05/10/2020

๐Ÿš️๐Ÿฐ๐Ÿš️ Westmark Manor PC | Review | "You can’t toss a stone in the horror genre without disturbing something vile..." ๐Ÿš️๐Ÿฐ๐Ÿš️ @PixelHunted #GameDev #IndieGames

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HP Lovecraft may have been a daft turbo-racist, but man, that guy could nail creepy.

His Cthulhu Mythos has blossomed far beyond his books, spreading its tentacles into every facet of pop culture, finding a particularly sticky purchase in games.

You can’t toss a stone in the horror genre without disturbing something vile, ancient and unknowable. 

Eternal Darkness, Darkwood, World of Horror, The Sinking City, Moons of Madness, Call of Cthulhu, Sunless Sea/Skies, Bloodborne… Hell, even the venerable Quake ends with you telefragging the pulsating and veiny Shub Niggureth. 

Do we really need more Lovecraft games? 

Well, Nodbrim Interactive and Toadman Interactive think there’s room for just one more…

Enter Westmark Manor, a survival horror puzzler that sees you playing occult academic Theodore Westmark, who’s desperately trying to comprehend the mysteries of the abyss in order to save his wife.

To triumph, he must journey to the edge of madness itself – which of course means slowly trundling around a spooky manor solving riddles.

The meat of the game is a classic survival horror with a heavy focus on puzzles. You must creep about collecting keys, crests, key items, ingredients and components to open up more doors and eventually escape the manor. 

Progress is governed by ‘sigils’, which you gain when you solve puzzles – collect enough sigils and you can unlock a big door and beat the game (or at least I assume it does - for reasons that will become apparent I didn’t see the credits).

Light and dark play a key role in all this. Your health is represented by a Sanity Meter, which degrades when you’re in darkness – and it running out causes you to die of fright.

You can prevent it from draining with a lantern that gradually burns oil or by lighting candles with matches (which aren’t as common as you first assume). 

You also have a limited number of Sanity Points, and you must consume them to save your game. If you’ve exhausted them then you’d better hunt for more or no saving for you.

Managing limited saves, resources and inventory is at the heart of Resident Evil style survival horror. In the best titles, it raises the tension as you balance saving and healing against pressing on into the darkness. But Westmark Manor‘s systems don’t cause tension. It causes teeth-grinding annoyance.

Randomised items mean it’s entirely possible to run out of oil for your lamp and be unable to find more before dying: a death sentence that ended my first playthrough. Oh well, just a couple of hours of my life down the toilet, no biggie.

One restart later (this time setting everything to the easiest possibly difficulty) and I was making better progress. Luck of the draw had given me an item that all but removed darkness damage and I was zipping through the manor like nobody’s business, my pockets bulging with light-bringing oil. Maybe this time I’ll make it out!

And then, when innocuously placing a book on a shelf to solve a puzzle, the game froze. My last save was from 30 minutes ago. I swore, hit Alt-F4 and uninstalled. Theodore Westmark can go rot in his manor for all I care.

Judging by other players’ comments this isn’t at all unusual. I saw that the developers have released a patch designed to fix this exact issue (and many others). Well, I’ve got the patch and it wasn’t fixed for me. 

Other smaller bugs involved my lantern vanishing until I reloaded the game, parts of the menu system permanently disappearing and the character animation becoming more juddery the longer I played.

All that, on top of a dull visual style that’s always recycling assets (how many grandfather clocks does one house need?), an obtuse crafting system, a top-down camera system that means you cannot see south-facing doors, pain-in-the-ass inventory management and a generally janky Unity Engine feel, is a recipe for a real bad time.

I guess it’s appropriate that the Lovecraftian thrills of Westmark Manor did eventually drive me to despair. 

But I wish it was with a chilling story and atmosphere than with buggy programming and crap design.

๐Ÿ’ฆ RATING: MELTED ๐Ÿ’ฆ


Ratings Explained:

ICE COOL (Great Game Recommended)

MELTING (Recommended with reservations, one to consider if you are a fan of the genre)

MELTED (Not A Recommended Purchase)


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