Sex is one of the most transgressive subjects any creative medium can indulge in. Some of gaming's most notorious controversies are mired in it: Custer's Revenge, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the original Mass Effect all were condemned for daring to include such adult fornication in their titles. The medium has evolved and progressed in many ways, but there is still an ongoing debate over such material over whether or not it's in good taste. Then there's Lust From Beyond: Scarlet, an erotic cosmic-horror game that seems to be leaning into the taboo nature for its horror elements... and ultimately ends up feeling shallow and hollow at best.
Billed as a sort of preview to a much bigger title in the future, Lust From Beyond: Scarlet has a pretty rote horror scenario set up. You play as Alan, a man who has been plagued by horrible nightmares of some horrific other world, that coincidentally is leading him to indulge in multiple one-night stands. One of those meet-ups leads him to an abandoned theater, and it turns out the lady of the evening he is after is part of a cult who believes Alan is the key to accessing another dimension full of eldritch terrors. Alan is captured, experiments happen, and cosmic existential hijinx ensue.
The big selling point that helps Lust From Beyond: Scarlet stand out is that this particular cult isn't just about arcane magic and dark robes, but their rituals involve ceremonial orgies and sexual acts. All in complete view with motion-captured performances a plenty. If you can imagine a mix of Hellraiser's torture sequences with the debauched spectacle of the group from Eyes Wide Shut then you have an idea of what this group is all about.
I can't vouch for everyone over whether or not this sort of material is offensive or damaging, but my personal experience with the game was a combo of being put-off by the awkwardness and slightly offended at the implementation. The inherent issue of putting something like sex into an interactive form is the artifice of the format, pushing buttons and wiggling sticks, just doesn't translate to what is an otherwise deeply intimate act, which can just feel wrong. Lust From Beyond: Scarlet clearly wants to milk that uncanny valley for some of its horror sections, but how it is handled is amateur at best.
The greatest example I can give within good taste is when the game introduces a sanity mechanic. If Alan sees something messed up or inhuman, his mental health ticks down. This was demonstrated when I saw a human body broken apart on a catherine wheel, fully naked and exposed. The game did an obnoxious zoom in and put a grainy filter over the screen just to emphasize how messed up the sight was. Fast-forward to an escape sequence that happens later on where you find the bodies of several women, also naked and brutalized ( content warning for victims out there) and the sanity system didn't bat an eye.
Even the game's most touted interactive sex scenes feel present for a cheap knee-jerk reaction. Despite all of the hours of work that went into animated and polishing the appearance of these acts, they mostly boil down to quick-time-event sequences and are just used to transport Alan to a fleshy and gross other world for the more traditional horror sections.
This might be Lust From Beyond: Scarlet's most damning issue. Strip away all of the explicit sexual content, and what you have left is a barely passable survival horror experience. There are a few decent key-hunting puzzles and at least two stealth sections – complete with unreliable and sketchy enemy AI – peppered throughout the game's two-hour run time. The sanity mechanic is barely a factor, the voice-acting and audiovisual presentation are patchy at best, there isn't anything going on in the story aside from the simple shock of what the cult does, and the whole thing ends before it gets going.
Part of this is intentional since Lust From Beyond: Scarlet is meant to be a teaser, but the experience still feels uneven by those standards. There were some elements I did like, the gnarled and unsettling alternate dimension sections have some solid art direction behind them and the androgynous, bestial look of the demons there toe the line between perverse and horrifying. I just hope that in whatever form the proper follow-up takes, it learns some crucial lessons from this initial foray into this dicey subgenre of horror.
TechRaptor played Lust From Beyond: Scarlet on PC using a copy provided by the developer.