At the Mountains of Madness Alpha Game Review

For so long there has been controversy over the nature and implications of video games. Many people in the world object to their existence and despise what they are and what they stand for due to the nature of the violence and gameplay they involve. Games like Hatred, which was banned in many countries such as Australia for its harsh content – not that what it involved was necessarily worse than other gory games, but for the fact that the players motives were sociopathic and potentially psychopathic. Games like that create this massive debate about whether or not the world should have video games at all; some would just like to go back to the days of H.P. Lovecraft and experience terror and violence in a whole different literary and creative light.

Team Clockworks and their aptitude for Unreal Engine 4 have proved that video games are an extremely creative and ambitious form of storytelling; bringing back the classics we all know and love to our screen to not just watch, but to experience. The game, At the Mountains of Madness, throws us into the very words of mighty Lovecraft with beauty beyond comprehension. The team has fully taken advantage of the capabilities of next generation technology and the new Unreal Engine 4; in doing so, creating a masterpiece worthy of sharing the same name of a great classic story.

The Game

At the Mountains of Madness is a new and terrifying, indie adventure game by Team Clockworks. As the debut game for this studio – I have to say that I cannot be more impressed with how it has turned out. The team gave me access to a very early alpha version of the game; just before the release of their more stable beta version – to create that little bit of anticipation. The good news is that the whole version I got is extremely stable and playable, although I only got to play a little bit of the game – only enough to really get a feel for the mechanics and atmosphere of it all – I must say that it is almost perfection in almost every aspect.

Alpha Screenshots

The Graphics

I am going to start with the strongest point first, the graphics. The game is simply beautiful, upon entering the world you are taken through the Antarctic ice caps; along the way you see penguins that couldn’t look more real – I honestly started to feel a crisp chill as I was experiencing this. Nothing in the game is simple, all of the ice has a beautiful blue tone to it; in which you can really feel the layers upon layers of all the different solidities of the ice you are standing on. When you enter a little gathering of people there is usually a lantern nearby, which changes the game as you know it from this desolate, blue wasteland into a warm social community – just with one step. The water is something I decided to leave til last, because not only does it look like real water; it actually looks better! All of it has the feel of some surreal movie that you have just been cast into – everything in the game is extremely realistic.

Alpha Screenshots

The optimization is something that I dearly love; although the exact capabilities of the graphics system in its finite details has not been made yet, the graphics options work on a slider system where you can change the texture quality by a little nudge or a massive swipe. This system allows the game to be perfectly adjusted to any different gaming system there is, with the added option of the standard present settings for the different specifications that people have. This game is honestly for everyone; I assume it was in the minds of the developers that not all Lovecraftian’s actually own amazing gaming rigs – most of the gamers who share this mindset play games like The Secret World and other epics that really do not require too much graphical power. To test all of its capabilities I tested the game on a system that can run almost any next generation game with highest detail and the game ran beautifully – it was the real experience that the game had to offer. I then moved it onto my work laptop, which is running an Intel HD graphics card and an i3 processor and the game ran on the medium and low settings just beautifully. There is the obvious decline in texture details but the game is still extremely playable and smooth. The one problem with the optimisation is that although the textures can be turned down so much, the pre-set values that the developers have put into the game for low graphics also decrease the brightness to a point where there are extremely large dark areas that are hard to manoeuvre around.

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The Music

I can tell that the score for this game is something the developers are extremely proud of. I can tell this by the fact that in the package I got that included the game, I also got a copy of their soundtrack as an extra. Everything in it is extremely eerie and just adds to the amazing atmosphere of the entire game. The sounds overall are extremely well done; I feel like the crunch of ice every time the character takes a step could be a lot more emphasised – that overall would just add to the whole ambience of the gameplay and the feeling of loneliness that the character feels.

The Gameplay

Everything about the game is unique and really radiates a strong indie vibe. The game takes place in Antarctica and details a very horrendous exploration gone wrong – just like the book of the same name. So far I experienced three different types of health that the character needs in the form of resources to survive. Food is the most major one and when the character walks around for a bit, his mood goes down and his vision starts to go blurry; everything sort of gives off an insanity vibe as if hallucinations are about to start. At the beginning, food is not hard to come by, but I do feel like this aspect will almost give the game a timed approach and everything in it will have to progress quite quickly because the player will die if they run out of food. Another resource is batteries; the first mission in the game is to find your walking stick and your flashlight – the walking stick is an essential for any arctic traveller and comes in useful when you want to give things a good poke. The flashlight requires batteries and also serves as a sort of life system; this is a situation that makes me reminisce about the old days of Amnesia and having to keep up the supply of oil for the lantern and keep your insanity at bay. The third resource is wood, this is one I picked up quite a lot of and my assumption is that I will be required to create fires with it to produce light or keep warm. The snapshot of the game I got to view did not include features that extended to the use of the wood, but I am sure that it is in the game for a very good reason.

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The mechanics and physics of the game are very realistic. The team has utilised the Unreal Engine 4 to get a very real-feeling gaming experience. The only problem with the physics is that sometimes objects go on an unrealistic trajectory; one time I jumped on a lantern and it flew about ten metres to the right. I tried jumping on a lantern or two again after my first encounter and I encountered no such results, they all fell to the ground as per usual. The exploration capabilities are very Skyrim-esque; maybe that is because of the enormous amounts of ice or just the fact that the character is able to travel almost anywhere they can see on the glacier. The game keeps you from exploring places you are not allowed to go by creating an invisible barrier, in which when contact is created with it, the character reminds himself of what he needs. Although this aspect may seem unrealistic, it also adds to the insanity part of the game where the character is almost creating a mental barrier for himself that he cannot cross unless he has the materials required to move on. Although this may not have been the intention of the developers, it is still a nice thought.

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Conclusion

The game is a beautiful work of art and the developers have put in an amazing effort to get it up to the point that it is. I, personally am very excited for the release of this game and the upcoming beta – which I am sure I will also do a review on and I wouldn’t miss a chance to play this again. The game is near perfect, everything I could find wrong in the game was extremely minor like spelling errors and character position in relation to the ground; there were no game-changing errors. The game has been greenlit on steam and it will be available soon; this is by far the best indie game I have tried out in a long time and hope to see more of it. In saying this, I will attach the link for their IndieDB, in order for them to be recognised for their accomplishments. I would like to thank Team Clockwork for allowing me to test out their hard work.

IndieDB: http://www.indiedb.com/games/at-the-mountains-of-madness
2015 Indie of the Year Awards via Indie DB

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