My first experience with Lovecraftian horror was a game for the original Xbox called Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. From that point on, I started reading the horror author’s fiction and loved the vast mythos that he and others have created surrounding beings beyond our understanding.
Lovecraft’s Untold Stories on the PS4 seeks to capture this magic in an action roguelite that tasks you with taking on several of the mythos’ most terrifying monstrosities, all while keeping your mind and your sanity intact. Does playing this game capture that kind of existential horror, or will it simply drive you mad? Let’s find out.
A Careful Balance Between Curiosity and Chaos
Lovecraft’s Untold Stories has a wonderful first impression that offers a deep-voiced narrator explaining the lore behind the game’s heroes. These are the people who dared to fight back against these elder beings that once ruled over the chaos of the young universe, and if the stories are to be believed, will do so again.
You start with access to one character, a detective, but you’ll have the capacity to play as five different characters total. Each character travels through five distinct locations, collecting information and battling unfathomable creatures in their pursuit of the ancient gods that threaten our very existence.
For such a lofty premise, the game has a smaller scope than you would imagine. As you make your way through the randomly generated levels you’ll come across side objectives and mini-events that offer additional lore and information about the larger story.
There’s a balance here, however, as many of these situations will cause a loss of sanity. Let it go too low and your character kills themselves on the spot. There are ways to combat the loss and get around it in some cases, but the price of knowledge is indeed steep in this game.
It’s true to form for Lovecraftian horror, but if you’re short on dark chocolate (one of the items that raises sanity), it can force you to skip out on valuable story to avoid the risk of a game over. Despite this, I really liked how the story was handled and distributed here. You don’t see this kind of attention to detail in most roguelites, which focus more on a thematic theme and not an ongoing story or expanding lore.
Overall, the story, writing style, and general tone all match up perfectly with Lovecraftian horror. The mechanic of gathering lore and knowledge to bolster your mind against the horrors that await is also a worthy goal that permeates well throughout the experience.
From a gameplay perspective, you’ll play from an isometric angle and control movement and attacks with the analog sticks. Other abilities like dodge or throwing items are assigned to the triggers, while items can be placed in a hot bar on the bottom of the screen and assigned to d-pad directions.
The randomized nature of the levels makes for a high replay-value, especially since you’ll need to play through each character’s levels more than once to see and do everything (for reasons like the sanity I mentioned earlier). Items can be stored in a hub area for subsequent playthroughs, and there are plenty of different things to find, equip, and utilize to turn the battle in your favor.
Gameplay feels smooth and responsive, with only minor hitches during chaotic firefights. With three difficulties to choose from, it’s also relatively easy to find a style that fits your skills and patience.
The only thing that frustrated me were the environmental traps, which are often hard or near-impossible to spot. Spike traps, for example, not only do damage, but also cause a bleeding effect. Bandages are also in painfully short supply from my experience.
There were simply too many of these traps and the random generation sometimes put them in corners or behind pillars which made them feel unfair. It wasn’t a huge issue, but it did cause me a few untimely deaths.
In the end, Lovecraft’s Untold Stories is a fun, fast-paced, and loyal adaptation of this lore that is finding its way more and more into gaming. Even the obscure references, like a great Reanimator moment, all point to a lovingly crafted experience.
Pixel Art That Goes the Extra Mile
The art style in Lovecraft’s Untold Stories is a detailed pixel art that combines robust animations with excellent creature design and smooth implementation. There’s just enough detail to keep things understandable, and sound effects that add plenty of tension and atmosphere.
The end result is a game that fully embraces its source material and provides some fast and frantic gameplay. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but with so many things going right, it’s doesn’t need to worry about anything but keeping us safe from insanity.
Final Score: 8.5/10
A copy of Lovecraft’s Untold Stories was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 5/21/19