Freshly, Darkly Derivative

HIGH The inspired idea to merge Norse mythology and science fiction.

LOW Some save points are too far apart.

WTF How ridiculously dark it is.

It’s safe to say that there’s recently been increased interest in Norse mythology. This can be seen in the Marvel cinematic universe with Thor or with the God of War series moving from a Greek to a Norse mythology setting. It’s even been used to explore less obvious themes, such as mental illness in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. Hellblade also incorporated horror (as have a few others) but I haven’t seen many take the Norse foundation and marry it to a futuristic setting — not since the infamous Too Human, at least. Apsulov: End of Gods does this now.

Apsulov, developed by Angry Demon Studio, is played from a first-person perspective and at times seems to fit into the genre of a narrative-driven adventure (otherwise known as a “walking simulator”). There are some key differences though, with the inclusion of shooting and horror elements. However, like those narrative-driven adventures, Aspulov has a heavy focus on story, which begins with the well-worn trope of the player character not remembering who they are. The main character wakes up in a dark research base full of crazed enemies, with no idea what’s happened or why they are there.

As the tropey setup suggests, Apsulov is pretty derivative. This becomes clearer as the player finds and listens to the various audio tapes (another worn-out trope) and learns that discoveries were made and scientists messed with things they shouldn’t be messing with, echoing countless games like Doom 3 and Dead Space.

There isn’t anything particularly new in the gameplay either. The elements that push Apsulov away from being a typical walking simulator – namely, the horror and the shooting — are lackluster, especially when considered on their own. For example, the shooting is slow and cumbersome, relying on a charge mechanic powered with very limited resources. 

Apsulov is also not an especially scary experience. Enemies boast basic and unimaginative character models, contributing to a lack of terror despite how quickly the player character can die. Rather, gameplay leads to situations that frustrate more than terrify, such as one instance in a corridor filled with enemies, which I was obviously supposed to sneak through. After many frustrating deaths and all sense of tension evaporated, I ended up just blindly running through the area. Blindly is an apt word – Apsulov is a very dark game.

This can give it a heavy sense of atmosphere and lend a striking appearance in places, such as one instance where the piercing glow of a giant axe cuts through the darkness. However, it can also make Apsulov an absolute chore to play. There is an augmented vision mode, that helps in some areas, but in others it doesn’t make anything much clearer. Indeed, Apsulov became nigh-impossible to play due to screen glare on a sunny day, here I found myself stumbling around in the dark, dying because I just couldn’t see. What’s worse is the spacing of the save points – sometimes too far apart, and dying between saves only added to my irritation.

While what I’ve written so far may make it sound like I didn’t enjoy Apsulov, I actually enjoyed my time with it overall.

It’s true that the elements of Apsulov ’s gameplay don’t stand out when considered on their own, but the variety did help to keep the game fresh, and this was further aided by a welcome game length of around 6 hours. Despite my frustrations with the darkness and how it combined with other factors to make it a chore, I found myself eagerly continuing to play due to the story which truly brings it all together and makes it stronger than the sum of its parts.

This may seem in contradiction to my description of the setup as derivative, but ultimately, I found the combination of science fiction and Norse mythology to move beyond surface-level integration, with a surprising level of faithfulness to the source material. This allows the story to go in an interesting direction that I won’t spoil here, and although some of this is well-telegraphed ahead of time, I still got a kick out of it. 

There is no question that Apsulov is a flawed work that can sometimes be incredibly frustrating to play, but by fully committing to marrying science fiction and Norse mythology, it ends up in a good place. I can be forgiving of gameplay faults if the overall experience is as enjoyable as it is in Apsulov and it is safe to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Angry Demon Studio and published by Digerati Distribution. It is currently available on XBO, XBX/S, PS4, PS5, Switch and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher download and reviewed on the PS4.  Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed.  There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language. The site reads: This is a survival horror game in which players assume the role of an amnesiac woman who finds herself in a facility overrun by monsters. From a first-person perspective, players explore the facility, interact with characters, solve puzzles, and attempt to avoid monsters. Some encounters with monsters can result in players getting slashed and bitten; one sequence depicts monsters dismembering a character’s arm. Additional instances of intense violence include an impaled character’s neck getting snapped and a character drilled in the face. As players explore dark environments, they can encounter large blood stains and dismembered/mutilated corpses with exposed organs/viscera. The words “f**k” and “sh*t” are heard in the game.

Colorblind Modes:  There are no colorblind modes available. 

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered or resized. Due to Apsoluv‘s reliance on darkness, sound cues with no visual component are frequently used to reveal enemy positions. As a result, this game is not fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Certain functions are remappable.

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