Gloomwood Snuck Its Way Into My Heart

Published: September 16, 2022 11:00 AM /

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There just doesn't seem to be many stealth games nowadays, but maybe that's because they are excruciatingly hard to create. Well, co-developers Dillon Rogers and David Szymanski make it look easy, as they flawlessly executed one of the most immersive stealth experiences to date, and it's only just starting its Early Access!

Gloomwood's Early Access takes players through the very beginning stages of the game. You'll explore three separate areas: a fishery, cave system, and lighthouse area. Your goal is to simply sneak your way across these levels, avoid (or dispatch) guards, and soak up the atmosphere in this immersive sim.

Were enemies alive, I would be in plain site.

Gloomwood's Its Own Game

They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery, so it's easy to tell the folks at New Blood Interactive are fans of the Thief series. New Blood's even gone as far as to market the game as "Thief with Guns," but I think that's doing Gloomwood a bit of a disservice. While it shares many aspects of this legendary immersive sim, Gloomwood pulls a few moves to stand among its peers as one of the greats of the immersive sim genre.

But yes, there are plenty of similarities between the two games. Stealth is the focus over combat in Thief, and that gameplay philosophy remains here in Gloomwood. In Gloomwood, you're not going to focus solely on the sightlines of guards. Noise is a huge factor; in fact, every surface has a unique sound to it. Wood is slightly more quiet than metal but it creaks, while metal is undeniably the loudest with its clunky, piercing tones. Carpet, or even piles of corpses, are the least loud and muffle your steps, but these areas of sound solace are few and far between.

More important when sneaking in Gloomwood is light, just as it was with Thief. This is a very dark game and the levels in Early Access take place during nighttime, yet the deliberate placement of lights such as lanterns and candles allows for guards to see anyone foolish enough to step into their radius. You're able to take snuff out candles or alter the lighting in certain areas to avoid guards, but sometimes that just isn't a possibility. One very clever use of lighting was through a lighthouse. The lighthouse's ray would rotate -- as lighthouses do -- and give me a brief window to move without being illuminated. I hope the developers continue to use clever techniques like this to add more strategy to the stealth.

I'm not the most organized person, but messing around with the inventory sure is fun.

The indicator for how visible you are is cleverly displayed through a special ring on your character's finger. The more light you're in, the brighter the ring shines. Without any other UI element to speak of, Gloomwood's minimal approach to stealth allows for an even more immersive experience. Differing itself from the games it takes inspiration from, Gloomwood's interactive inventory is a fun mechanic to deal with. You set down a briefcase and all your items are displayed before you in a grid, with some items taking up more space than others. Players either love or hate inventory management like this, but I'm definitely a proponent of it. There's just enough space for what you need without it being too bothersome in Gloomwood, but you still have to pick and choose what to keep and what to throw away. I especially enjoy the act of unpacking each individual bullet from a box of ammo and manually adding them to my revolver.

Oh, that's right, there are guns. If you're just a little bit adventurous and lack tunnel vision, you should be able to find a gun to use in Gloomwood. The most common of these is a revolver, which takes out guards in a couple of hits from a reasonable range. It's useful, sure, but also loud, so there's a trade-off. I also found a shotgun that tears through these guards. I hope to find even more guns as Gloomwood gets updated -- it'd be cool to see a powerful sniper rifle that has very limited ammo and takes up a lot of space. There are a lot of possibilities by adding guns into the mix, so I'm sure the developers are cooking up something great.

When all else fails, however, it's safe to lean on ol' reliable, the cane sword. This sword is long and pierces enemies after charging it for a duration, but it also slashes. Sword fights in Gloomwood aren't nearly as convoluted as it is in Thief (thankfully), but it's also pitifully easy to charge up, backstab an enemy and go on your way. The developers are already showing off an upcoming breastplate for enemies, which should alleviate any concerns over this sword getting too overpowered. I'm uncertain if there are plans for more non-lethal options to knock out guards like the blackjack in Thief, but it would be intriguing to see something similar.

Lock and load. Tear some bad guys apart with this shotgun!

Gloomwood's Staggering Interconnectivity

The way in which Gloomwood's levels are created is rather open-ended, with several different paths leading forward to the next area. It's particularly impressive to see how all three areas are connected to one another. I like to think of it like Dark Souls, where an elevator will take you from an early area of the game to a very late one. Here, I found a path connecting me from the lighthouse area -- which was several hours into this build -- right back to the starting area. It adds to the already incredible amount of immersion.

Droning on about how immersive Gloomwood is would be a bit repetitive at this rate, but I can't help but admire how atmospheric the game is, despite being a very, very dark game. The cave system has this extra bit of detail on the walls where bright, almost star-like lights twinkle. The lighthouse area shows a Victorian town in the distance, lighting up the night sky. It's all so well done, and I can't help but think of how difficult it is to create visuals in this retro style while feeling so fresh and vibrant.

Be a good dog, now.

The save system is the only aspect of Gloomwood I have real issues with. You'll save at various phonographs throughout these levels, but these savepoints aren't scattered everywhere and can only be found in certain areas. The interconnectivity of Gloomwood's levels helps players get to phonographs easier, but I find it to be very inconvenient.  I understand the intent to add challenges so that you can't just save scum your way through every encounter; still, people are busy, and so am I. I can see myself becoming frustrated at the fact that if I die in-game or accidentally skip over a phonograph, a lot of progress can be lost. Not to mention, sometimes real-life business comes up and you have to drop a game -- it would be a damn shame to lose a bunch of progress because you ran out of time.

I knew Gloomwood was going to be good, but seeing it for myself helped affirm that. While its Thief inspirations are undeniable, pick up and play Gloomwood on its own merits. The exceptional stealth gameplay and atmosphere, as well as a few new ideas thrown into the mix, make Gloomwood a dream come true for stealth fans.

TechRaptor previewed Gloomwood on Steam's Early Access on PC with a copy provided by the publisher.

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