Mystery Stories: Mountains of Madness
Developer: Cerasus Media
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Release Date: 11/20/2011
Games based on the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft have been hit or miss. Shadow of the Comet and Prisoner of Ice are well regarded, while games like Necromonicon or Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth are often scorned. Games like Koudelka are either really loved or really detested based on the gamer. You never know what you are going to get with a Lovecraft based game, yet every time I see one, I pick it up without hesitation. What can I say? I love the Cthulhu Mythos enough that it blinds my reason. So of course, when I saw Big Fish games was publishing Mountains of Madness for the PC, I knew I had to get it, and more importantly, I knew I had to review it so that people could know this game exists, even if it sucked.
So was Mountains of Madness an eldritch abomination or was it one of the better adventure games released this year? Read on to find out…
This video game takes its plot from the classic Lovecraft story, “At the Mountains of Madness.” It’s a tale of explorers from Miskatonic University who discover horror from beyond the stars during an expedition to Antarctica. Professor William Dyer and three colleagues discover that the rest of their expedition is slaughtered by things that no one could ever mistake for human. Strewn about are remains of some of these creatures as well. What follows is the discovery of an alien city deep within the crevasses of Antarctica, along with the reason the city and all who dwelt within it eventually fell.
The video game takes some liberties with the story, such as creating a character named Lynn Morgan who acts as the main character in the game and another character named Thomas Gedney who is part of Dyer’s sub-team on the expedition. The core of the story remains very true to the written tale, as Lynn and Dyer examine the city of the Elder Things and try to piece together where they are and what happened to their race. The story is streamlined quite a bit and the violence/horror is tuned down so that a younger audience can still enjoy it, but it’s still very well told and one of the better Lovecraft homages I’ve played in recent years. If you don’t know the story, you’ll still enjoy this game and how it progresses. If you’re a big Lovecraft fan, you’ll still be impressed by the justice done to him in this little budget game. It’s quite short (I beat it in well under three hours), but still nicely done.
Story Rating: Good
As an adventure game, most of the graphics in Mountains of Madness are static visuals that only change if you pick up an item from the screen or use something from your inventory correctly. Gamers who want a little more animation to their visuals may be disappointed, but long time point and click adventure game fans will really enjoy the art style, along with the level of detail in the background images and locations. When there is animation it’s a lot of fun, such as when you first encounter the Shoggoth and it slowly lumbers towards you. Part of me wanted to see if anything would happen if I did nothing, as it slowly fills up the screen if you sit around, but I thought better of it. Character models are nicely done, although they are rare, and both the Elder Things and the Shoggoth look awesome.
Mountains of Madness is a very stylish game that is sure to delight fans of the adventure genre, while making other gamers wish there was a little more animation involved with the pretty artwork.
Graphics Rating: Decent
The music in Mountains of Madness blew me away. I was shocked at how good each track was and how the score really infused this game with a sense of dramatic urgency. It really helped me get into the game and you can’t helped but be impressed by how good it is. I was playing Skyward Sword concurrently and the music here is just as good as in Nintendo’s big Wii game of the year. Crazy.
I was also impressed by the voice acting, even though only one character speaks throughout the entire game. Lovecraft fans will understand why only Dyer speaks (everything is told in narration long after the events originally occurred) and the voice actor for him is incredible. He has a very strong “made for radio” voice that really carries the narration segments, making them sound ominous even though point and click games are usually anything but. Like the soundtrack, I fell in love with the voice acting here and it was a nice example of how sometimes less is more.
Sound Rating: Great
4. Control and Gameplay
Like all point and click adventure games, Mountains of Madness is a relatively easy game to get through. You use your mouse for everything. Click on a person to talk to them. Click on object to pick it up. Click on something in the background to learn more about it. Click on a puzzle to start doing it. You get the drill. Everything works exceptionally well here. Supposedly the demo had a looping bug in it, but that is not the case with the full release version I picked up. In fact, I didn’t encounter a single bug in the game. That was a nice change of pace to be honest.
Most of the puzzles in the game involve using object A on either location or object B, or combining two objects to make a new one. There’s also several hidden object puzzles, a few “put this torn up thing together” puzzles and other standard adventure game puzzles we’ve seen several times before. Everything is really well done and moving between locations is pretty seamless. I normally hate backtracking in games, but it really wasn’t a problem here. It was just a well made short little budget adventure game. Controls should be almost instinctive even if you haven’t played one of these before.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Great
Most adventure games are exceptionally linear affairs that are best known as “one and done” titles. This is very true of Mountains of Madness. Everything will unfold in exactly the same way each time you play. This means the only reason to do so if you really enjoy the story. It’s well told, but you could also just read the actual novella the game is based on to see the differences between the two. As well, the game is exceptionally short. Sure, it’s a budget game, but most adventure games in the same price range are generally two to three times longer than this. Part of me was disappointed in how short the game was, while the other part found the lack of padding (a common occurrence with adventure games) to be a breath of fresh air.
