EARLY ACCESS: Enter the Darkest Dungeon

The darkness is growing ferociously as you cautiously take yet another step into the unknown and sacred ruins. You have lost track of place and time, and supplies are running low. In fact, the last torch has just burned out, and visibility as well as morale and courage has diminished beneath what you considered sanely possible. Yet you cannot abandon the mission. You have gone through too much. You have sacrificed too much and too many.

Your team was flawed. You are flawed, but yet you and your team managed to leave relentless battles against twisted and unimaginable bizarre foes alive – although mentally vulnerable and heavily affected by the increasing psychological stress and paranoia. You are verging on a mental breakdown, and struggle to stop your natural survival instincts of abandoning your team and your mission, but you manage to find the last bit of courage, the last bit of hope, and take yet another step. The darkness thirstily inhales your fears as you approach the next door…

handrwon yyayayaya

Darkest Dungeon features an astonishing hand-drawn atmosphere.

The roguelike-genre has experienced a major renaissance the past few years with hundreds of games released last year alone, and every so often, a game stands out. This is one of them. This is Darkest Dungeon, a challenging roguelike turn-based RPG with innovative and highly intriguing game mechanics by developer Red Hook. It is hard to properly compare the game to others, but in all its essence, Darkest Dungeon remains a visually stunning dungeon-crawler similar to games such as Legends of Grimrock, but with clever and very innovative game mechanics.

The player must lead a team of four flawed heroes through twisted forests, crypts and ruins (the game currently has three completed dungeons, but more dungeons have been announced). Unlike traditional RPG games, all heroes experience psychological pressure as well as their subsequent side effects. The system does not necessarily interfere with the progression nor development however, but when the stress-factor becomes too high it will heavily affect the heroes. Whilst most side-effects are negative and mostly temporary, some effects are positive and will benefit the hero through all future endeavours. Character progression and development thus largely depends on the outcome of the psychological-dice roll.

Character progression is due to the affliction-system highly unique and very interesting.

Character progression is due to the affliction-system highly unique and very interesting.

Players will moreover manage a small village which functions as your party’s headquarters. The various buildings allow the heroes to reduce their stress through either drinking, gambling, medieval treatment, prayer or meditation. Though, every stress-reducing activity is expensive and with the party heavily relying on gear (torches, rations, medicine and bandages) for the next mission it becomes a matter of priorities. Additionally, players need money to fund the heroes’ personal equipment and skills. The many needs for money ultimately encourages the player to take further risks in an attempt to obtain more gold to secure further adventuring.

Darkest Dungeon is still – perhaps quite surprising – in early-access despite feeling like a near-complete game. The graphics and atmosphere is stunning and engrossing, the narration and voice acting is well-made and the gameplay feels reasonably balanced. The combat system is turn-based and heavily relies on positioning and picking the right heroes, skills and items. Failing to do so properly results in a brutal death which due to the roguelike-elements means, worst case scenario, permanently lost heroes (though, the player may abandon a mission, but doing so generates no gold to cover the restoration of the remaining heroes’ physical and mental health). With an announced six months of early-access-mode and dedicated developers, the game is bound to receive plenty of updates which only strengthens this recommendation.

Buy Darkest Dungeon (EARLY ACCESS) on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/262060/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

Please note that this is an early-access game and that everything thus remains subject to change depending on the feedback provided by the community – if you wish to submit feedback please check the dedicated forums

Papers, Please. Review, Please.

Papers, Please, which celebrated its 1-year anniversary last week, is described as “a dystopian document thriller” – quite an intriguing mouthful for a game description, but nonetheless a very fitting description for a truly unique game. Heavily influenced by the border systems present during World War II, Papers, Please introduces the player to the communist state of Arstotzka, which recently ended a 6-year war with its neighbors and otherwise reclaimed its rightful half of the border town, Grestin.

Winning the lottery would be a nice thing – everywhere but in Arstotzka and in Shirley Jackson’s novel. Unlike Jackson’s novel however, the player gets to live after winning the lottery, but they are forced to take the job as an immigration inspector. And without further ado or formal introduction, day one starts and the player has to face foreigners wanting to immigrate and citizens wishing to return – all with both poor and good attempts to cross the border and (re-)enter Arstotzka.

