Circus Reviews - The Consuming Shadow

This review was written about an earlier version of this game; newer features have since been added and are not mentioned in this review.

This review has been edited from its original posting.

I'm not ordinarily much of a WASD game player, nor a survival horror player. But I do like the works of Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw quite a lot, and in my completely unobsessive followings of his website I found that he was creating a new game called The Consuming Shadow. It came out a couple days ago, with a launch discount on a special edition that included his two published novels, Mogworld and Jam, both of which I've been meaning to read. Plus, I was kind of vaguely hoping for another game to critique while I wait to publish the Cursed Sight review. And maybe it would be useful for the Internet to have the perspective of a survival horror shooter WASD game thing from someone who almost never plays any of those. And maybe I have writer's block on those games I'm supposed to be working on. Sigh. Your protagonist is a possibly crazy man who, through dubious and randomly generated means, learns that a god is trying to invade the world, the effects of which are seen through a shadow spreading throughout the land. You have sixty hours to figure out which god is invading, learn how to banish it, and make it to Stonehenge, the site where you must perform the ritual that will save the world. Along the way, you must find clues to help you along your journey, save towns that are about to fall to the shadow, help your fellow terrified civilians, carefully manage your limited resources, and somehow keep yourself sane, lest you fall victim to your own gun.

The core of gameplay is wandering around dungeons killing monsters and searching for the clues you need to successfully identify and banish the invading god. Clues can only be found in dungeons, and they appear randomly; you may find five clues in one dungeon and none in the next, so sometimes you'll be depending on the smiles of the random number god. Combat is rather difficult and punishing, and there's no way to avoid it; your sanity meter takes a hit if you leave a room with monsters still alive in it, and sanity is a precious resource that is tough to restore; lose too much sanity and your button prompts will occasionally turn into an option to kill yourself, which then forces you to, as Yahtzee himself would say, press X to not die. (Or, you know, click the mouse.) The most effective way of fighting is with a gun, but ammo is tough to find. Relying solely on melee attacks means you'll almost certainly take a hit to your health. Spells are effective but decrease your sanity a bit when you use them. All of the above means you'll die. A lot. Again and again. Thankfully, dying doesn't completely reset everything. After each death, you gain experience points, and with each level, you can place another "birth star" before each game, which grants you boosts to stats like health, sanity, car speed, lockpicking, and more. You also keep diary pages and monster info that you've found. This and some dialogue from the protagonist implies that each timeline is actually happening, and the protagonist is in a kind of Groundhog Day Loop until he banishes the god correctly, which kind of makes the whole constant insanity thing make sense.

Also, remember that time limit I mentioned? It comes into play in a big way. Real time is in effect in the dungeons, but it goes a lot faster when you're traveling. Searching for supplies, taking random side missions, helping people out...These all take time, and things won't be good if you run out of it. I feel like I've spent a lot of time talking about the game itself and not my own thoughts on it, but there's actually a lot to this game. The story is well-developed, if hard to get to thanks to the previously mentioned combat system, and the multiple different mechanics work well. I personally had a bit of trouble with the controls at first, but I'm not used to games where I have to try moving and shooting with the keyboard at the same time, being mostly a player of visual novels and Gamecube. The soundtrack and graphics are both perfectly functional and fit well with each other, although I didn't find anything to write home about. All in all, I don't know if I am this game's target audience. I find it very challenging, almost to the point of extreme frustration. I think that the difficulty level is going to be a big turnoff to most people and I wouldn't blame you for getting angry enough at the game to quit playing. But if you can stick with it, it's an interesting experience with a good story and plenty of replay value. I am still playing through it, if only to see what happens if I can one day manage to make it to my objective successfully. Most of the time, though, I end up with this...

The Consuming Shadow is available on Steam and the Humble Store. Purchasing from the Humble Store will also get you e-book copies of Mogworld and Jam. Final verdict: At times the game is too punishing and unbearably difficult, but a well-written story and a ton of replay value may make The Consuming Shadow worth it to the right player. The Consuming Shadow is developed by Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

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