Monday, March 17, 2014

Depths of Boatmurdered - A free horror game not featuring boats

Free Download
I'll be honest, I don't play very many horror games. My experience is limited to a few hours of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, watching my friend play older Resident Evil games, and seeing a few Let's Plays on Youtube. And while I'm being honest, let me just say that the creator of this game was my college roommate back in the day. But don't think that that means I'm going to go easy on his game; he beat me enough times in Smash Bros. that I've been looking for another outlet to exact my revenge.

Depths of Boatmurdered is a free top-down style horror game inspired by the legendary LP of Dwarf Fortress featured on Something Awful, and from what I've seen of top-down horror games, they seem to mostly consist of wandering around and examining every object until you find an item you need or the correct place to use the items you have. Then sometimes there's a jump-scare or you have to run away from some monster. There's nothing particularly wrong with that setup if the items and solutions are intuitive enough, but it still lacks the interactivity that you'd get in something like a top-down Zelda game.

That's the sort of game I was expecting coming into Depths of Boatmurdered. What are the chances that someone I know actually made a horror game that's anything better than average, right?
Next stop, probable death.
So I started up the game and, lo, and behold, my character has amnesia of some kind. That sure is an epidemic among game characters, isn't it? Fine, whatever, the premise was a bit cliché, but I kept going. After a brief walk in a thunderstorm, I made it into what appeared to be mines, which is where the majority of the game is spent (but that's not to say that the structure and design is without variation). Early on, I collected keys and wooden planks to get across a bridge. It's fairly simple item collection and use, but the items are graciously visible and don't require you to inspect every bookshelf and pot in the game. Also, the game features some lighting effects in combination with a fog of war that hides unexplored areas and rooms in darkness. This may seem like a small detail, but it really makes the game feel well above similar games in presentation and overall quality.
This man- (or dwarf-) made area distinguishes itself from the surrounding natural caves.
As I continued, the game continued to impress me and exceed my expectations. The different areas of the mine managed to still feel distinct, and while the puzzles barring your progress were rarely very challenging, they and the surrounding areas felt like believable parts of the world. For example, there are rooms that serve no purpose to you, the player, but do appear to have served a purpose for whoever used to work in the mine. Also, even with most of the game taking place underground, some areas looked as though excavation was in progress while others appeared to be natural caves which had only started to be explored. Still others looked more residential and functional: houses, graves, and developed structures, as opposed to dirty mines.
Crossbow training. Each bolt must be loaded before it can be fired, so you'd better learn to plan ahead.
The gameplay also develops beyond simply finding and placing items when you acquire a crossbow early on. In good horror game fashion, you have limited ammunition and can only stun enemies with the crossbow, so you'll still feel vulnerable to the various fast (or slow) moving monsters throughout the game. There is a healthy variety of enemies and these are made more frightening by the eerie ambient sounds and crescendo of noise when one is suddenly after you. Each new enemy encounter is a cautious affair, as you don't know how each will react or what will set it off. There are even a few boss fights which are quite epic. I won't spoil them, but there are some other new gameplay elements introduced throughout the game as well to keep things fresh.

The story, on the other hand, only progresses through surreal visions and dream-like transitions and doesn't develop too much beyond a functional shell with which to contain a cool game. While there is closure to the plot in the final moments of the game, you'd be likely to forget that there even was a plot during most of your playthrough. Perhaps some things were references to the Boatmurdered LP series which I wasn't very familiar with.
I played through the whole game for your viewing pleasure, but if you have any interest in playing it, 
don't watch too much of this or else you'll have stuff spoiled for you.
Also, while the ambient background audio and monsters were creepy and offered a few scares, I didn't find the game to be all that horrific most of the time (then again, I was playing during the day). Still, Depths of Boatmurdered is consistently fun to play from beginning to end and contains its fair share of cool, epic, and creepy moments, even if they aren't necessarily the scariest things ever. Guess I don't get to have my revenge for those Smash Bros. games after all.

As of the writing of this review, I have only played the closed beta of the game, but it is already very polished and will be ready for public release within the next week or two. 

It's now available for downloadYou can also follow the game's creator,@Eldiran on Twitter.

For more scary stuff (at least to me as a kid) click this link
Or maybe take a look at the adorably terrifying Amnesia: A Machine for Pugs. That is, if you dare...

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