till I felt ready to play.
Now when I pick my next game I generally do so by process of elimination via dice till I have reduced my choices to 10, but two weeks ago, those dice were not so kind to me. Still, this little title was among those games and promised to be something interesting… well, it at least lived up to that for a while, but this is not a game anyone really needs to play.
Story: It has been about 25 years since World War 3 happened, and with it every nuclear power in the world used their weapon stock, ending life on the surface of the planet. To survive, mankind took refuge in underground shelters with all hopes of ever being topside again smashed. Life in these places is not great, but it does work as proven by the current success of the Glory, one such shelter and current home to a psychiatrist named Albert Tokaj.
But as I said, this is far from a perfect solution, and Albert has noticed something called Confinement Syndrome, a mental disorder where being locked up in a confined space drives the person mad over time, has begun to slowly manifest in his patients. And then one day, this combines with an unknown contaminant making it’s way through the air filter system of the shelter. Albert is called in to investigate as this causes those on effected levels to turn violent, but it doesn’t take long before the results become far more horrific altering the both the mind and the body of the victims.
And from this start you will follow Albert as he puts the pieces together and tries to save his home from this pathological threat… and while that remains the plot, it remains simple and decent, keeping things interesting as you move through the Glory seeing what this combination has done. But this isn’t everything the story offers. It’s in fact only the opening gambit, and to explain how it falls apart, I am going to have to use some spoilers, so consider this your warning.
As noted above if this was everything that happened it would be a neat and well plotted story line, but this ends a little under half-way through the game when you escape the shelter as it is literally blown up (for reasons you never really find out).Aat this point the game takes a complete detour as you now chase the guy you believe killed everyone through the ruined surface… and it does not take long before you are running around trying to survive against the cannibalistic remains of mankind who have set themselves up to survive Mad Max style… At this point your goal is to find the only other shelter Albert can half-confirm the existence of: the Fist… And while this is clearly a detour and complete change of plans, it overall still works for a story… until the 3rd act when the story literally shits all over everything.
The game is divided into 10 parts, and the 8th is literally an elevator to reach a control room where you see the entire surface you were walking around on is a fake in a giant cave where every aspect of the “natural” environment was being controlled by someone else and completely eliminating ANY point it might have had. Albert is but one more rat in a completely fake world abandoned by some military complex.
The last act is a romp across the “real” surface before you finally confront the mad-man who killed everyone and find the real “Fist” shelter… despite everything in the entire game being shown to be a lie… but the game explains this by making the killer Albert’s split personality (shown by who actually made it inside… a nice touch for creepy, but a shitty cop-out for the story). So who knows if anything you did was real or fake because apparently Albert was completely insane all along. As I said, shitty cop-out.
Personally, I love insanity when used right in a story, and I honestly saw a lot of potential for it to be used right here, right up until the last act basically spelled out how real and intentional everything was… and then the game couldn’t even own up to that choice with one of the weakest endings I have ever seen, being forced to turn the whole game into a stupid “maybe this happened… or maybe not” in literally the last cutscene.
Graphics: Unlike the plot of the game, there really isn’t a lot to complain about graphically here. Running on the Unreal 3 engine, the game does very well detailing the world you are going to spend your time in. In fact, the first part of the game is so well done, you are going to have to remind yourself several times you are underground and not in some part of a ship like the Nostromo of Alien after a good amount of wear-and-tear from space travel. Seriously, it looks that good. And while the quality does drop some in later parts of the game, it never really looks bad, but starts to look par-for-the-course for a 360 era game (which makes sense since while it never made it to Xbox 360, it does have the classic “CookedPC” file structure of many cross-platform games between it and PC).
Although this is just talking about the environments in the game. Where the artists really deserve credit for the most part is the characters that populate the world. No, the individual characters you are allowed to see the face of don’t look exceptionally good, but the enemies that populate far more of the game then the early cutscenes on the other hand really do. From the soldiers ordered to take you in to the mutations the pathogen made and you have to deal with to even things that just do not make sense and were clearly there because someone thought it was a cool boss encounter, the monsters in this game really do look awesome…. with the exception of one. Late in the game, you meet ghosts, and while they are done well effect wise, they are basically so generic they just don’t really work or fit in particularly well. Thankfully they are only at the very end, however.
Add all this to some very well done lighting effects and you have a game that genuinely looks pretty damn good, even today (almost 6 years after the game came out).
Sound: And this is where the game starts to falter. And sadly, it shortchanges some rather good work done with it. You see, the sound itself is pretty good. You have a descent background music that can help enhance the mood of whatever is going on. You have gun shots and the thwacking of melee weapons into flesh and metal that sounds really good. And while not all the voice acting is up to this level (in fact a lot is not) what is genuinely great there too is also short-changed. The reason for this is the technical side of the audio.
For every stroke that makes the music so well for the mood of the moment, you have way too many moments where it starts too soon becoming a tip-off of what’s coming instead of an enhancement of what is going on right now. It kinda ruins the moment. And so often when playing cutscenes or even just conversation (Albert takes audio notes throughout the game, which honestly sounds very clinical and exactly what I would expect a psychiatrist to record) the mix is just not right, making the voices much quieter then they should be.
