Smaller, Tighter, Grosser

HIGH A couple of visually disturbing bosses.

LOW The absurd amount of looting required.

WTF How did I go the whole game without finding a better gun?

After sacrificing their sanity to prevent the Great Old Ones from destroying the world in the first game, three of its protagonists have wound up, unsurprisingly, committed to a mental institution. Unfortunately, Arkham Asylum is also the current home of an artist famous for painting images so bizarre and compelling that they’ve begun to create breaches in the walls of reality. So, it’s back into the fight as a new set of nefarious schemes must be foiled by… a ton of shooting.

Lovecraft’s Untold Stories 2 is extremely similar to the previous iteration, mechanically. The majority of gameplay revolves around exploring randomly-generated locations from an isometric perspective and fighting monsters, gradually advancing towards the area boss, and then finding a clue that leads them to the next location. There’s a hub base where players can store their items, a wide variety of areas to explore and enemies to battle, and an assortment of playable characters to take on missions.

Only two major changes have been made – one interesting, one unfortunate.

The interesting one is the completely revamped art style. Where the first LUS offered simple pixel-art representations of its monsters and locations, LUS2 has a lavishly cartoony aesthetic, giving the world the appearance of an animated comic book. It’s definitely more immediately attractive, although the diagonal POV can make navigating the world difficult – especially when trying to avoid the floor traps that litter nearly every room.

This detailed art is one of LUS2‘s strong points. Whether it’s the disgusting foes, the impossible landscapes, or the impressionistic cut-ins that appear to illustrate story moments, everything looks consistently great – and while personal taste will determine whether players prefer this to the basic look of the original, it’s undeniable that the developers have delivered strong visuals. Far less impressive is the developers’ decision to massively pare down the narrative and scope.

Where Lovecraft’s Untold Stories had a campaign for each of its five protagonists along with an overarching story that reached its climax only after all of the other plots were wrapped up, LUS2 has just one story to tell, with the player deciding which of the six playable characters they want to use at any point. On a very basic level this means that there’s just considerably less to do, but playtime isn’t the only consideration here.

Allowing the player to control any character at any time means that the developers had to either do a huge amount of work to generate unique scripted reactions to various situations or strip out complex interactions entirely, and reduce the various characters to little more than sets of combat abilities and equipment. Tragically, this second option is the one the developers went with – what few side-story interactions the game features are extremely basic, and most of them work for whichever character stumbles upon them.

In LUS, every character had their own full story with exclusive characters and locations. They had a specific motivation to go on the journey, and each tale came to a satisfying resolution. Players weren’t just deciding which set of abilities they preferred and leaning on one character over the next, they were gradually unfolding a mystery so enormous that it would be impossible for any one person to wrap their heads around it. Likewise the characters’ different abilities and priorities ensured that they would have completely different experiences in similar locations. The Detective is going to engage with the mad professor’s lab differently than the scientist would, and likewise a Witch is going to see a graveyard very differently than a Ghoul might. This meant that even when players were revisiting old haunts, they were seeing them in new ways, which kept the experience fresh — it always felt as if they were learning something about the world.

As awkward as the gameplay in the original LUS could be at times, the sheer variety of content made it almost impossible to stop playing. Over the course of the game, the player would go from fighting cultists in a mansion in New England, to fleeing shoggoths in Antarctica, to battling an elder god in an underwater palace. Characters and situations from Lovecraft’s stories were expertly woven together to create something altogether new. All of that texture is gone here – there are some interesting bosses, and a few truly odd locations, but the lack of narrative complexity ensures that LUS2 never feels like anything other than a series of combat arenas and item hunts.

In the place of a robust and involving storyline, LUS2 offers… a crafting system.

One of the stranger and less engaging parts of the original LUS was the shockingly huge number of items that could be found in it. There were dozens of different ways to buff weapons, prevent damage, deal with enemies, and equip characters – and after just a few rooms of exploration, the player’s inventory would groan under the weight of the sheer volume of items crammed into it. It was one of the most awkward and uninteresting parts of play, so I’m a little baffled to see the developers double down on it.

Now players don’t just have dozens of usable items to worry about – they also have an equal number of components that they can use to craft those items, but which serve no other purpose.

It would be one thing if players could craft health kits and poison cures on the fly, but no, they have to do that between levels back at their base. It would also make sense if components didn’t take up valuable inventory space, but no, after just a few rooms and searching every box, the player will be forced to start making hard choices about what they want to keep and what needs to be thrown away. I won’t claim that I spent as much time fiddling with my inventory as I did fighting monsters, but the ratio between the two activities felt more imbalanced than it should have been.

Lovecraft’s Untold Stories was a low-key delight. Yes, the gameplay was sometimes stiff, but the sheer depth and the developers’ obvious passion for strange fiction showed through, creating a memorable experience. LUS2 has none of its predecessor’s style. With its lack of compelling narrative and overcomplicated crafting system, Lovecraft’s Untold Stories 2 is as unfortunate a sequel as I’ve seen, dropping almost everything that worked about the original and expanding on what didn’t.

It’s a disappointment, and I can only hope that if this franchise continues, the developers manage to rediscover what made the first one special.

Rating: 3.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by LLC Blini Games and published by Fulqrum Publishing. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC
Approximately 20 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game was not reviewed by the ESRB, but it’s pretty obviously an M and contains Violence, Blood and Gore. Certainly no game for children, this is about a group of adventurers attempting to prevent monstrous entities from ending the world. There’s constant bloody violence and exploding enemies. While I can’t say I noticed a particularly large amount of swearing or any salacious content, it’s plenty inappropriate.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are no important audio cues that don’t have accompanying visual cues. I played most of the game without audio and encountered no issues. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

Jason Ricardo
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