Montague’s Mount (PC) review
- Extremely strong atmosphere, invoking a sense of tension and loneliness
- Some enjoyable puzzles, which may defy logical-reality but fit - and focus - progression
- Well judged audio, with music to a minimum - and what little music there is adding to the atmosphere
Not so much?
- Slow movement speed - good and deliberate for progression, but frustrating for semi-regular, occasionally necessary backtracking
- Narrative never quite feeling that it weaves into the game - playing at times just forgetting how the protagonist is meant to be there and appreciating the metagame
- Occasional graphical glitches
By no means a bad game, if there is one thing that Montague’s Mount gets perfectly right, it is atmosphere. Exploring the game world is certainly effective at getting an emotional reaction – perhaps more than the narrative attached. Unfortunately, this has to be balanced with several smaller things it gets wrong.
There is a clear difference between horror and terror; horror is revulsion at the grotesque, while terror is the fear of something that might happen. Waiting for something to happen, forever tense and fearful… That is terror. And let’s be clear – Montague’s Mount is at time genuinely terrifying.
Playing the demo at the recent Eurogamer Expo was an atmospheric experience, wandering a darkened beach and nearby buildings with ominous tones and sounds. That area – a simplified version of the game’s opening section – turns out to have simply been a mild taster of just how much the tension can be racked up.
Beginning the game as an amnesiac washed ashore on the Irish coast, you find yourself near an abandoned settlement surrounded by the debris of people’s lives. An early encounter also leaves you questioning what may have happened, and whether you may have been one of the people who lived there.
The game appears to be working as a reflection of the protagonist’s mental state – occasional quotes regarding madness appear as you enter areas of the game, and the rain seems to fall more often than it should, even leading to a surprising outburst at the weather during one of the character’s internal monologues. Indeed, as the rain falls it also washes the colour out of the world, leaving it grey and bleak, and when the showers end the contrast in terms of colour and detail is pronounced.
Aurally the game is also just as atmospheric. The tones and sounds do occasionally get mixed in with variations of the game’s sombre theme tune, consisting of a lone piano that fits the theme of the lone character well.
Control of the game is similar to an FPS – WASD to move and the mouse to free-look – but progression is more akin to the classic Resident Evil games, where items and objects needed to open routes would defy common sense in reality but fit within the internal logic of a game.
(A very early one involves finding the shadow-caster to a sundial, and placing it to match the time – which you will know if you pay attention to the items in the ruined buildings, for example.)
Puzzles come in four main forms – “fetch and carry”; “test of timing” (most often used for starting generators around the island, where four consecutive timed clicks to make the engines start are needed); “using noted information” (as with the clock example, or for the combination to open safes – usually found very near the items needed); and “wait, what?” (where in-game logic has to take over, and you wonder who exactly built an island following these kinds of rules. However, even where this may seem completely arbitrary, there are usually hints or even fuzzily worded guides around to provide a sense of direction).
Solving puzzles usually trigger checkpoints too – there is no means of saving the game but progression is marked by giving you the choice of which area to enter on starting. This is a huge benefit though, as by breaking down the game into smaller bites it both cuts the amount of walking ahead needed, and allows you to break off when faced with a seemingly impossible problem.
Usually the problems are more down to missing things though – items are especially easy to miss among the clutters of debris, in the dark, if the rain is falling… There is an option to enable item highlighting and I would recommend selecting this immediately before starting – collectable objects will be significantly more visible, and anything to reduce backtracking is welcome.
This is perhaps one of the key problems in the game; the character’s walking pace is extremely slow. Using FPS controls leaves you wanting to break into a sprint – admittedly, not in the spirit of the game, but at times greatly desired.
Basically, patience is needed, and the frustration at failing to solve a puzzle is often frustration at needing to spend the time travelling back somewhere more than at the puzzle itself.
This slow movement is explained by the character needing to begin by finding a walking stick – a section that involves a lot of exaggerated staggering and caused a hint of sea-sickness to play, although in fairness this is also very brief.
There are also occasional technical glitches – some pop-up of objects in the distance, and the draw distance of lights seems to be greater than items in-between, with the result that you can often see a glow coming through rocks and structures. The protagonist is also fully realised as a solid model to mixed effect – looking down and seeing your own feet is a nice touch, as is seeing your shadow, albeit with that not being entirely fluidly animated; on the flip side, the character and the camera occasionally seem to clip each other, giving you momentary glimpses on screen of what I assume is the edge of your head.
[as a disclaimer, I should mention that the review copy sent was not a final release copy, and as such some of these issues may also have been resolved]
Perhaps the simplest question is: did I enjoy wandering the island? And the answer has to be “yes”, but this is partly through patience and perseverance over shortcomings in the game. Getting an emotional response from an audience is not an easy thing to achieve, but the sense of sustained fear managed early in the game grips well. In this way, it is disappointing that there is so little emotional connection to the protagonist himself.
You may also be occasionally left scratching your head in confusion at a puzzle, but more often will be frustrated realising you need to start backtracking and wishing there was a way to jog or run.