In truth, Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw’s Lovecraftian roguelike has been available for a while already, but the Steam version that launched moments ago brings fresh horrors to The Consuming Shadow [official site] in the form of new monsters and creature variants, challenge modes, an infinite dungeon mode, and more. I’ve dabbled with the original release, which I reckon manages to make a suitably grim atmosphere from its barely animated silhouetted characters and scenes. It’s sort of like a miniature Arkham Horror, set in the UK.
If you know Yahtzee’s work, it’s probably through his fast-talking takedowns of other peoples’ games in his Zero Punctuation video series, but he’s also responsible for a gaggle of decent point and click adventures. If you haven’t played any of those, try 5 Days A Stranger, the first part of the Chzo Mythos series. It’s free and if you’re even slightly interested in cat burglars and/or slasher movies, you should find something of interest.
Later entries in the sometimes loosely connected tetralogy bring in sci-fi and playstyles other than pointing and clicking. They’re all worth a look, as are the Flashback-inspired 1213 games. Like the Chzo games, the 1213 trilogy is free.
The Consuming Shadow isn’t free though. If you bought the original version, sold through Humble Bundle, you’ll receive a Steam key (see bottom of linked page for details), but everyone else has to pay the piper (£6.99).
I’ve definitely had more than a few quids of entertainment out of the game, even if I’ve never managed to last longer than a few minutes. You’re not supposed to last all that long anyhow, given that the world is coming to an end in a few in-game hours. To prevent that from happening, you drive from place to place collecting resources and clues in the hope that you’ll be able to stop whatever mad god is scrabbling at the threshold from getting into humanity’s atrium and stamping its ten thousand blasphemous muddy footprints all over the nice new rug.
Along the way there are random encounters, delivered in text that lands just the right side of parody. It’s genuinely horrifying and grisly, but there’s a sense that these words are being chewed on sufficiently that the hammy flavour has been recognised. The ‘dungeons’, which are your various destinations, are ordinary buildings that have been perverted by terrible forces, and they play out from a side-on perspective, although they’re mapped out exactly as they would be if they were more traditional top-down structures. I found it a little confusing at first but I sometimes find my breakfast confusing.
Combat is realtime and it’s a bit of a pain in the arse. If you have ammo, you can aim centrally, high or low with your pistol, but bullets are hard to come by. It is possible to beat otherworldly entities to death with the butt of your gun but you’re trading health with them the whole time, so you’ll be in rough shape afterwards. I don’t entirely object to the style of the combat but encountering a creature is often a direct path to the game over screen (it’s a good screen, for what it’s worth) and I feel like the tension as to whether I should risk using bullets on something that might not be willing to die, or should just flee to the safety of my car, is lost in the stodginess of the action.
Still, I found three quid in the remains of a gruesome entity while passing through a small Midlands village last time I played. Three quid that my superiors expected me to spend on meds to keep my sanity in check. That’s true horror. The horror of an underfunded Nyarlathotep Hindrance Service.