I’m scared, I’ve already been given the option to shoot myself. The shadow is approaching and only I seem to realise it. I set out on a dark road, hunting for the banishing ritual for an unknown god. I have three days, six bullets, twenty pounds and hordes of unspeakable horrors to encounter.

The Consuming Shadow is a dark and unsettling Lovecraftian horror that is inspired by games like FTL: Faster Than Light and Eternal Darkness, as well as board games like Arkham Horror, according to developer Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw – of Zero Punctuation fame. It is currently in beta, although there’s no concrete release date. I imagine there won’t ever be since it’s freeware and he’s doing it by himself.

The Consuming Shadow is slow-paced, spooky and thoughtful; it feels like a game that’s had a lot of design and care go into it, an aspect sadly lacking in many games at the moment. I spent most of my time on the road, travelling from town to town, watching the small window into the world provided by my headlights and the countdown to the apocalypse ticking away faster than I’d like.

The Consuming Shadow

When I got to a town, depending on whether it had been infested by the shadow or not, I could either look for work, visit the hospital, visit the black market or fight back the Shadow by entering a dungeon. The dungeons are randomly generated side-scrolling mazes picked out, appropriately, by shadowy silhouettes as I explored. The objectives varied between clearing out minions, finding survivors (or not, welcome to horror) or defeating a boss — usually a big blobby minion with a lot of health. At one point I was kidnapped and had to escape from one, which was a nice wrinkle and made me change up my careful and methodical exploration for a more “Sod it! Head for an edge!” approach.

Whenever I completed a dungeon I was rewarded with either a hint about which of the three possible gods I needed to banish or a clue about which arcane syllables I should utter in order to banish the offending monstrosity. It’s a great frame because I really had no idea how to solve the problem the game presented me with. I couldn’t just shoot my way to the end, or brute force the puzzle, I had to carefully scour the country to get even the merest inkling of what I might have to do to stop the end of the world. The game doesn’t just not show me the monster, I didn’t even know which monster I should be afraid of to begin with.

That’s indicative of something it gets so right, an aspect that is pretty much finished, even in this early build: atmosphere. It is grim and dingy; claustrophobic and oppressive. The mournful bong of the hours slipping away and the grainy VHS-style visuals sap your will and drain away the constitution. The insanity effects are excellent and this is where it displays the Eternal Darkness inspiration with pride. The screen fuzzes out, illusionary monsters appear, lights begin to flicker and, my personal favourite, the buttons will flash between their intended option and “Shoot Yourself,” causing the careless to prematurely and messily end their investigation.

Consuming Shadows - Gunshot.

Once your life is snuffed out, which I found happens pretty damn quickly, your progress will ripple throughout the multiverse. So although that reality may be consumed by the Shadow, the next you will have a slight advantage: a faster car, more health etc. Subsequent journeys are slightly easier, but not much.

There are also some thing which certainly need improving though. The writing is solid, as you would expect from Croshaw, although the random events that can occur are limited at the moment so you’ll be reading the same things a lot. The controls are being improved and keyboard support was added in the latest iteration but things are still a little clunky. Some enemies are so nippy that you might as well let them hit rather than waste the bullets wrestling with the mouse.

You can download The Consuming Shadow here.

If you are interested, Croshaw put out the explanation to some of his design choices here.

About The Author

Contributor

Ben is pretty damned nerdy. If he isn't playing video games, then he's probably rolling some dice to hit goblins and thugs or designing, running and crewing a host of LARP systems. He lives in Brighton, because it's nice there. You can follow him on twitter @benrlmeredith

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