It’s impossible to be certain exactly what Heironymous Bosch (the painter, not the cop) was trying to convey with his famous depictions of hell. He left no writings explaining his method, and the 15th century wasn’t a popular time for biographers to document the lives of artists.
The visions he put on canvas, packed to the brim full of naked sinners being tortured by black-skinned demons, are in line with the Catholic Church’s medieval doctrine of hell being a place of eternal torment of the condemned. The details, though, are captivating in their strangeness — one painting focuses on people being transformed into musical instruments. Another depicts people being tormented by tools of food production.
The images are so odd and iconoclastic that one is forced to wonder not just where the inspiration was coming from, but what Bosch intended the audience to get from them. Is there some connection between the man making out with a mermaid in his fantasy version of paradise and the platypus-man ice-skating in hell? Why is gambling the only sin being specifically and explicitly called out? Why does that giraffe in the Garden of Eden have an erection?
Succubus offers a less fantastical version of hell, but I suspect it will be the subject of just as much interpretation by its audience.
A first-person melee-focused horror-action game, Succubus casts players as the titular type of demon — in this case, a beautiful goat-woman who slaughters her way through a torture mountain for reasons that go completely unexplained by the essentially plotless demo I played. The game offers no window into its anti-heroine’s personality beyond a few quips about how much she enjoys killing people; a shadowy figure who pops up a couple of times is too busy making jokes about DOOM to bother offering any exposition.
While not particularly groundbreaking, Succubus‘ vision does offer one interesting innovation — Hell is the place where nothing grows. It’s a barren, rocky hellscape populated by damned souls, and decorated with flesh and bone. Everywhere the player turns they’ll find cages and torture devices built from the bodies of the dead. Armor and weapons are crafted from human bones, restraints from intestines, and blood flows everywhere like water.
Also worth investigation is the game’s conception of just who ends up in hell. The netherworld contains demons — all of which seem to hate and prey on one another — but the vast majority of enemies are human ‘warriors’. These are men who died in combat, and upon arriving in hell want nothing more than to continue being at war.
In Succubus‘ conception of morality, war itself is a sin, and all those who participate in it are destined for perdition’s flame. Each new generation arrives, fashions weaponry from the bodies of those who came before, and keep right on fighting, each imagining themselves to be the hero who will conquer hell. Of course, all of them die with just one or two swipes of a sword.
Beyond a few extreme instances of torture, however, the demo’s depiction of hell’s denizens is almost entirely male, possibly suggesting the stereotypical masculine drive towards conflict can only lead to destruction and damnation? I’d worry that I was reading too much into it if the game didn’t offer an interesting twist on the origin of the main character’s species.
Succubi are considered to be a relatively ‘new’ kind of demon, dating back just 4000 years. The script posits that during King Nimrod’s famous war against God, he sought the aid of demons and regularly sacrificed people to them. During one sacrifice, a demon took pity on a woman who was being raped by her torturers and tore her soul out while she was still alive, bringing it to hell and transforming it into a weapon to be used for tormenting men by using their lust against them. In the demo’s second most upsetting sequence, this literally occurs as a male torture victim finds himself aroused by the main character even as she tears into him and he winds up… unmanned… for his indiscretion. It’s strange, then, given the game’s cynical point of view on the inextricable link between masculinity and sexual violence, that the single most upsetting scene in the game involves a female victim.
Succubus‘ unique ‘health pack’ is a pregnant woman — a tutorial encourages the player to brutally beat this ‘sinner’ to regain health, but the gameplay conflicts with the game’s text. The focus is on doing as much damage as possible to the fetus contained in her uterus. It glows with a red light — the same visual language the game uses to indicate that an enemy is ready to be executed — and all of the player’s attacks are aimed at it, culminating in the moment when the succubus tears the fetus out of the woman and drinks its blood. It’s almost as if the original concept of the scene was built around the idea of the succubus gaining power by killing and devouring an ‘innocent’, with a fetus being the only possible innocent in hell. As unpleasant an idea as that is, it would have at least made narrative sense, rather than feeling like provocation for its own sake.
Now, a word about the gameplay — it’s a little rough at the moment.
While fundamentally functional since all of the attacks and spells work fine, the health system is pretty much broken. Other than the aforementioned torture scene, the only way to regain health is to perform finishing moves on weakened enemies. This proves surprisingly difficult to accomplish for a few reasons.
First — enemies flash red to indicate that they’re ready to be killed, but the lighting effect isn’t flashy enough to draw the player’s eye to the opportunity. This is a hell lit by torches and lava — everything is flashing red all the time.
More importantly, the player has to get incredibly close to perform the finishers, rather than leaping to the enemy as the Doomslayer would. Enemies swarm the player constantly, so the moment an enemy is staggered, there are at least three more foes lunging in with weapons and damaging the player so much that the health they gain from an execution isn’t worth the trouble.
I’ll be interested to see the finished version of Succubus when it’s released later this year — will the game’s ideas form a coherent statement about sin and punishment, or will it wind up offering nothing but blood and gore with no redeeming qualities? Will it have an interesting philosophy, or am I a fool for seeking meditations on morality in a game which features a scene in which a demoness bathes herself by using mutant hell lobsters as sponges to spread blood all over her body?
Either way, I’ll to find out.