That Is A Pretty Big Key
HIGH Winning the necklace, and its immediate aftermath.
LOW The pearl puzzle is a bit too obscure.
WTF Wait, getting rich and being waited on by cherubs isn’t winning?
The Procession to Calvary is one of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s largest paintings, and as is typical of his work, is crowded with incident. Children play in the mud, crowds gather at the mount, merchants and peddlers scramble, horses rear up in surprise, and guards parade. Dead center in the canvas, yet famously easy to miss, Christ collapses beneath the weight of the cross, his suffering ignored by almost everyone around him and many of those who view the painting.
The Procession to Calvary is also the name of Joe Richardson’s newest game, one that incorporates many parts of Bruegel’s Procession in its own densely-packed screens. Richardson cribs art from dozens of different paintings, using it for the backgrounds and characters of every scene, and lightly animates them to bring the bricolage to life.
This approach has its downsides. Calvary devotes a mouse button to letting the player highlight what objects can be interacted with. This is absolutely necessary because it’s often impossible to distinguish what’s important from what’s merely decorative, and “important” objects can be very tiny. However, even with the option to highlight, Calvary often devolves into the old adventure-game standby of clicking on every single thing multiple times and trying to use inventory items on everything in the world.
The Procession to Calvary also devotes a mouse button to drawing the main character’s sword. Refreshingly (and unlike many other adventure games) the violence that ensues can solve many problems, albeit while creating new ones. The ultimate aim of the quest in Calvary is to kill Heavenly Peter, a religious leader of “the south”, in the name of Immortal John, a new religious leader who has just led a successful revolution in the north. Fittingly, the unnamed main character, who embarks on this quest because she genuinely loves murders, is clipped from Rembrandt’s Bellona, depicting a Roman war goddess.
This puts religion at the center of the quest, and religion shows up at the periphery too, most clearly in an amusing series of run-ins with a familiar charlatan. Yet the essence of these religions – what is believed, how worship is performed – is invisible. There are vast cathedrals and wealthy bishops, but whatever is supposed lie at the center of all this pomp and circumstance has disappeared. Only the Satan-worshipping animals in a cave seem to have an actual faith, albeit one based on material goods.
Don’t mistake Calvary for a weighty meditation on religion, however. The game never stops making jokes and plays most of its critiques for laughs. I felt most of the humor landed well (the principal exceptions being some less-than-amusing fourth-wall bits) though my general reaction was a wry smile rather than a bark of laughter. Those who can’t see at least some humor in medieval approaches to torture may not get as much mileage from this game, though.
Players who value length in a title might be disappointed, as it’s possible to get one of Calvary’s worse endings in about 15 minutes. Even diligently working through all the puzzles the “right” way won’t extend the campaign to more than a few hours at most, but to me, this matters little. The Procession to Calvary may not be an epic, but I enjoyed looking at it, playing it, and the things it made me think about. That’s more than I can say for many games that sustain whole weeks of playtime.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Joe Richardson and published by Joe Richardson and SUPERHOT Presents. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on a home-built Windows X PC equipped with an AMD Ryzen 2700X processor, an ASRock X470 motherboard, 32 GB RAM, and a single GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card. Approximately 3 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed.
Parents: As of press time this game has not been rated by the ESRB. Of course the whole thing is made of classical art, but buddy, have you seen the subject matter of classical artwork? This game has nudity, torture, a guy getting drawn and quartered, severed heads, alcohol use, a boy with a leash, and a substantial number of farts. The humor and the animation blunt almost all of this, but sensitive parents may be disturbed. I expect the rating would be T.
Colorblind Modes: No colorblind modes are available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is in text and there are no essential sound cues. Text dialogue appears near the speaker, not at the bottom of the screen, and on several occasions is in a color that may be difficult to see on the background. Dialogue appearance can not be adjusted in the options.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. All functions are controlled by pointing and clicking with the mouse. On-screen hotspots can be highlighted using the center mouse button. Left-clicking a hotspot brings up a context menu. The inventory is viewed by moving the mouse to the top of the game window, but using inventory items requires the player to drag the mouse while holding the left button. The right mouse button draws the main character’s sword, allowing it to be used at hotspots.
Currently Sparky works as a scientist in Rhode Island, and works gaming in between experiments and literature reviews. As a writer, he hopes to develop a critical voice that contributes to a more sophisticated and interesting culture of discourse about games. He is still waiting for a console port of Betrayal at Krondor.