Sunday, August 16, 2015

Some Initial Thoughts on 'The Consuming Shadow'

As I once stated in my article 'On Zero Punctuation', I quite like the works of Yahtzee. I'm not a complete Yahtzee fanboy, mind you. I certainly think he buys in a bit too much to this whole "Oh no there are evil forces of political correctness who want to lock us up for making crass jokes" paranoia which seems to exist on the internet, but I think for a mostly one-man team he's made some pretty fun games in his time, games which have given me just us much entertainment as many notionally "professionally" made games and a good deal more entertainment than even more such titles. With 'The Consuming Shadow', however, he seems to have progressed properly into "profesh" territory himself, as this is not a free title but one you must purchase for the sum of ten American-style dollars.

I'd been keeping my eye on the game for a while, but lost track when it actually game out, so I've only just grabbed it as of a few days ago (as of writing). I'd played a bit of the alpha, but not too much, and I was looking forward to the improvements made in the full version. In case you're unaware, the game is a procedurally-generated "roguelike", which is to say that every play-through is randomly generated but at the end of each playthrough (regardless of how it ends) you get experience points and thus levels which contribute towards your next playthrough. The game's in two dimensions with a fairly simple interface and a silhouette art style, which leaves a lot to your imagination.

August 16th, 2015. Made the mistake of looking at the 'Latest Threads' on The Escapist forums...

Here are my thoughts so far:
  1. The game is fun. It's not overly complicated, it's quick to play, and the procedurally-generated nature of the content gives it a feeling of longevity, in my view at least.
  2. The dungeons feel a bit limited. Dungeons are a single storey of a randomised assortment of screen-sized rooms, regardless of whether you're in a fancy home, a warehouse, an office building, a park, etc. Thus the dungeons themselves can be a bit monotonous at times. There's also not a great deal of background material in most of them.
  3. The controls are also a bit limited. You can walk forward, run forward, turn, shoot, make a short ranged close combat attack and cast spells. Apart from one unlockable character with a dodge there's little variety of movement, like ducking, jumping or what have you, which can make gameplay feel a bit stiff and unrealistic.
  4. The art style works. I don't think Yahtzee always gives himself enough credit for his artwork, and claims that the silhouette style in this primarily compensates for his limited skills, but leaving the enemies up to your imagination gives the game an unsettling feeling. There's a decent variety of enemies as well. The music and sound effects are quite good.
  5. The game has a nice deduction game appended to the main dungeon gameplay in which you have to gather clues to figure out which ancient being you're meant to be banishing from the universe and which exact magical incantation you'll need to do so.
  6. It's possibly not as atmospheric as it could be. It certainly is atmospheric in the sense that it gives a nice uneasy feeling of Britain falling under a mysterious darkness that no one really wants to acknowledge, but I feel like it's not as quintessentially "English" as it could be. Admittedly, you can also travel to towns in Wales. I feel like one thing which could benefit the game would be some unique artwork for the random encounters and a little more artwork for the town screens, a bit like the visuals that come up each time you reach a new city in Organ Trail. I need to put a bit more thought into this, and obviously Yahtzee wanted to limit his artwork, but I still feel like this could have helped.
Overall I think 'The Consuming Shadow' is a pretty decent game to play if you've got the inclination. It's spooky and sombre with a definite sense of progression. For a mostly one-man job I think it's very admirable indeed. At the same time, I feel like if someone was to take inspiration from this game for a project of their own, there are a few ideas which could be expanded to really capitalise upon the potential of a concept like this.

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