October 30, 2013 8:30 PM | Paul Hack
Minor Key Games' Lovecraft-inspired, first-person roguelike is a perfect Halloween treat. It's spooky, but it's not terrifying or gory. The action is pretty fast-paced, and it's a lot lighter and brighter than either its roguelike or horror roots might suggest. You can certainly play Eldritch as a run'n'gun, once you have the right weapon, but most of the time the pace is more deliberate, and involves mastering multiple gameplay elements.
From a first-person view, you control an amnesiac adventurer who finds themself inside a massive, magical library. This acts as your hub world, and certain enchanted books on pedestals will transport you to even more ethereal realms, where the real action takes place.
The first realm, populated by Deep Ones (fish-people), floating eyeballs, and chanting cultists, among other fiends, is not that difficult, but it's a great place to learn the ropes. The challenge, and the toughness of enemies, ramps up considerably in the next two realms, where you'll encounter creatures straight of Lovecraft, like Shoggoths and li'l Cthulhus, and other nasties from the author's imagination, some of them recalling monsters from pop culture like Slenderman and the Weeping Angels.
The game's controls give you plenty of options, including jumping, sliding, and peeking around corners. At times, Eldritch can feel like a platformer; at others, a stealth game or a first-person shooter. More than anything, it's about exploring a twisty, surreal labyrinth and delving as deep as you can. I spent more time navigating than fighting.
The partially randomly generated mazes are always "fair" to navigate, and the odd geometry and cyclopean architecture feel like sights from Lovecraft's Dreamlands and Outer Realms. Note that this effect is only enhanced by the game's simple, stylized graphics.
I've seen the visuals compared to Minecraft, which I suppose is inevitable with that game's high profile, but I think it's unfair. Cubes and voxel-style graphics existed before Minecraft, and it's a natural evolution from 2-D pixel art. The somewhat blocky, simply textured graphics of Eldritch are wonderfully evocative, adding to the otherworldly atmosphere and also suggestive of an arcade experience. And of course, Eldritch plays nothing at all like Minecraft
There are so many different ways to approach the game and different techniques you can use to get through it. You can concentrate on brawling or become a sharpshooter or a mad bomber, you can carefully seek out paths or just blow holes in the environment to create new ones, you can sneak around in the shadows to evade or stalk enemies or you can run and leap around like a madman to get past them. You can even throw a rock to misdirect a patrolling enemy.
You can buy items in shops to aid you in your preferred gameplay style. It's a good idea to plan for a couple of different techniques, because your chosen approach could fail as soon as you meet a new monster. There's also quite a bit of magic to learn and use, and spells provide even more ways to survive the labyrinths. Combat is generally quick and dirty, and can happen close-up or from a distance, and is sometimes best avoided. You'll get to know the various denizens of these deep realms and learn which ones you can beat with what you're currently carrying. Weapons and items are fairly precious, because when you die, you'll only keep the things you've locked away in a bank chest.
I played the alpha of Eldritch, and the final version has polished up some of the rough edges to make the game an even more immersive experience. If you know what a Shoggoth and an Old One are, you're probably already buying this game, but it's really an excellent adventure for anyone who enjoys first-person action and an original presentation.
Beating the game unlocks New Game +, which is essentially a hardcore difficulty level. If Eldritch was too easy for you, then New Game + should satisfy. I quite enjoyed the slow, almost leisurely increase in difficulty. It was more of a jolt when things started getting really deadly, and it helped gradually immerse me in the unique world and tasty mix of gameplay styles offered by this excellent game.
There's a Halloween sale going on right now, and you can get Eldritch for 20% off its $14.99 asking price. It's currently available for Windows, with Mac and Linux versions on the way.