The Consuming Shadow may give a bad first impression. It was evident from the first trailers that the game did not look great. I might have a strange love for early 2000s flash game visuals, but there is no denying that the visuals are really not great for a £10 game. This is what most people will talk about when they discuss The Consuming Shadow, and it is something that should be discussed. However, if you can get past the visuals and the few mechanical missteps, you will find a rather enjoyable little roguelike with a fantastically unique tone.
You take the role of "The Scholar," a man sat alone in a darkened room contemplating suicide as he gets closer to discovering the secret of the "shadow" that has fallen over Great Britain. After studying ancient runes and scripture, he has come to realize that the heart of darkness lies at Stonehenge, a prehistoric stone monument in the south of England. After trawling through notes and books on dark magic, he discovers an incantation is required to banish the god responsible for invading our realm. Not only that, but he has 3 days to travel across the country and discover the spell that will stop the evil consuming Great Britain.
Playing like a mixture of Oregon Trail and Lone Survivor, The Consuming Shadow is likely to fulfill a niche. If you do happen to fall into this rather small camp that enjoys both, you will find a mish-mash of familiar mechanics that actually function very well together. There is very little direction given to you at the beginning outside of basic controls, and it's up to you to figure a lot of things out for yourself.
The gameplay is a little basic; when you investigate a new area, you enter a 2d side scrolling perspective where you explore random areas of possessed towns. You will generally be asked to eliminate monsters from the area or save trapped civilians. While the gameplay is functional, it is definitely nothing to write home about. Most of the time you will be running back and forth past enemies trying to hit them with your pitiful melee attack to save ammunition or just avoiding confrontations all together. However, the combat itself is definitely not the focus point of the game. In The Consuming Shadow, you are given the decision at every encounter to make a trade off between health, bullets or your sanity.
This dichotomy is a key part of the game. The Consuming Shadow creates a sense of never actually being able to "win." This adds very well to the feeling of dread and inevitability. There is very rarely a "right way" to do things—every choice has a positive and negative consequence. Do you want to waste precious bullets on killing this monster, kill it with melee and lose more health, or do you want to run away and lose precious sanity? This trade off fits very well with the tone of the game, creating a situation where, even if you do beat the game, you will do so as a drugged up hobbling shell of a human.
In a similar vein to games like Eternal Darkness, it is very important to maintain your sanity. If not, you will be subjected to hallucinations, the background music will become distorted and a wealth of other effects that I don't want to spoil. I particularly enjoyed the effect sanity had on the UI. Occasionally, dialogue options and other UI elements will momentarily flash "kill myself," forcing you to wrestle the gun away from your own head. While this is not a wholly original premise, I've never seen a game that made browsing the dialogue options tense.
Another mechanic The Consuming Shadow brings to the table is that of good old fashioned mystery solving. This was the first game in a while where I actually needed to have a notepad beside me to record some of the hints I came across. While the game provides you with a rudimentary notepad, I jumped at the opportunity to record some of the more subtle hints on pen and paper. I actually found myself sitting for a good 15 minutes at the last section of the game ensuring that I had all the information I needed. This may be a turn off to some, but it was a welcome change that harkened back to the adventure games of old.
While The Consuming Shadow has some very obvious influences, the way in which they all come together is wholly unique. This is a solid effort from a single man dev team and, while that doesn't ultimately matter to the consumer, it's very apparent that this game is a product of a single mind. An Auteur project if you will. There is no denying that this is definitely a rough game. However, it holds the same charm that the Nicklas Nygren games hold for me in which the world and atmosphere presented are so wonderfully unique and were obviously the result of a single auteur that I can't help but be fond of it.
The Old English horror themes with a little dash of Lovecraft for good measure creates a wonderful atmosphere somewhere between the Wickerman, Silent Hill and Shadow over Innsmouth. This rather unique brand of horror is in my opinion the game's strongest point. The decision to set the game in a weird, slightly distorted version of England, completely in shadow, with random horrors always just out of your view was greatly appreciated.
One of the biggest complaints about roguelikes as a whole is that, no matter how well you do at the game, you are always at the whim of the random events. However, having a pure horror setting for a roguelike is one of the most effective uses for the random and permadeath features I can think off. The whole idea of an overwhelming evil gives a narrative reason for the sometimes insane amount of opposition you run into. The random occurrences in the story do seem a little repetitive. A lot of these events presented to you are purely in text form and you are asked to choose what you think would be the best outcome. Within my first few games I had come across the scenario in which a man is kitting out his car more than a couple of times, and there are a few other scenarios that were similarly repetitive. Not knowing the exact amount of scenarios in the game, it could always be bad luck.
With The Consuming Shadow having a large reliance on writing, It would be very easy for a game like this to fall into the trap of being overly verbose, but the writing is relatively sound. As the graphics aren't anything to write home about, the game makes up for it in its flavour text, from descriptions of situations, the enemies, and more. As with some of the most effective aspects of psychological horror, the writing leaves your mind to wander about what might be happening instead of outright showing you.
The question is whether you think this is worth the £10 asking price. There seems to be a fair amount of content and replay value available. There are 4 playable characters, each with their own unique gameplay tweaks, such as starting with more money, having a shorter time limit in which to complete the game, and so on. Having unlocked 2 out of the possible 4, I can say that the changes are enough to keep the game feeling fresh and interesting.
People expect a certain level of quality when spending over a certain amount on an indie game. I can completely see why some people will disregard this title, but for those of you who have a very niche interest in old western psychological horror lore and that feeling of utter helplessness and despair in games like Silent Hill, you might want to give The Consuming Shadow a go.
The Consuming Shadow was obtained from the developer and reviewed on the PC.
The Consuming Shadowcan be obtained at the humble store.
A very niche horror title with a few floors that don't cripple the overall experience. Recommended to fans of horror narrative and roguelikes.