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A Boat For Pigs: Monstrum

High-sea horror

Let's get real folks: I'm what is colloquially known as a "scaredy cat." It's not so much that the more terrifying of this hobby's fine works prevent me from sleeping as they do prevent me from playing. I got about an hour into an Amnesia Let's Play before deciding there were other ways to spend my time. A friend had to sit with me for the majority of Outlast, or I never would have got through it. So take it as the highest compliment, or the lowest evaluation of my character, when I say I look forward to probably never fully experiencing sea-bound run-away-'em-up Monstrum. There's an announcement trailer below the deck if you're brave enough, but it omits some of the most interesting details.

A good impression of a far too standard fare, but there's much juicier morsels on that greenlight page. The first "commercial venture" of Scottish studio Team Junkfish, their feature list shows they're doing more than recycling the concept onto the high seas. Here's the highlights:

Multiple Pursuers - Three different monster types, each with different behaviours and tactics means you'll need to find out what you're up against before deciding on your plan. Will you be able to work your way out of an ambush or a direct attack after being spotted? And will the same actions work each time?

Procedural Arena - Each time you load up the game the ship will have a different layout, putting the player's navigation skills to the test.

Predictability is a horror game's greatest enemy. Fear, in all its forms, comes from a lack of knowledge and understanding. If that is taken away - be it by multiple playthroughs of the same area, or a learning that comes from having battled enemies before - a key element is lost. The procedural generation solution is obvious in hindsight and, developed correctly, should be the way forward. Enemy types is an extension of this, though also an interesting regression in design to a time when digital opponents came down to more than humans who spoke a different language holding variations of gun. I'm personally nostalgic for that Doom-style discovery of how different monsters attack and react, so I'm very interested to see how this is implemented. Discussion on the game's subforum suggests they're making sure each is as unique as possible, which I can only commend.

The tidbit that wraps this all up into a terrifying, intriguing ball:

Permadeath - Death is death. Get killed in Monstrum and you'll be starting again. In a different ship, possibly against a different monster. Good luck. Start running.

That's how you keep a player guessing. The implications for the plot are just the tip of the iceberg as far as making a more replayable experience. Contrary to the above I enjoyed my time with Outlast but have no inclination to go back to it, beyond freaking out a few friends. Monstrum definitely seems to be going in all the right directions, pushing forward in what was threatening to become a stale and samey genre.

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Ben Barrett