So as you are all no doubt aware, I have my grubby little mitts in a number of different pies. And I hear things. So, when I got the chance to try Valko Studio’s new game; Labyrinthine I jumped at the chance. It’s pre-Alpha and not many people have got their mitts on it yet, so i’m clearly the man for the job.
Jump to the cut to find out what I thought.
So who are Valko studios? Well it turns out Valko Studio’s are Evil B*ggers.
Here’s their Demonic blurb:
“Valko Game Studios is a small indie studio with a shared focus on creating fun (read:Evil) and engaging multiplayer games. Our small team is composed of multi-genre gamers who are passionate about the industry. Our first game, Labyrinthine, is just the beginning of our journey and represents a synergy of both horror and cooperative play. Future games will not be restricted to just horror though! We have (Evil) plans for a variety of exciting games that feature fresh themes and innovative gameplay. “
As you can tell. Completely Machiavellian. I came to the unshakable conviction that they are, in fact, in league with the devil after playing a few hours of Labyrinthine.
So what’s it all about then? Well, you start in a labyrinth made out of hedges. You’re told nothing (though this may change) and you have a lantern-torch as your only, abjectly awful, light source. And it is dark. Very dark. So, you explore. Who wouldn’t?
Sane people, that’s who.
So you move about solving puzzles, progressing by careful exploration and reasoned movement. This is a labyrinth after all, so getting hopelessly lost is kind of implied. Happily, you have an unending supply of glow sticks that you can drop on the floor to mark your progress and a lot of your success in the game will come down to this very simple, but wildly effective mechanic. How you mark your progress or keep track of your luminescent ‘bread-crumb trail’ is up to you and it took me a surprisingly long time to find a technique that worked for me, and I’m still thinking of ways to improve it. Knowing where you are becomes very important later on.
Now, I’m loath to say too much about the game, or what you encounter in the maze as I firmly believe you should experience it first hand for yourself; but given it’s a horror game you can imagine that you’re not alone in the maze. And you’re not. There are a number of encounters in the game that, aside from making you change your trousers with worrying frequency, will change how you play the game. You’ll spend a lot of your time running in here. There’s also a number of things added with the express intention of making you jump. They serve no narrative purpose, they’re gimmicks, you often know the things are there and yet they still make you jump. Every. Single. Time.
As I said. They’re evil.
Happily, you don’t have to take this journey alone. You and up to three friends (or more likely, victims) can go into the labyrinth together. And it works. Weirdly, you’d think having company would help, but hearing your team-mates screams just heightens the fear. I spent the majority of my time on the game solo, but multiplayer should not be missed. It is utterly hilarious/terrifying. Delete as appropriate.
Obviously as it’s pre-alpha I had my expectations set pretty low. You expect bugs, issues, place-holder graphics/mechanisms; it’s part of the job and part of the development process. So I was blown away by how good the game looks. Granted, it’s a limited ‘palette’; there’s only so much you can do with dark green, but they’ve succeeded in making the hedges and items you find in the game look brilliant. There’s issues with the character model (hands are ‘lost in the dark’ hideous), and a few of the items need polish, but these are easily fixable and I’ve no doubt Valko Studios will fix these minor blemishes.
The sound though deserves a special mention; it’s exceptional. The ambient noises immediately puts you on edge without being oppressive or obvious. Nothing sounds out of place. The way the wind whispers, the rustling of branches, the footsteps….it’s all brilliant. There’s a radio you encounter about a third of the way through the demo and, aside from some pertinent information, and the fully intentional jump-scare (evil sods), it cuts through the background noise like a knife, somehow making you feel even more isolated. I’m not sure how they managed to make the sound this good, but it’s brilliant.
Of course it’s not all corpses and Cthulhu, there are issues. The movement can feel clunky at times. There’s also path-finding issues, you can pass some obstacles, while others are insurmountable (I think the hit boxes on some objects are too large). Some of the animations are a little….janky. I’m also not a huge fan of the cut scenes you’ll encounter. I understand the reason for their addition, but can’t help feeling that something in-game would be more effective. But they feel like minor quibbles.
You’ll blast through these opening sections in around an hour, depending on your nerves. And true, a lot of the mechanics are basic and a number of the puzzles devolve into glorified fetch quests, but it’s the whole of the experience that elevates it. There’s a deft (evil) touch here that, rather worryingly, seems very good at making you feel uneasy, nervous and yes, scared. There’s a really good platform here to build a truly remarkable game. My only concern is that they now won’t live up to my high expectations, but, as long as they keep surprising us, and mix up the mechanics a bit…. I think this could be something special.
And evil. Don’t forget evil.
The game is to be released on STEAM (not yet available).