Usually I try to be nice about a game in Early Access. I mean, it is a very early working build so to condemn a game based on that can be a bit unfair. I hate the idea of a developer having their hopes, dreams and aspirations of a project being crushed by negative reviews and bad press. This time though, we need to have a talk. Perhaps you can call it an intervention, although calling it that is a bit of a harsh term.
UNLOVED, as the developer BlueEagle Productions spells it in all capital letters, is a FPS horror game that just got released on Early Access about survival and… Something else? Already we’re at that awkward point where I’m not particularly sure what is the objective. Even on the easiest difficulty and the smallest level size I could, I couldn’t even remotely register an end-game to it. Then again, irritatingly, things like tutorials and having things explained to you often tends to crop up as part of that final polish.
So you’ll spend the game opening doors in the Rogue-like procedurally-generated maze, pushing deeper and deeper. Meanwhile, the amount of monsters increases in quantity, chomping at your heels as some doors you open will also open spawn points in said room. Combined with an AI that is a bit on the basic side (which is fine really), what often happens is you’ll reach a point where suddenly a thick wave of beasts will come from nowhere and engulf you. This is made a lot more probable by the use of only small claustrophobic rooms, without larger ones to allow you to just pick off the company you’ve made on your journey.
I have to say though, the game does look as grim and vile as it seems to set out to be. Everything feels disgusting to look at, as some form of rustic nightmarish land decaying and yet some how holds together. Through the holes, only more darkness seeps in. This means I hope you turn the brightness up and keep your torch on, because otherwise it is completely black. Say you decide to keep the brightness on it’s normal setting expect not to be able to see the end of a short corridor. Maybe it is intended though, and I think we’ll get back to that point.
The monsters also look fantastically grotesque, feeling like fever dreams of classic horror film writers, and various wildly at that. It avoids the trap of just using gore to generate uneasiness, and seems to dabble with things like a bizarre mix between Jeepers Creeper’s The Creeper and a serial killer as well as a burnt-out husk that still smokes.
Just, each creature seems to behave in very similar ways: They all seem to have a ranged attack and a melee attack, with seemingly small little things distinguishing their behaviours (e.g. The Creeper and serial killer blend has a gun, making it an unavoidable range attack, while a butcher demon is able to charge you). This may have been able to be more noticed if it wasn’t for the game’s tendency to throw a thick mass of enemies at you, making them blur together into a thick murderous mush.
Now here’s the crux of all my problems and the parts I like so far: It feels indecisive of what it wants to be. Does it want to be like Killing Floor or The Haunted: Hell’s Reach, where you mow down wave after wave of demonic creatures? It does this well by making movement incredibly quick (making dodging possible, in a Serious Sam kind of way), by always providing ammo and health that slowly dwindles away over time as well as offering replayability through unlockable builds, appearances and notes.
On the other hand, does it want to be Silent Hill? The aesthetics fit perfectly like a glove with this vision (including the claustrophobic mazes that are the levels), as well as the use of darkness to obscure what is going on (thus allowing the mind to fill in the horrible gaps with their own nightmares). In addition to this is the use of a blur effect to feel like your brain is being crushed and stuffed with cotton wool, making the environment feel even more demented and demonic.
Blended together, what you get is these two sides fighting against each other. Mowing down wave after wave while dodging fireballs is fine and dandy in a sprawling terrain, but turns into a nightmare when in a dark maze. A heavy use of blurring combined with running fast makes for a headache-inducing time that inspires motion sickness. The aesthetics seem to want to inspire fear, trying to encourage you to perhaps avoid enemies, but the heavy amount of supplies as well as the enemy quantity and behaviour inspires boldness.
If it seems like I’m just being nasty, tearing apart an indie project, I do not do this for fun or with ill-will. There is something interesting within the game; I know there is, peeking its head between the gaps. It feels like the unusual side of the spectrum of horror survival shooters, with the other end being where Killing Floor and The Haunted lies as being pure cheese. I want to like Unloved more than I do, as I like grim and disgusting environments, where things just feel wrong, just it’ll need a lot of work to manage it that I fear the developers plan of “more of everything” will not cut it. If BlueEagle Production can quell the civil war within its own game, it could make for a nice indie gem for those who enjoy roaming an unfriendly nightmarish land trying to survive against all the odds.