Papers, Please requires an eye for detail. All papers must be checked properly and the regulations, which are updated daily, must be upheld accordingly.

Papers, Please requires an eye for detail. All papers must be checked properly and the regulations, which are updated daily, must be upheld accordingly.

The gameplay appears extremely simple, but as the game progresses and more regulations are added to the border-security and immigration processes, the harder and more complex the game becomes. The player has to ensure details ranging from name, day-of-birth, sex and passport number to appearance, height and work pass’ are in correct order. Should the player fail to do so, more than three times per shift, a penalty is applied which ultimately hits the player hard as they are under a massive pressure to support a wife, mother-in-law, son and uncle with food, heat, medicine and shelter.

This ultimately introduces a great range of moral choices – should the player bend the rules after hearing some visitor’s heartbreaking stories and let them enter; knowing the consequences? A few achievements are in fact challenging the player’s moral stance – for instance, should an aging woman be allowed to visit her son despite having discrepancy in her papers? Similar, as the entry requirements tightens – following the significant increase in terrorist attacks inside Arstotzka against the oppressive government – more people may be detained. The choice, however, ultimately is the player’s – but as the nearby guard continues to declare his willingness to share his payment, which happens to be based on the amount of detains, the more tempted the player becomes. It becomes a simple matter of survival and thus prioritization.

The player faces several moral choices which directly affects their economy and thus the lives of their family.

The player faces several moral choices which directly affects their economy and thus the lives of their family.

An interesting aspect to Papers, Please is the sound effects, audio and graphics. There are no identifiable voices (in any language), but rather extremely robotic and inhumane voices – something which follows the unidentifiable, gender less and anonymous queue outside the inspector booth. Both elements together with the Kafkaesque, colourless and overall dystopian environment greatly amplifies the alienation between the state and the people.

The lack of human compassion is stunning, but perhaps very fitting for a totalitarian bureaucracy which values the state above everything and everyone. This, once again, introduces the player’s role – no action is inconsequential, and with every coin having two sides nothing is just black and white. Yet the player is ultimately the only one who can question the procedures and do the unexpected and unwanted; show compassion and empathy. The choices will ultimately impact the player’s family directly as illnesses, hunger and cold all follows rapidly though.

No action is inconsequential.

No action is inconsequential.

At first glance the game appears to be completed in just a few hours, and whilst that may be accomplished, then Papers, Please offers twenty different endings – some with very different happenings. The player may find themselves stealing passports for an upcoming escape with their family, disarming a bomb or handing out job-offers for Engineers. It is safe to say that it takes a fair amount of hours to get through all endings, but the game does face some issues when it comes to replayability.

Upon having completed the main endings, the remaining endings appear most attractive for achievement hunters and players who wishes to complete everything. Though it does seem as if developer Lucas Pope (@dukope) made a calculated move in this regard. After completing the game, players are able to re-play the game from any day they wish. Similar, an endless-mode may be unlocked. Both elements help make the game interesting post-completion. This encourages most players to go through all the various endings – something which is very much recommendable.

Not everyone is pleased with the government - but everyone needs to cross the border, one way or another...

Not everyone is pleased with the government – but everyone needs to cross the border, one way or another…

Papers, Please is in truth an unique game which pokes to the player’s moral and human compassion. It introduces the player to a very special and dystopian environment which, if allowed, greatly influences the player. It is not a game for everyone, but those who wishes to find a raw pearl within the ocean of indie-games and for those who treasures great narrative and design, this is the game.

Glory to Arstotzka.

Buy Papers, Please on Steam here:
http://store.steampowered.com/app/239030

Buy Papers, Please on GOG.com here:
http://www.gog.com/gamecard/papers_please

Buy Papers, Please on the Humble Store here:
https://www.humblebundle.com/store/p/papersplease_storefront

Buy Papers, Please from the developer’s website here:
http://papersplea.se/