Published: 17 July 2014
Eldritch is a roguelike first-person shooter developed and published by Minor Key Games. It features a voxel, Minecraft-alike art style with an emphasis on horror themes and roguelike mechanics. But stay your pitchforks dear reader - it may take after that popular art style, but there's something deeper to Eldritch worth considering.
The aesthetic Eldritch uses was tired long before it released
So let's examine that obvious bugbear in the room first: there's no denying that the aesthetic is inspired at best by the likes of Minecraft and it's multitude of clones and inspired by iterations. It's an .. alright implementation, I suppose, but nothing that feels particularly stellar or inspired. Just to be clear - I am not against even those highly-utilised styles being used in games, especially an indie production where budget is a concern, as I have mentioned previously, but I do feel that they should be for a purpose. It should add something to the game, be part of something, or otherwise tie in somehow, and Eldritch's graphical style feels like it's just there because it's easy to do. I don't necessarily begrudge it because you're looking at a small indie team, but I'm not going to celebrate it either. It's derivative.
An interesting horror theme lies beneath that veneer
Looking beyond that coat of paint, we find a game that has a lot of familiar horror cues, and to the game's credit, they are implemented quite well. All of the enemies seem more .. a little weird, than outright 'evil hostile bad guy' and the one thing it does quite well in that regard is to have a sense of a larger world where the enemies are doing their own things regardless of the player's efforts. This is a thing that effectively underscores the eerie vibe the game is going for.
Sound design is something that's easy not to comment on in games because it's something we tend not to notice unless it's particularly terrible, but Eldritch's soundtrack and general sound design actually go a long way to creating that sense of eeriness. You'll have moments of alarm and fear from the general creak of a door, and the game does better random jump scares than many other games do with heavily-scripted ones.
The worlds presented are deep and interesting
The central premise of Eldritch is that you are trapped in a mystical library where lies the knowledge to stop the ancients from manifesting in the world, and you are presented with portals to successively difficult worlds where you must trap the soul of the ancient in question. Each of the worlds is different and varied, offering different challenges, hazards, and enemies. The progression feels natural, or as natural as anything does in a horror-themed game, and each of the worlds was intriguing to me. It left me with a curious desire to rifle about in that library for more lore about the different realms - an urge the game rewards by giving you useful information about the ancients in question
Survival and gunplay went hand-in hand
and made the game quite tactical
You have to scrounge for different weapons and ammunition in the world, so engagements with the eldritch horrors of the various ancients' realms was always something done with some forethought. It's not something you can rush into run-and-gun style because if you did, well, you would quickly find yourself either out of ammo for the next engagement, or as a nice entree for the horrors beyond the veil of time and space. This is especially true once the game knuckles down and really starts throwing the big bads at you because quite frankly, you can't beat them without careful deliberation beforehand.
Managing the resources at hand and exploring the levels lends itself naturally to that survival feel, but if there's any true complaint I have beyond the simple difficulty of the game - it gets quite rock hard as you might expect of rogue-like games - and the art style, it's that the procedural generation of the game quite frankly will just mess with you sometimes. You can have entire realms generated with a single handful of bullets and end up having to try to shiv some shoggoth in the eye to progress. That's not really fair difficulty, and that's the problem with it. You can progress, certainly, but it's in spite of the game as much as because of player skill.