Prisoners Of Ice
HIGH The classic ‘putting a broom in your pocket’ animation makes an appearance.
LOW Hint system, please.
WTF This interlude in the ancient Middle East is an odd diversion!
Chronicle of Innsmouth: Mountains of Madness knows how to build a tutorial level. The game opens in the middle of the Antarctic, where a scientific expedition has uncovered an entrance to the City of the Elder Things. For the uninitiated, that’s a race of barrel-shaped monsters that pretty much had the run of the earth until their slaves (Shoggoths, which are giant piles of goop, eyes, and teeth) turned on them. In just a couple of brief minutes, players get a glimpse at the scope of the threat as they’re learning the mechanics. It’s a perfect piece of design that expertly sets up the rest of the adventure.
As the second game in a series attempting to build a kind of ‘Lovecraft Extended Universe’ where all of the characters from his various stories live in the same world and interact with one another, Mountains of Madness picks up pretty much where 2017’s Chronicle of Innsmouth left off.
After the compelling prologue/tutorial, players take control of Lone, the detective protagonist of the first game who was last seen being devoured by a Shoggoth in tunnels beneath the town of Innsmouth. This proves to have been less fatal encounter than one would expect, and he makes haste to travel back to Arkham, where his employer is waiting to get the bad news about just how thoroughly the job was botched.
From there, Mountains proceeds like a standard point-and-click adventure, although the gameplay has been streamlined considerably. Players have one button for looking at things, one for interacting with them, and that’s it, other than using inventory items on the environment. However, the game is absolutely loaded with various puzzle types. Dexterity-based lockpicking, a logic puzzle to distill a drug, an elaborate forest maze, and even a conversation tree about threatening a secretary over the phone — no puzzle is ever repeated, so players never have a chance to grow tired of any particular mechanic.
However, the developers aren’t particularly great at helping players with those puzzles, which is a bit of a problem. There are basically two ways puzzle games can guide players — either they include a hint system, or they expertly craft dialogue and item descriptions to lead players to the correct conclusion. Mountains of Madness, sadly, does neither, which can easily lead to frustration for players who don’t think in exactly the same ways that the developers do.
Here’s an example. At one point the player needs to grab a piece of paper off of a desk through a hole in a wall. The solution is to take a broom, wedge a test tube over the tip of it, vigorously rub the tube on a carpet, and then use it to pick up the paper. Now, even if players know that static electricity can cause paper to stick to glass, that’s a lot of odd, unintuitive steps to solving a puzzle. Without being able to divine that logic, they’ll be stuck either randomly clicking everything in their inventory on everything on the screen, which is a dispiriting activity at the best of times.
MoM’s story is compelling, if hamfisted and fairly brief. Lone is called in to help with a gruesome murder investigation, only to have it spin off in strange direction, involving rival cults looking to control or destroy the world. Over the course of play there are a couple of fascinating interludes in which players are introduced to key characters from the Lovecraft Mythos, which mostly set up the plot of the next game in the series as players are given the impression that the world isn’t exactly what it seems to be — and all that’s even before they make it to Antarctica and discover that human civilization is built on a graveyard of ancient gods.
As is often the case with adaptations of Lovecraft’s work, something is lost in the translation to visual media. The Elder Things and Shoggoths are creepy and well-drawn, to be sure, but they don’t have the jarring, horrifying impact that they’re intended to. Likewise, the city in the titular Mountains of Madness is little more than a series of stone buildings. The developers didn’t go the extra mile to consider how an urban area built by tentacle beasts for the use of flying barrel monsters would necessarily look radically different from anything humans had ever created. The pixel-art is generally well done, it just lacks that extra level of existential horror that the subject matter demands.
Chronicle of Innsmouth: Mountains of Madness does a decent job of honoring its inspirations. The characters are trapped in a bizarre world full of inexplicable horrors and have no choice but to keep slogging through the nightmare, because the only other option is to lock themselves away in an asylum and wait for the apocalypse. Whatever problems I may have had with the puzzles — and I certainly didn’t enjoy going to the internet for help twice — the game gets the feel of Lovecraft right, and that’s worth overlooking a few awkward design choices.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by PsychoDev. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed.
Parents: This game was not rated by the ESRB, but it features Violence, Blood and Gore, Alcohol Use, Drug Use. There’s no real salacious content in the game, but plenty of torn-apart corpses, which is more than enough to net an M-equivalent. Also, characters use hallucinogenic drugs to travel through dimensions, so that’s a pretty major tip in a questionable direction for most parents, I’d imagine!
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played most of the game without audio and encountered no difficulties. All vital info is provided via text. Subtitles can be altered to make them more readable. (See example above.) This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. Players control Lone by clicking with the mouse onscreen. A button on the keyboard activates the ‘hotspot locator’, but everything else is done with the mouse.