I have always been a fan of Lovecraftian mythos. Games like Sunless Sea have scratched this itch, whilst games like Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth have brought the wrath of the Old Ones down upon us all through it’s sheer awfulness. There is something about cosmic horror that can turn an average game into an intriguing one and that is certainly the case in The Consuming Shadow. Consuming Shadow is a side-scrolling adventure/horror game recently released by Yahtzee Croshaw, who is better known for his comedic game review series: Zero Punctuation. Yahtzee has previously released a number of games and mods, and this game generally follows his usual theme of British troupes, bucket-loads of gore and a frankly numbing effect from the games narrator/player character’s descriptions of the world around him.
You play the game as a member of the Ministry of Occultism, a wing of the British secret service that focuses on the supernatural forces and how to combat them. In the story, an unknown god is attempting to enter our dimension to commit atrocities ranging from spoiling the milk, all the way to tearing the universe asunder. Our player character must gather clues whilst travelling through England and Wales, stopping at towns to battle horrors summoned from bordering dimensions.
The game-play varies from travelling to different towns, some being friendly allowing you to resupply your medical supplies and pick up ammo for your pistol. It is also possible to purchase a variety of items that can buff your character in certain ways, for example a stab vest can limit the chance of bleeding, and the knee pads can help prevent broken limbs. Certain items can also be found randomly while travelling in the car between towns, which is comprised of a timed fast travel system that can be halted for random events. Random events can just be stopping to pick up an item, or some ammo or supplies, but it also might be an event requiring you to make a choice. Perhaps you need to choose whether or not to stop and help a passer-by, or investigate a burned out ruin for clues or survivors.
There are two bars, health and sanity, that the player must at all times keep as full as possible in order to make it through the game. Attacking enemies can of course lower the health bar, but random events ranging from text messages to encounters with the paranormal can increase or decrease sanity. Taking narcotics can limit the effect of negative sanity effects, though their effectiveness decreases after repeated use.
The meat of the game is in it’s combat and exploration. This mainly occurs when you enter a hostile town or take on a ‘quest’ for a peaceful town. While exploring the area you can encounter enemies or captured civilians to save. The enemies you face come the form of giant flying insects, or humanoid horrors spewing gore or crawling on the ceilings, each enemy having it’s own weaknesses and strengths that players will have to learn in order to survive. The action scenes have your silhouetted character moving with a light bubble around him, moving from room to room, each hidden behind a short loading screen which ups the tension. Enemies are equally silhouetted, leaving a lot to the imagination in terms of what they truly look like, with only their rough outline and wails and moans to frame their ragged forms. The player can choose to shoot enemies, pistol whip them or use a variety of spells to defeat enemies, or they can flee the room at the cost of sanity points.
The point of exploring is mainly to discover clues as to the identity of the invading god, or to rule out other gods in the pantheon. This is achieved by learning the god’s names, runes, colours and affiliations to each other and what they represent. You can choose to keep this information down in an in-game table that can help you narrow down the offending cosmic power. The genius of this is that you can rush to the end of the game and banish the correct god based on nothing but a hunch, or with concrete proof, allowing for random game elements to rule the experience for good or ill.
The game we are left with when all these elements come together is one that oozes atmosphere and a constant feeling of dread. Constantly being bombarded with the terror of enemies or random events in a longer game would eventually wear itself out, and so the relatively short experience of Consuming Shadow is a blessing for maintaining interest in the games ambience. In the game Rocket League, the experience thrives on its shortness. Short bursts of enjoyment that you can pick up and play at your leisure. This is experience is common in most rogue-likes as well, and Consuming Shadow is no exception. This method of game play is something that I have discussed many times previously, but I will reiterate that it allows the game to stay fresh and most importantly never outstay it’s welcome.
The game lacks in many areas, graphics are minimal and jagged at times, which can occasionally throw off the games smoothness. The smoothness is key to the games moulding into background, blurring the lines between the standard, everyday British countryside, and the horrors lurking behind the veil. The seemingly lack of polish in certain sections diminishes this feel but it is to be expected of such a small game, as is more of nitpick to be sure. A real gripe with the game is certain enemies can seem very unfair to deal with, and that simply being unlucky multiple times can ruin multiple runs of the game. Again, this is by and large unavoidable due to the game’s random game mechanics, and much like games similar, some runs are just brutally unfair with no player’s choice being largely at fault. It mainly becomes a real pain when dealing with the game’s attacks on the sanity bar, which can often be so brutal that you just cannot recover from it at all. Same as with the enemy attack patterns thought, it is something that a randomly generated game by it’s very nature cannot control, but many runs were simply halted due to it which spoiled the experience somewhat.
The game however I feel is a great, but understandably short experience worth the time and effort to slog through. Every little triumph leading up to the final climax feels earned and hard fought, or will leave it’s scars on the character’s body and soul that only a quick bullet to the brain is the only way out. The simple fact that killing yourself is something that is actually a game feature, requiring a lot of button clicks to avoid is a suitably disturbing option. The game is an enjoyable journey through the dark corners of the universe, and a game that can hold your attention where other more polished experiences will lose it after a few hours.