At the end of the day, there isn’t much of a reason to come back to Mountains of Madness unless you really love it or you want to hear the music in the game again. It’s worth the seven to ten dollar price tag via Bigfishgames.com, but it’s probably not something the average gamer will play more than once.
Replayability Rating: Bad
Mountains of Madness is an extremely easy game. Almost too easy. I never had any real challenge in the game save for the occasional elusive hunt for a hotspot that I could interact with. Even if you do find the game a bit challenging, you have not one but TWO help options. The first is the Hint button, which will highlight the next place you should go to or item to interact with. The second is the Advice button. The first time you click on it, it gives you a suggestion about how to proceed. If you click it a second time, it gives you the answer outright. That’s not all though. The game also lets you skip puzzles if they are too hard for you, and at the bottom of your screen, it always tells you your next objective. There is honestly no way to fail at this game. Regardless of your skill level, you will be able to see it through to the end. That’s great for people who want a story, but for people who want to play a game, they’ll either find it really easy or be tempted to skip everything instead of testing themselves.
The game offers two difficulty settings, Easy and Expert, but honestly, the only difference is that on Easy, the game will highlight things for you if you take too long. It’s a bit of an odd combination – the game’s subject matter is for older gamers, but it’s designed so a three year old can beat it. A little challenge would have been nice, and it would have helped to lengthen the game. Unfortunately this is a game you play for aesthetics, not challenge.
Balance Rating: Bad
There’s not much that is original here. Sure, this is the first time “At the Mountains of Madness” has been turned into a video game, but Prisoner of Ice was somewhat similar, and it too used Cthulhu Mythos creatures. In fact, all the actual Lovecraft games that I’ve ever played except for Dark Corners of the Earth have been point and click adventure games.
As well, the game may be stylish and the puzzles both fun and easy, but said puzzles have all been done numerous times before in other adventure games. I would have liked a little more originality in the puzzles to be sure, but I will say these were done in an exceptionally stylish way, so that’s some points in the game’s favor.
Overall, it’s nice to see a new Lovecraft oriented game, as we haven’t had one in years, and this DOES play drastically different from the ones we had in the late 90s/early 00s. It’s not the freshest game, but I do like how someone made a quality video game out of “At the Mountains of Madness.” Too bad we couldn’t get that movie about it made, huh?
Originality Rating: Mediocre
This is actually a hard category to judge. The game is five chapters long and I beat it in two sittings, which would imply it is a hard game to put down. At the same time, since the game is only two to three hours long, it’s almost impossible NOT to beat the thing in one or two sittings. Basically it comes down to how much fun did I have with the game, and honestly, I really enjoyed it. Even if this game was padded, I’d still have kept playing it with a big grin plastered on my face. It captured the essence of Lovecraft’s story nicely, the game was quite pretty to look at and it was fun from beginning to end. I can’t say much more than that. If you’re a Lovecraft fan and you like adventure games, you’ll probably be hooked on this. I know I was.
Addictiveness Rating: Good
9. Appeal Factor
Adventure games are a bit of a niche stateside, but Big Fish Games sells a lot of titles both here and abroad. As well, there are a lot of Lovecraft fans out there. How much do the two audiences intersect? Well, there hasn’t been a Lovecraft adventure game since 2001, and that game was both a critical and a financial flop. Here’s hoping that’s not true about Mountains of Madness, as I’d love to see Cerasus tackle some more Cthulhu Mythos tales.
Honestly, with a price tag between seven and ten dollars and a good worth of mouth, I think Lovecraft fans will pick this up pretty readily. After all, it’s very little money and people that purchase it will get their money’s worth. Adventure games are never going to be massive sellers like they were in the 90s, but fans of adventure games should find this delightful and worth experiencing.
Appeal Factor: Above Average
So for my $6.99, I ended up with the best Cthulhu themed video game I’ve played in years. It a very short and exceptionally easy game, but it’s also visually charmingly with an excellent soundtrack. The game plays well and although the developers take some liberties with Lovecraft’s work, the game is still respectful to the original tale and fans of the Cthulhu Mythos will no doubt be impressed by this little budget title. Here’s hoping this is just the start of things to come.
Miscellaneous Rating: Good
Control and Gameplay: Great
Appeal Factor: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: Above Average Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Mystery Stories: Mountains of Madness is one of those unexpected finds you really wish the gaming media would have paid more attention to. The game is a bit on the short side and relatively easy, but it adapts one of H.P. Lovecraft’s most famous stories into video game form wonderfully. With striking (albeit static) graphics and one of the better soundtracks this year, any adventure game or Cthulhu Mythos fan should pick this budget game up as soon as they can.