D'you like dogs? I like dogs. How about five dogs? Hot diggidy daffodil, now we're talking. In The Red Lantern you're a musher who has decided to adopt a bunch of sled dogs and take 'em over the Alaskan wilderness to a distant cabin that you're pretty sure definitely 100% exists. This is, of course, how idiots die. Solo sled across Alaska, they said! It's easy, they said!
But even though I knew this was a roguelite survival adventure going in, I wasn't expecting there to be quite so much adventuring to it and so little chill sledding with my dogs.
Look, let me illustrate this with like, five minutes I clipped from what I played last night.
D'you see what I mean? I thought Alaska was supposed to be big and mostly empty and whatever, but apparently you can't move for skunks and caribou. I wouldn't be surprised if at one point your sled runs slapstick-style into the side of a massive one of the bastards with all the dogs making noises like coconuts as they hit the wall of its side. And then the caribou looks round doing a double take like, "Whaaaaa???" 'cos it didn't even notice.
My issue, really, is that life in The Red Lantern comes at you fast, and you don't have time to stop and look around. It's a very pretty game. Some of the animations are a small bit janky at times, but I really like the bits where I'm flying over white snow in the morning, or looking up at the Milky Way at night. But I only get to enjoy that for about ten seconds before BAM, skunk time.
Also, I would like it if the musher spent a bit more time in contemplative silence, so that I might as well. She won't shut up. I'm a bit uncharitable towards her because she is just some woman from San Francisco who decided she wanted to do a dog sled over desolate ice wilds. Like that's a thing you can just do. So I just assume she's an idiot. It's like when a divorced investment banker decides he needs to shake up his life by soloing K2 and is found, 18 months later, frozen in a crevasse.
I am still only in the early stage of the game, in fairness. I expect - I hope - that as you get further into the wild, fewer things happen, in line with surviving being a bit more difficult. Although I'm finding it hard already, since your hunger and energy drop at a rate commensurate with every other happening. I have starved to death several times, although each time it happens you just wake up back in your van like, "Oh phew, just a bad dream."
Non-UK readers might not remember, but a few years back the BBC put on a programme for Christmas that was just a sleigh ride. A walking pace sleigh ride. With no narration. Just, POV of being in a sleigh pulled by a reindeer. And we went absolutely crackers for it. It was probably the best thing to happen at Christmas that year (or any year since, because that was Christmas 2015). I was kind of hoping for a bit more of that from The Red Lantern, to be honest.
The dog technology is great. though. You hand pick your team from different pooches that are up for adoption, and they have different personalities. Some eat loads, some are big fighty boys, some are shy girls who like to sniff out adventure. And you can pet them all! I just wish I had more time to actually do that.
The Red Lantern is out now on the Epic Games Store for £20/€21/$25.