I remain utterly bemused why everyone seems so beholden to ghastly old racist Lovecraft’s work, when coming up with your own betentacled sea-beasts really wouldn’t be that much of a stretch, but if you’re going to include it, include it as well as The Shore. Just, maybe, don’t charge £20 for a two hour game. (Update: the developer plans to lower the price to $10 later this month!)
Let’s give this slightly flaky game its first big compliment: when I spotted it on Steam, looking at the screenshots, I thought it was an FMV game. So extraordinarily good are the renderings of lighthouses, beach scenes, and shipwrecks, that it wasn’t until I peered at them full-size that I realised it was not so. That’s a damned fine achievement.
This is a slightly-more-involved-than-usual walking simulator, set on the grey shores of what I must assume is a New England seaside. There are puzzles to solve, but they’re on the level of finding the object, then using the object where an object can be used. It’s not really the point here. It’s much more about being led down the path of its Cthulhu-based tale of horror.
You begin on the beach, finding notes in bottles, and staring at a bleak landscape of wrecks and rocks, looked over by a lighthouse. So toward that you head, finding increasingly odd details along the way. There are peculiar shrines, creepy sculptures, and… did you just see a tentacle behind that rock?
The Shore is really good at that last bit, delivering Amnesia-like spooks in the form of rapidly vanishing oddities when you turn the camera around, or using audio clues to have you glance into the horizon to spot the last sign of something that really shouldn’t be there.
At the same time, a lot of the design is extremely clunky. Too many pathways on the beach lead to dead ends, and solving puzzles is more usually by accident than purpose. There were a few occasions where I was wandering in circles, not sure which previously blocked route was now open, nor which elements were critical challenges or just strange asides. It spoke of inexperienced level design, and most specifically of not having watched people play the game before releasing it – so many issues can be caught that way, easily identifying where your game needs better direction.
However, I genuinely found its flaws – and there are others, such as the few frantic escape sequences where the movement just isn’t suited to the action – overwhelmed by the extraordinary art and modelling. As I said up top, if you’re going to wheel out the laboured, over-used Lovecraft themes, then design and animate the creatures this well. Because, wow. Huge, ghastly beasts rise up with hideous presence, while underground chambers are lined with walls of intricate carvings that you’d expect to see coming from a AAA studio.
That these are all apparently the work of one guy, the unimprovably named Ares Dragonis, is mindblowing. They’re often photorealistic, and the monstrous monolithic beings are phenomenally detailed, and move with such menace. Let alone the literal moving monolith.
The player character, rather predictably looking for his missing daughter (come on), is very well voiced by Brandon Fague (unfortunately listed in the credits as “Bradon Fague”). But then the captions and written content has a bunch of mistakes. The scenery is fantastic, but movement is clumsy and beleaguered by invisible walls. Throughout The Shore there’s a sense of a great deal of professionalism, oddly interspersed with some amateur mistakes. And, well, then… oh gosh the price.
I would love to recommend The Shore to you. If it cost £5, even £10, I’d say it’s a worthwhile couple of hours. It’s always spooky, sometimes scary, and as I’ve said over and again, the creatures are incredible. But £20? Um… Erk.
I hate getting into the price thing. I frequently lament on this site when indie developers don’t charge enough, or even don’t charge at all. I want people to get paid. But when you hit $25/£20, you’re in the big league territory, and people are really going to expect a lot more than two hours of walking sim. Which is tough! I get that. I wish we were in a gaming market where that was what people could pay. But we aren’t. And by my personal measures, there is nothing like £20 worth of game here.
Unquestionably there’s £20 worth of effort gone in, and that’s what’s so grim about this oversaturated underpriced market. Dragonis and everyone else who worked on this deserves to be well rewarded! But I strongly suspect they’d be much better rewarded, and much better received in their Steam reviews, if they’d charged £10 or less. There’s still time, of course. (And let’s not forget, if you make a game that can be completed in under two hours, you’ve made a game that everyone who plays it can abuse Steam’s systems to refund at the end.)
Update: The developer has replied to a Steam review explaining that as soon as he can, he’s intending to reduce the price to $10. That’s a great decision, and I hope it makes him a whole lot more money. (Big thanks to meepmeep13.)