The Consuming Shadow (PC)

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Do you remember that part in the Call of Cthulhu when they said the Old Ones will awaken when the stars are right… Well, bad news, the stars are right and a Great Old One is poised to invade. You are a researcher at a UK university and you’re reasonably certain a cult devoted to this dark god is going to perform a ritual at Stonehenge and envelop the world. What you need is the banishment ritual and to understand which god is attacking, which one is backing them up, and which one is trying to stop them. But don’t dally, you’ve only got 60 hours before it’s too late. Stay sane, stay alive, and stay moving because town after town is already falling to The Consuming Shadow.

History

The Consuming Shadow is a game by renown game critic, Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw. Croshaw has been making games since 2008, small projects here and there, particularly point and click adventures. His games have often dipped into the eldritch, walking the halls of Lovecraft’s twisted manor. Playing Faster Than Light made him think about going up against a greater threat that’s constantly in pursuit. With the exception of the music and the testing the whole game was made by his hand.

The Consuming Shadow was released in full on July 28th, 2015. It’s competition was Rocket League (PC and PS4), Five Nights at Freddies 4 (PC), and The Binding of Isaac (XBox One, WiiU, and Nintendo 3DS)

Experiences

The Consuming Shadow inspires paranoia like a bad acid trip. Between the strange texts the player gets and the random events, anything can be good or bad. Texts come in patterns I.E. if texts from strangers are threats, the next stranger probably has a new threat. But if your family keeps wiring you money then it’s probably safe to accept the next text from Grandma.

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Play it safe or get involved? The investment here could pay dividends… or not.

Gameplay

The game is basically split into three sections that work in tandem to make a spooky adventure. First, there’s the car. The Researcher has got to drive from town to town and that can take a lot of time and proper navigation — sadly it’s not as easy as just hitting the destination and letting the GPS choose the quickest path. On the road he’ll receive texts from various numbers including family members, someone from the Ministry of Occultism, and complete strangers. Some of these can be helpful but they can also damage your sanity. Occasionally the car will be beset by travelers or you’ll spot something on the road. Get involved at your own risk however. Besides that, this is basically the hub where you can heal thyself, check your notebook, and take sanity ‘restoring’ drugs. Should your sanity dip too low options in menus will be replaced with the ‘kill yourself’ option which will put you into the suicide minigame.

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The more times you engage the suicide game the harder it is to resist.

From there you’re on to towns. Towns that are untouched by the shadow are hubs of commerce where you can purchase items, bullets, medical supplies, and drugs. When towns are tainted by the Old Ones they present the opportunity to delve into a dungeon. Each different type of dungeon presents different rewards and different challenges. Offices are more likely to contain clues but warehouses are more likely to contain items. There you will encounter monsters hellbent on… well their interest in you is sometimes secondary — some monsters are not malicious, simply deadly. That being said, any monsters you let live will take a toll on your sanity. So long as you succeed you will be rewarded with a piece of the banishment ritual needed to rebuke the Old One — but sometimes it is better to flee.

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Ammo is limited and getting close to enemies is a dangerous preposition.

Now that you’ve helped the people and assembled the clues and rituals it’s time to figure out which god is which. There are always only three gods who have an interest in this world. One of them means to destroy it, the other is helping them but cannot enter for ineffable reasons, and the third is a sworn enemy of the invading god. Every god has a name, rune, color, aspect, and role. Certain clues provide certain pieces of information, some of which are reliant on others such as ‘the god in purple is enemies with the god in white.’ If you don’t know what the gods’ color is then that information isn’t useful… yet. You’ll need to determine the invading god to use the banishment ritual properly so happy hunting.

The Gush

As you kill more enemies the bestiary becomes more and more full with actually useful advice as to how to defeat them. The bestiary entries also include background information about the bizarre and insane attributes of the world beyond.

This game is hard… but that’s okay because every character can level up. Getting a star to distribute across the constellation grid to give them passive upgrades. Eventually, no matter how badly you’re doing in this game, you will get enough stars to get enough passive upgrades to succeed.

The dialogue ends up being a little repetitive but it’s well written and a joy to read when it’s fresh. I’ve got eight hours clocked and no longer read the dialogue. Still, at this point I do run into dialogue I haven’t seen before.

There are unlockable characters! Each of them has a different playstyle and I found them fun to experiment with. There’s the warrior who’s a well dressed criminal who shies away from guns but has a mean kick, a slick dodge, and a warrant out for his arrest. Then there’s the librarian who does not take sanity damage from casting spells but can only use runes so many times — oh and she can’t use melee attacks. And then the Ministry Man who only has 24 hours to save the world, but has the full banishment ritual from the get-go.

The later the clock ticks the more powerful the Shadow becomes and the more dangerous things get. You’ll also probably be getting pretty desperate at this point. But the thing is, The Shadow tips its hand — or tentacle — in a series of ways. For instance, the God’s rune will glow at Stonehenge and because the God’s rune is always part of the banishment ritual it offers a vital clue to the desperate investigator who’s at Stonehenge for a last ditch effort.

The Kvetch

One of the most useless clues I’ve found is ‘God 1 is the enemy of God 2’ because this does not clarify which one of them is the invader and which one is not. It simply clarifies which one of the three is the assistant which is one of the more useless pieces of information.

It’s sometimes unclear whether the character will elect to fire his gun or make a melee attack. Normally I’d chalk it up to the characters being unversed in combat with monsters. But the difference between getting hit or not hinges on me not clipping my arms through an enemy and firing past them.

Although the text messages form patterns, the random car events do not. Most of them are pure gambles. As such it’s really easy to get screwed over my RNJesus and end up in terrible situations by no will or volition of your own. My favorite encounters are the ones in which a secondary item would guarantee a positive result. Even if I don’t have the item I feel like I have agency. The pure toss-up ones really irk me.

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The item events have clear criteria — have pads? Succeed — but the random ones don’t.

The Verdict

Once you figure out the games quirks, and even before then, The Consuming Shadow has a lot to offer for a fantastic price. For Ten dollars on Steam you get a decent value of eldritch delight. If you’re the sort of person who liked Dark Corners of the Earth and needs your Lovecraftian fix, or enjoyed others of Croshaws’ games then this is a title you should check out.

Next Week: Party Hard (The game, not the activity)

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