Yeah, it was good. I guess
Alright, I’m caught in a bit of an awkward situation. It’s a bit difficult to critique a game made by a professional critic. On the one hand, I get to take everything they complain about in game design and nitpick the hell out of it to see if they’ve been listening to themselves, then choke-slam on the brakes if they don’t. On the other hand, I’m facing a critic who has taken the concept of “if you want something done right, do it yourself” to an extreme, so there’s a piece of merit that is automatically deserved. It’s deserved, but not given, because it doesn’t need such petty handouts.
The Consuming Shadow is a procedurally generated adventure/horror game that places you as a member of the Ministry of the Occult in England. There’s been a report of some mystical, eldritch shoggoth coming to destroy life on Earth as we know it, and it’s up to you to stop it. To do this, you need to explore the towns of England, gather information on the banishment ritual and the god attacking the world, go to Stonehenge, and banish the invading god the way that Donald Trump would kick out anyone with brown skin within 72 hours. Banish the wrong god and everyone’s Christmas presents will be filled with leprosy and Barry Manilow CD’s.
Along the way you’ll encounter enemies from the beyond, such as puking zombies, huge gnats, and men from the cult that worship whatever god is coming towards Earth. Along the way you gather money, bullets, items, clues as to which god is invading, and pieces of the banishment spell. Now, normally one would start tearing into the graphical quality of the game. It doesn’t exactly look like something anyone’s PS1 would have difficulty rendering. However, I’d only do that if the game was causing my eyes physical pain, and only if the game was also crap outside of its graphics.
So what does The Consuming Shadow offer outside of its crap graphics? Its plot is decently interesting, and the writing’s spot on. The only gripe is that procedural generation causes me to not care about what’s been written on the screen a few hours in. After the first few times I’ve seen a repeated “that girl got taken into the forest by some robed men so let’s save her” text has popped up, my eyes just glaze over towards the “investigate further” button. It’s shockingly reminiscent of the Dark Souls 2 leveling-up lady. But for what it’s worth, the writing and plot are definitely both unique and well done.
I’m going to dedicate this entire paragraph to the sanity mechanic because screw every other version of a sanity system with a rusty Phillip’s head. In any other horror game, the sanity meter is used to cause the game’s camera to begin shaking and emitting moaning sounds closely resembling a cow in an earthquake. When your sanity gets too low in Consuming Shadow, any number of different things can happen. Enemies can be hallucinated, causing you to waste precious ammo on an enemy that isn’t there.
The controls can invert on the player. Even some of the buttons in the game can change to a pleasant “kill myself” button when your sanity gets low enough. When you click on the button when it’s changed, the screen changes to a man ready to point the gun to his head and shoot himself. From there, you play a fun mini game of “stave off suicide for another day,” something as a college student I can personally connect with.
When you’re in a dungeon, where you’re either searching for a portal, saving a person who’s been taken, or checking for a source of monsters, you’ll find clues for the god that’s coming to banish the world, along with information on two other gods. The clues can be put together in a really nifty chart as you gather clues, actually making you feel like a bit of a detective. Some clues, however, are much more subtle than that, but the game awards players that are being more astute to their surroundings. When players find dead bodies in dungeons, for example, you’ll be told how the person has died. That clue, while not being given to you as a clue in your journal, does indicate to players which type of god is entering your world.
Combat’s a bit of a tricky mistress. You have a gun, an empty spell book, and the butt of the gun for melee combat. If an enemy gets too close to you, your character automatically starts smashing the monster with melee attacks, which can be annoying judging just how close the game decides is “close enough.” As well, it seems that enemy spawns are random for the amount of time a player is in the room. If a player chooses the Hare Krshna route of moving on to another room without killing a monster, the game chastises you for that by lowering your sanity. This makes absolutely zero sense when the monster in question is somewhere in the darkness and not seen at all by either the player-character or the player. Since when is someone scared of something that they don’t know is in the same room as them? I guess ignorance isn’t just bliss; it’s psychotic bliss.
There’s at least seven different endings, each one pretty unique and filled with some nice fluff text. I’d encourage anyone that makes it to Stonehenge with the banishment ritual to banish the wrong god: it’s funny as hell. There’s a fair amount to do post-game. Each instance of the game is in a “parallel universe,” meaning that the character is constantly growing and giving you points towards a leveling up system. These points can be used to upgrade your health, the rate that items drop, and more. There’s also diary pages left strewn around the dungeons, giving you an interesting reading on how the Ministry discovered the god’s attempt to come into our world. While in the dungeons fighting off monsters, you naturally gather research on them. You can look at this information when you’re starting up the game. While the fluff text is nice, usually getting 100% completion of a research page will give you a tip on how to beat the creature in-combat, making Consuming Shadow’s codex infinitely more useful than most games’.
The Consuming Shadow, ultimately, follows along the same vein of games like This War of Mine and Spec Ops: The Line. The game’s graphics and combat twitches are well and truly outweighed by the setup of atmosphere. There’s the constant, clinging oppression to the entire game that can make even a great run feel worrisome. For all its faults, the game’s uniqueness alone truly beats out most of the negatives I have with it. Is it a game for everyone? Most likely not. What I do know is that you will never determine whether you’ll like it by sitting there letting the time tick away.