The end result is a bit of a mixed bag which kinda shows some technical weakness the game has. I say some because, well… we will get to that in a bit.
Gameplay: And this is where the game REALLY falls apart. You play the role of Albert in a 3rd perspective where you will have to fight and “puzzle” your way through the adventure to reach your conclusion. The puzzles are in quotations because of how rare they really are. In fact for the 10 hours it took me to finish this game, I think I ran into three real puzzles and a handful of “which order to you use these” situations that substitute for them. Simply put this element really doesn’t exist by much.
So let’s move on to combat, which I can describe effectively with the single word of “clunky.” Throughout most of the game, you will find melee weapons (including the best one the game offers as one of the first, the fire axe) which you can use by left clicking, and hold up to block the enemy from attacking with the right mouse button, resulting in a fighting system based on timing and watching for when your enemy will attack so you can block them… only it’s completely unnecessary unless you pick something that is way too slow to get in any hits without blocking first. Rather for the most part just hammer away at a combination via clicking until the enemy in front of you dies. You just might need to take a hit or two first in this tactic, but right up until melee becomes useless at the very end of the game, this is a very viable strategy.
Unfortunately, the mechanic also makes this a required way to fight in melee combat as you will have to dispatch multiple enemies at once who’s timing will not be in sync.. so unless you want to block pretty much until you get bored holding down the button and quit, you will sacrifice a few hits. Nor will you particularly care. On normal skill level you will have enough health to do this to any given single enemy up until the end of the game, and heal quickly enough that it simply doesn’t matter how close a shave the battle was. Which is a good thing because rolling out of the way takes a large chunk of stamina and must be timed right, while holding down the same button to run means you start running a good second after you hold the spacebar down, adding to the clunky feel of it all.
But melee is only a part of the combat you will be involved with because you will also find and be forced to fight enemies with guns. To this end, you will have access to a single primary and secondary weapon you can keep on you along side your melee weapon of choice, though you will likely want to avoid using your guns until you have to since the game makes it feel like ammo is going to be scarce more often then not, and during the mid-game you will start needed that ammo to destroy things in the environment without hurting yourself, making a few bullets in reserve more of a requirement. There are only a handful of guns in the game at all, but the fact that most of them use different ammunitions make this impression all the stronger. And of course for reasons I can not even begin to comprehend, picking up or equipping a gun means dropping your melee weapon on the ground, so that temporary safety of range can cost you your edge if you get into fisticuffs with an enemy or two.
But of course all of that only matters when the game lets it, because each of the 10 sections of the game will end with you losing whatever you had in favor of what the game thinks you should have before the next level begins, so if you thought you could store a lot of ammo for the big finale, be ready for a disappointment. If you weren't sure it was the end of the chapter, you may have just made things unnecessarily harder and more annoying for yourself.
Bugs: Yes after all this, the game has bugs as well. Not a lot of them, but they are pretty severe and in places you almost never see them.
- Loading Times: Through the first act of the game, all loading times seem to be setup to occur when walking through contamination corridors, allowing the game to load while you watch the beams scan and clean Albert in sci-fi fashion, but this is not smooth and in fact the system will often stutter while doing this. But it isn’t a big deal because its not a part you play… until it is. Later in the game they don’t bother with this nicety anymore, allowing loading stutter to active effect your game.
- UV kills you/spawns ghosts, even when you cant see the light: This is a bug specific to the end of the game. At this point you need to stay in shade as the sunlight itself will kill you if you stay in it too long, and stepping in it at all will cause a ghost enemy to spawn. (and these things ignore all level geometry making them arguably the most annoying thing in the game). The problem here is there are several places in the map where this can happen even though there is no sunlight hitting it, forcing you to waste ammo that is now precious as you will never face another enemy you can realistically face off with using a melee weapon.
Overall: Even when I started playing this game, I knew it wasn’t good. It wasn’t terrible to start, but it definitely wasn’t good. But between atmosphere, concept, and some smart writing, it was actually very interesting, so I stuck around. Sadly as the game progresses, it loses both those things as it first goes spastic trying to do everything in the second act and then runs out of steam for the final. I do not believe I can reasonably recommend this game to anyone, which may be for the best since the game has effectively been pulled from shelves and the only ways you are going to get it now are either a copy on amazon you hope the code still works on or hoisting the pirate flag. Avoid this title.
SystemRequirementsLab.com’s Listed Requirements:
- 2Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo or 2Ghz AMD 64 x2
- 2 GB RAM
- NVidia Geforce 8600 or ATI Radeon x1650
- 4 GB hard drive
- Windows XP SP2, Windows Vista, or Windows 7
- AMD FX 8350 (8 cores) running at 4 Ghz
- 16 GB RAM
- NVidia GeForce 960 GTX with 4 GB VRAM
- Windows 10
Source: I am unable to give you a source this time, as like I mentioned in the overall section, this game has been pulled from sale. The reason for this is a license fee dispute between the developer and Epic Games over the Unreal engine. In 2015, Epic won the lawsuit which took the game off Steam and forced Intoxicate Studios to close their doors.