Title: The Consuming Shadow – Insanity Edition
Platform: Steam, Windows
Reviewed on: Windows
Players: Single player
Written by Whistler 17th January 2016
Dread and insanity drenches our unlikely hero as the god’s play games with the fabric of reality and a consuming shadow looms over the United Kingdom. The Consuming Shadow by video game critic, writer and indie game developer Ben 'Yahtzee' Croshaw can be best described as a Lovecraftian roguelite taking elements from FTL, Oregon Trail and The Binding of Isaac then marrying them with a densely oppressive world à la the Cthulhu Mythos.
It can be said though The Consuming Shadow isn’t the best looking game even by individually developed indie standards, no sadly visuals are something akin to the days when Newgrounds was popular. What hampers The Consuming Shadow’s graphical appearance is the use of images and sprites seemingly done in MS paint. It’s a real shame too since if you could see yourself past the murky outer layering The Consuming Shadow offers a surprisingly addictive and enjoyable experience at its core. You the player assume the role of an unnamed scholar who discovers an ancient evil is descending upon the world as one of the Ancient Ones intends on invading our realm. There is a glimmer of hope however as after studying runes and scriptures the scholar learns of an ancient incantation that once cast at an underground monument at Stonehenge can banish the god and halt the consuming evil. There’s a catch however, he is yet to uncover the specific runes required for the incantation and with only three days till the Ancient One arrives he must finish the banishment ritual, discover the identity of the invader, travel from the Scottish Borders and fend off the god’s minions.
While granted a chunk of CS is made somewhat obscure the game’s simple enough that you’ll learn the ebb and flow after your first handful of playthroughs. At its core The Consuming Shadow is a very simplistic game at least in terms of exploration and combat, whilst in your car the game plays like Oregon Trail with each town serving as either places to purchase supplies, seek medical help or as dungeons to explore. Once you’re close enough to a town you can determine whether or not the town has been infested with the shadows, if darkness reigns then you may enter the town and investigate. Once there the game switches to a 2d side scrolling perspective where you explore one of a handful of area types from offices, warehouses, parks and abandoned homes. Typically you’ll be assigned an objective such as rescue any survivors, close a dimensional breach or exterminate a nest in order to gain a piece of the banishment ritual or for a monetary reward. There’s a decent enough variety to the missions thanks to the procedurally generated dungeons but the gameplay doesn’t exactly leave a lasting impression on you; exploring becomes a purely mechanical action and sadly the combat often falls flat due to its simplicity and clunky design. Often a room will contain at least one enemy but as you’re on a 2D plane (and you’ll receive a sanity penalty for leaving a room with an enemy still in it) you can’t really afford to simply avoid monsters as you could in earlier Resident Evil and Silent Hill titles. Instead you must either spend precious ammo or rely on the rather poor melee attack that often ends with the combat spiralling into a clumsy slap up hoping you can avoid as much damage as possible with stun locks or tanking the injuries. While I can understand the sanity mechanic it feels rather hamfisted to punish the player for avoid unnecessary fights, reduces player freedom and hurts the gameplay overall.
Along with the health meter player’s will also have to manage their sanity, unlike hp sanity depletion is permanent and can only be temporary soothed by means of drugs that effect your mind. Once your sanity reaches certain thresholds you’ll begin to experience a plethora of nasty effects that can hinder you (or at least make you think momentarily that the game’s glitched out on more than one occasion). These can range from simple little blotches on the screen to your character vanishing, controls reversed and my personal favourite where text and options are changed to “kill myself” which can trick you into a suicide mini game where you wrestle the urge to end it all. Thanks to this little mechanic I often found myself on edge even when reading the flavour text which truly set the almost overwhelming oppressive mood perfectly.
While combat was nothing to write home about I personally found the clue investigation elements a breath of fresh air; lying at the centre of the gameplay is the randomly generated mystery to ascertain which god is planning to invade our realm and getting it wrong can spell disaster. Most roguelites tend to follow the familiar formula where the player must rely on luck and gathering gear to build themselves up for the final confrontation, The Consuming Shadow adds another layer to this as even if you showed up with a bazooka you could very well banish the wrong god or fail to complete the ritual in time. All this adds to the Arkham Horror meets Sherlock Holmes feel as you crawl the dungeons looking for clues. Clues discovered throughout the dungeons will not directly point you towards the villain either, as you must build up a table of evidence to correlate clues like “The Orange god dislikes the God associated with the BTI run” or “The god of Madness is allies with the god of Fear”. Once you have enough clues or if you feel you can make an educated assumption you then fill out an old school notebook for the three gods with their names, colour, rune, aspect and their agenda. Something about filling the notebook out and finding another clue helped immerse myself into the world and helped replayability.
That being said though while failure doesn’t feel nearly as punishing as The Binding of Isaac as you gain exp towards gaining stats that can help your next playthrough, The Consuming Shadow can take its toll on the player and is best experienced in short bursts. When all is said and done roguelites tend to survive on a balance of their value for money and how much you can get out of replaying randomly generated playthoughs. Considering I’ve played roughly five or so hours before the Insanity edition changes and another five after that I can say if you’re willing to look past the flash game graphics, Yahtzee’s Lovecraftian part roguelite, part mystery game is worth it for the interesting take on the established genre. It won’t be something you keep in your library for months to come but it’s that sort of experience you can come back to and enjoy all over again.
Intriguing mystery elements help replayability,
Fun in small bursts,
Four characters with different playstyles.
Can get very repetitious,
Limited freedom in gameplay options.
Not great but certainly an interesting experimentation with a decent 6/10.