I often wonder if Lovecraft's corpse gets tired of being trotted out whenever someone is looking for an easy basis for their indie horror game. Then I think that it doesn't matter if he's tired, the stupid racist cu.... never mind. The Shore is an indie horror game and the first game to be constructed by the Ares Dragonis, a 3D artist based out of Greece. It also has at least one foot in the swamp of cosmic horror, the sub-genre that Lovecraft himself created, and the rest of the universe has continually driven into the ground since the early 1900s.
The Shore tells the tale of a fisherman, seemingly washed up on the mysterious shore of a black-sanded island. With no real clue about what is going on besides some occasional cryptic hints, your main goal is to discover what's going on and presumably to try and figure out some way off of this hunk of rock before you start talking to volleyballs. To aid you in your quest, you have an inventory of world-building and puzzle items and nothing between you and freedom but a whole slew of puzzles...sort of.
The first thing that'll probably leap to your attention when you boot The Shore is just how damn good it looks. It's not hard to see that Ares Dragonis is a 3D artist, as the design and textures of the world are truly stunning. From the black sand and stone to the more cosmic entities that you explore in later levels, this is the sort of game that was really crying out for a photo mode. Honestly, with a world that looks this good, I think I'd probably have been happy just wandering around and slowly exploring this island for a couple of hours.
Regardless of what I would have been happy with, the reality of the game had to pull me up sharply at some point. Not only is the gameplay closer to a cross between a scavenger hunt and hide-and-seek, but "a couple of hours" was probably being a little generous. In actually, most of your time in The Shore is actually spent shooting cosmic horror lasers from your hand and running away from monsters that run just fast enough that it's not quite possible to escape from them with your skin intact.
On that note, if you're planning on playing The Shore any time soon, I highly recommend you avoid using a controller. While it works mostly fine for the puzzle-solving if you can even call it that, when it comes to the later sprinting sections, it's completely useless. You need to 180 sharply to slow down monsters long enough for you to escape, then 180 again to keep running while they're dazed. Unfortunately, even with the sensitivity maxed out, the turn speed on the controller is incredibly slow, basically making using the controller a non-option.
Not that things improve much with the keyboard and mouse controls. You're still solving puzzles that are various flavors of "put the thing on the other thing" or "keep pressing things until something happens." There's very little logic on display here, as most of the time, you're interacting with cosmic machinery clearly intended for use by creatures with around 20 tentacles. In most cases, you just need to find the thing the game wants you to point your camera at and click on it, then repeat that until the screen fades to black.
While The Shore does have some strong visuals, they become a bit of a pain at times. During chase segments, the very realistically cosmically-drafted textures on the walls and floors make the paths all start to blend together. In most cases, you're basically sprinting through a maze, so having it difficult to tell where you've been or are going to makes these a nightmare of attrition. In the end, I got my way through most of them by leaping forwarding and hoping I could 180 fast enough that my space laser stopped me from being molested.
Then there's the combat. At various points throughout the game, you're called on to fight monsters, which essentially consists of pressing the use key to shoot a laser and holding it on the enemy long enough for it to disappear. In short, this feels bloody awful. There's no weight behind the laser, nor any particular challenge in taking out the enemies, so it just feels horrible to do. Things don't improve when you get to a boss fight which is the same thing you've been doing for ages, just on a slightly bigger scale.
Even if the gameplay is a bit drab, the visuals are decent, and so is the music and general atmosphere, so a decent story could really have saved this game. Unfortunately, decent isn't on the menu, but it is at least competent. At the start, it seems to mostly be about the fate of a previous group of sailors who ended up stuck on the island, with several of them having opposing views of the strange things they find. By the end, this thread has been dropped completely, with the focus shifting entirely to the main character and his daughter.
The problem with that switch is that the fate of the other sailors was much more interesting. Neither the main character nor his daughter is given much characterization, so when you're called on to feel any sort of emotion for either of them, it's a bit of a struggle to do so. This all culminates in an ending that is barely a single step above the old Super Mario Bros 2 "it was all a dream" ending that would have annoyed me if it hadn't taken me barely more than an hour to get to it.
I suppose the final pertinent question about The Shore as a horror game is whether it's scary or not. Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding no, and unlike most cases, I don't think that it has anything to do with being acclimatized to the genre. I think the biggest giveaway to why the game fails to scare comes when around the first 30 minutes of the game, Cthulhu is just straight up on-screen, very obviously, which is the same way 90% of the other monsters are presented as well.
Overall, that's probably the biggest failing of The Shore. Like many Lovecraft-inspired games, it fundamentally misunderstands the point of cosmic horror. Cthulhu isn't supposed to be scary because he's a giant green, tentacle-faced monster. Cthulhu is scary because he is a cosmic entity whose very visage is so beyond the realms of human comprehension that even to glance upon it is to break the fragile mortal mind of mankind. That entire facet of this type of horror is lost when you have them parading around on-camera and fully voice-acted in English.
At the end of the day, there are reasons why you'd want to play The Shore. It looks stunning and was clearly put together with a decent amount of love and dedication. At the very least, it proves that Ares Dragonis and the other people who worked on this game wanted to create something great, and hopefully, they'll all have further careers in gaming waiting ahead of them. But, without any interesting gameplay or storyline to really back up the stunning visuals, the most you'll get out of this experience is some really decent wallpapers.
TechRaptor reviewed The Shore on PC Via Steam with a code provided by the developer.
- Stunning Visuals
- Great Sound and Atmosphere
- Boring "Puzzles"
- Dull Combat
- Uninteresting Story