Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Some Further Thoughts on 'The Consuming Shadow'

So I've been playing some more of 'The Consuming Shadow', Yahtzee's horror roguelike, and I have some more things to add to my previous post. I've now completed the game once, which is to say that I got the 'A' ending with The Scholar, who is the default character of the game. I went to Stonehenge, figured out the god's rune and beat back the Ancient, which is actually very easy. You just whack his tentacles and eyes as they appear and then counter his magic as you would with a Cultist enemy by copying his spells. I was probably lucky, however. I had a good playthrough in which I managed to unlock two new characters. Firstly I unlocked the primarily mêlée character, The Warrior, by completing the lockpick delivery mission and beating the subsequent dungeon. This, nicely enough, gave my Scholar an advanced close combat attack of his own for that playthrough, which seems to have been useful as my pistol-whipping of the Ancient's tendrils was surprisingly effective. As a result of this completion I also unlocked The Ministry Man, who is seemingly one of the "challenge characters" of the game - he only has 24 hours to save the world, rather than 60. I've now had a few goes as them and my thoughts are as follows:
  1. Yahtzee probably should have re-written the in-game dialogue for playing as The Warrior. Something one notices when playing a lot of Yahtzee games is his rather verbose style. He's no Hemingway, and his elaborate prose can at times be a little jarring depending on the character in question. I can more or less accept The Ministry Man using the same dialogue as The Scholar, because while The Scholar is an intellectual and might be expected to express himself in such a way, The Ministry Man is heavily implied to be an existing Yahtzee character known for his rather involved note-taking activities. The Warrior, however, is described as "a two-fisted man of action in a world beyond his understanding". All of The Scholar's descriptions and so forth are retained, however, giving this apparent henchman of organised crime a fairly unlikely voice. This is particularly noteworthy because The Warrior does have unique starting lines and various others which establish him as more "plain speaking" and less of a user of complex language compared to The Scholar. I did appreciate the unique text messages the characters receive, however.
    On the other hand, Yahtzee in general uses way too many similes, and (no offence to him) often pointless, trite or ineffectual ones which add nothing to what he is saying. In general, though, he just uses too many similes. There are plenty of other language techniques out there to choose from!
  2. I'm still convinced that combat is clunkier than it needs to be. While The Warrior has a dodge move, I feel as if the characters in general could use a duck or crouch manoeuvre. Another thing which surprises me, really, is the lack of stealth elements in the game. I'm surprised that it's not a valid option to hide from enemies, at least as a way of giving combat more variety. It also seems a bit awkward that The Warrior's more powerful mêlée attack is a kick, even though he has a knife in the insanity minigame. He could at least stab up some fools. Often your mid-range, waist-level kick is "hitting" creatures hanging from the ceiling or otherwise out of reach, which only really makes sense with the arcing move of The Scholar's pistol whip, which makes The Warrior's attack look off.
  3. It's possibly too easy to get gear. In most "safe" towns you can find a cheap piece of gear immediately, and more are available in dungeons. Something which added to the challenge of a game like FTL, which I've never managed to finish (yes, yes, because I suck at computer games), is how situational the random events could be depending on your ship layout, your crew and a host of other variables. I find that if I'm regularly collecting gear in 'The Consuming Shadow', most random events become a breeze. This is particularly true when one uses the Lucky Charm to harvest gear more quickly.
  4. To refer back to my point about atmosphere in the last article, I think some more "English" dungeons could have worked. There could perhaps have been a historical or ruined building layout, especially given that the UK is riddled with mouldering architecture. A nice ruined abbey or some such would fit the bill. The house, office, warehouse, park and brick building environments are maybe a little generic.
  5. The game doesn't really tell you this, but it's possible to narrow down information on the rune, colour and aspect of the Ancients by inspecting the markings and bodies in dungeons. This information, however, is not recorded in your notebook, so you have to do it straight away in some fashion.
  6. I appreciate the references to Yahtzee's older Chzo Mythos games, particularly the possibility of Chzo as one of the Ancients and the concession in the game of an existing "Tall Man", like the hunter monster in this one. Furthermore, it's nice that The Ministry Man is heavily implied to be Trilby, one of the protagonists of the Chzo Mythos. It's interesting to see that although Yahtzee tends to characterise the Chzo games as a bit pants in hindsight, he still uses Trilby. I also like the use of the Ministry of Occultism, as in those games, and the idea that by 2015 Trilby would have become a high-ranking agent. The use of codenames like T, C and F are good nods to the history of British Intelligence as well. My initial thought, actually, was that C would be Yahtzee's old character (and one of Trilby's supposed colleagues in the Special Talent Project) Chris Quinn, but I don't think that really makes sense.
  7. One thing I will say about this, however, is that in the Alpha of the game the Ministry texts were completely anonymous, which gave them a certain unsettling feel when you received the negative ones. Now that they're addressed from "T", this sympathetic character, some old texts like threatening to shoot himself unless you give him good news, contemplating taking his cyanide and having disturbing thoughts about his secretary (the last of which in my opinion was the least necessary) from early Alpha days seem weird and out of character. This is especially true because T's diary entries, which you unlock by playing the game, emphasise his level-headedness and actually describe his conscious difficulty with bringing the apparent apocalypse into meaningful perspective.
    It's worth noting, by the way, that the game's wiki currently describes T as "your handler at the Ministry", but if you read the diaries it's evident that T has possibly never met The Scholar before, and at least has not seen him for a long time. It's also apparent that apart from seemingly being an associate of Keegan, The Scholar is largely unaffiliated with the Ministry, even in an unofficial capacity, and that they've simply "kept an eye" on The Scholar.
In any event, 'The Consuming Shadow' is still fun. I've been watching Yahtzee's 'Ego Reviews' on Youtube and he mentions in the one for 'Trilby: The Art of Theft' (another favourite of mine) the possibility of additional content for 'The Consuming Shadow' at some point, perhaps in time for the Steam release. Hopefully that's also provided to everyone who purchased the game through other means. At this stage I'd argue that the aspects which would liven things up in further content would be another dungeon environment or two (perhaps with some more background assets), some event artwork, possibly another playable character (although I realise I haven't unlocked The Wizard yet) and maybe some kind of custom mode. I imagine alterations to the game's combat and so on would be too big a task. In any event, this is one I'll be attempting to keep multiple blinking-from-the-darkness abominable eyes on.

SPOILERS! Ending A screen below!
"I just wanted to go into Stonehenge!"

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