No-one’s done Spider Simulator yet, although there’s almost certainly someone somewhere waiting to press publish on a perfunctory Greenlight page, but in its absence this genteel puzzle game about web-spinning and fly-paralysing might fit the bill. Spider: Rite Of The Shrouded Moon [official site], from a team lead by Ion Storm alumnus Randy Smith, does much more than that, even weaving a careful and subtle tale in the background and, er, spying on you.
This is not the Windows 10 of animal puzzle games, however. Its geolocation feature is purely so that the in-game weather and time of day can be matched to whatever’s going on outside your window, further building up the atmosphere which is Spider’s lifeblood. In-game rain really does feel more credible when there’s out-game rain too. Sure, it’s a gimmick, but it’s a delightful one, and one which can make the same level look and feel hugely different on consecutive days.
If you ever played 2009’s mobile game Spider: The Secret Of Bryce Manor, you’ll know broadly what you’re in for here. Your spider crawls and pounces around a seemingly abandoned mansion, creating geometric shapes with a finite amount of webbing, in which it catches various insects which it can then consume for both bonus webbing and points. As the game wears on, the type and challenge of the prey rises, and before too long you’re using complicated trapping and feint manoeuvres, rugby-tackling wasps in mid-air and trying to perform precision web-to-web jumps without touching the floor.
Rite Of The Shrouded Moon is very much a sequel, by which I mean it’s fundamentally the same game but amped up and with knobs on. The climate-tracking is one thing, but it also goes in for scoreboards, unlocks and completism, all of which are served by larger levels packed with stiffer optional challenges and thoughtful secrets, and with a slew of evocative, oddly beautiful musty environments. What starts off feeling small and whimsical quickly escalates into a substantial and steely game of leftfield logic puzzles.
This is the series’ first time on PC, and thankfully it’s not screamingly obvious that it’s a mobile game first and foremost. Left-clicking to pounce and right-clicking to spin one line of a web lacks the sympathetic fluidity of swiping and tapping, but it does what it needs to, and WASD is a wonderful addition. Movement is what makes Spider’s spider so very spidery: the graceful arcs of the jumps and casual descents from great heights, the magnet-footed scuttle along and around and up and under, and the surprising, brutal heft when it snatches a larger creature out of the air mid-jump.
Sounds horrible, I realise. To tackle the elephant in the room, no, it wouldn’t take much for Spider to be grotesque. It inches around an incredibly common phobia, and tries to heroise that which so many people treat as monstrous. It finds the line and sticks to it, however. The spider (and others you unlock later) isn’t exaggerated in any sense: its inhuman aspects haven’t been amplified to make it creepier, and it isn’t anthropomorphised in the slightest. It’s just a spider. It looks like a spider, it moves like a spider, it does only whatever a spider can and none of the horrible things films and games and people’s minds claim spiders do. Including taking an interest in human affairs: it will never react to the many secrets of the Blackbird Estate, but your mind will piece them together and wonder about them as you scuttle about.
Full-on arachnaphobes might feel otherwise, but I really enjoy and appreciate the game’s fealty to reality. It’s not a spider simulator, but it’s close to it despite the puzzle and level-based structure. Personally I’m fine with little spiders but probably wouldn’t let a big spider run up my arm, and Rite Of The Shrouded Moon has done nothing to make me squirm. Perhaps some of this is that the spider never moves itself: you’re always in control, so that inhuman unpredictability that troubles some people simply isn’t there. The bursts of prettiness and detail in the background help: you’re not in some imagined, dark spider-world, but a place full of both humanity and nature at its most vibrant.
Making complaints feels a little mealy-mouthed, but I’ll confess to occasional ennui when new levels began, I could see all the flies flicking about the place and knew that catching them all meant work. And, despite the expansion of species variety, challenge types and clue-gathering about what happened to the residents of this old house, as someone who played the first Spider through, Rite Of The Shrouded Moon quickly felt familiar. I suspect I’d love rather than simply really enjoy it if I hadn’t played the first game: the freshness, and the clarity of its design, isn’t quite so striking second time around.
It is a treat though, and still a lesson in how to make games about animals without taking the easy, cynical option of pratfall comedy or excessive cuteness. The slow-burn, ambient narrative might add an air of ghostly oddness to what otherwise could become mechanical, Fairly high up my wish-list is Spider set in an open, outside, procedural world, just doing its spidery thing day-to-day. In the meantime, Rite Of the Shrouded Moon is a quiet, careful joy, spinning an impressive tapestry out of relatively few threads.
Spider: Rite Of The Shrouded Moon is out now.