Whenever I hear the word “rougelite” my brain races back to one specific title. It’s not the first game or even hands down the best that the genre has to offer, but one that I have a love/hate relationship with – The Binding of Isaac. For me, it’s a game that hit the bullseye in terms of balancing difficulty, randomness, and risk/reward style gameplay like few others, and is the standard that I feel any other release in the genre should aspire to be. No matter how badly I fail, I still get back into it now and again a number of years after the first time I booted it up. Where does the newest rougelite, Lovecraft’s Untold Stories stack up against it? Let’s dig a little deeper into the depths of madness to find out.
Incorporating RPG elements, twin-stick shooting, and a level of storytelling that is unheard of in the genre, Lovecraft’s Untold Stories is a rougelite that feels completely new, yet familiar at the same time. You begin the game as a detective investigating an eerie mansion that descends into the bowels of the estate, taking a one way trip into the mouth of madness. Success will find you unlocking additional characters, complete with their own narrative and unique character abilities; failure… failure will have you screaming like a madman. The game spans multiple locales in a pixel art style that delivers an experience that feels akin to Silent Hill or Resident Evil if they had been produced for the Sega Genesis era (believe me, the screenshots don’t do it justice).
Shifting the main focus away from combat (yes, it is a thing, but we’ll get there), the game uses exploration, inventory management, light puzzle solving, and the avoidance of traps as the primary mechanics. Early into the game the difficulty is lacking, or to be quite honest, nonexistent. You’ll enter the sprawling, procedurally generated mansion to find some of the most dastardly targets known to man – inanimate objects, just waiting for you to unload on them with your trusty boomstick or melee attack. Literally, every room has at least three or four objects you can and probably should interact with or destroy, simply to loot the contents found within. Every so often you will encounter other relics that you cannot destroy, only interact with, that usually offer some sort of RPG style choice system – select the right option, and no harm, no foul, you move on about your day; select the wrong option and you’ll likely impact your sanity. These were the main drivers pushing me forward, allowing me to read spine chilling tales of the nefarious events happening in the mansion and surrounding locations.
As you progress, traps and environmental hazards become more and more of a pressing issue, even more so than the enemies thrown at you. One wrong step and spikes will shoot out of the ground causing you to bleed profusely, requiring you to use specific healing items or watch as your life bar slowly ticks away before your eyes. The same can be said for a stray bullet hitting an explosive or acidic barrel too close to your protagonist, or later into the game, coming from specific enemy attacks. These challenges are nothing new, but can feel a bit heavy-handed due to multiple issues – the DPS effect lasts entirely too long, and the awkward placement due to what I am assuming is the procedurally generated areas is often punishing thanks to the inability to make it past an obstacle without intentionally taking damage. The worst offender is the way the hazards deceptively blend into the backdrops due to the art design. The same can be said for your sanity, which will be impacted by certain enemies remaining on the screen too long or interacting with the objects I mentioned previously. If you ignore this mechanic entirely, which I attempted to do for sheer entertainment value, tentacles will slowly creep into the border of the screen, becoming more and more prevalent. Upon reaching your character’s breaking point, they will often hunch over and kill themselves in some downright terrifying displays of pixel-horror violence.
Coming in as what seems to be an afterthought, combat is present, but not really anything spectacular. As if it was showing up unfashionably late to the party, the first few levels rarely include any enemy forces (maybe one to four of the rooms that make up the huge set pieces). The default character comes equipped with a painfully slow to shoot/reload shotgun that can be upgraded if you’re lucky/skilled enough to beat a boss and unlock said upgrades. While it mows down certain enemies with ease, it’s not until the third level that combat becomes more than an occasional instance, and once it does, the combination of the traps and various forms of monsters, cult members, and Gods will often pose too much of a challenge to proceed.
Death is handled uniquely in the world of Lovecraft’s Untold Stories – in certain instances, you’ll be revived, with your inventory in place at a random interval on the map, and other times you’ll be given the option to completely restart the game or simply restart at the beginning of the area, with a new procedurally generated layout in place. I love this option, as one of the few things I hate about BoI is that I seem to always make it a bit further on my runs, but rarely see the ending of the game. This could’ve been improved upon by allowing you to save your progress on current runs, as some of the areas are simply gigantic, with 20+ rooms making up the entirety of the level, often taking exorbitant amounts of time if you’re someone who likes to check over the entire level for upgrades and the like.
While it fails to topple my favorite rougelite, Lovecraft’s Untold Stories succeeds in delivering a solid, challenging experience that is stuffed to the brim with Lovecraftian lore that will send any fan of the subject manner or the gaming genre into frenzied madness.
9 out of 10
- Enormous Levels
- Tons of Lovecraftian Lore to Uncover
- RPG Aspects
- Slow to Start Combat
- DPS Effects
- Lack of a Save Feature Mid Level
Lovecraft’s Untold Stories was developed by LLC Blini Games and published by BadLand Publishing. It released on PC in January 2019, and later on NS, PS4, and X1 May 10th, 2019. The game was provided to us for review on PS4 and X1. If you’d like to see more of Lovecraft’s Untold Stories, check out its Steam page.
Here at GBG we use a rating method that you are more than likely familiar with – a scale of 1 to 10. For clarification, we intend on using the entire scale: 1-4 is something you should probably avoid paying for; 5-7 is something that is worth playing, but probably not at full price; 8-10 is a great title that you can feel confident about buying. If you have any questions or comments about how we rate a game, please let us know.