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Those Who Remain Delivers a Fresh Take on the Horror Genre

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The experimental and terrifying Those Who Remain is an independent project perfect for fans of adventure horror titles such as Amnesia, Outlast, and Among the Sleep. The game balances intricate puzzles, hauntingly atmospheric environments, and gruesome enemies to deliver a fresh take on the horror genre. During EGX 2018, OnlySP had the chance to sit down with the Those Who Remain developer, Camel 101, for an extensive demo of the opening moments of the game. Beware minor spoilers for the main story can be found in this preview.

The game starts with the troubled protagonist, Edward, searching for his ex-partner Diana. Following a recent downward spiral in Edward’s life, he decided to revisit Diana only to find that she has gone missing from the motel room they had arranged to meet at. It quickly becomes apparent that something strange is going on as the entire area appears abandoned save for a few unknown individuals. As the player explores the area, they learn the first and most important rule of the game: stay in the light. Using street lamps and creating light sources is Edward’s main means of survival as ghostly figures with glowing eyes lurk in any and all dark spaces, ready to instantly kill anyone that wander too far into the darkness.

Camel 101 always intended on making a great horror tale that had players using light sources to stay alive. Later during the development, producer Ricardo Cesteiro became inspired to use demons after doing extensive research into religious depictions of devils and other wicked beasts. Cesteiro also revealed that he was heavily influenced by the works of Stephen King and David Lynch, particularly the concepts of The Mist and Twin Peaks.

Those Who Remain is filled with clever puzzles designed to advance the player in a natural way. For example, at one point Edward must navigate an abandoned gas station in order to light up his nearby surroundings and provide power a car waiting outside in order to safely evade his ethereal enemies. This brings in the next major difference in Those Who Remain, as players will have to tackle not one but two dimensions each with their own and often linked puzzles. The portals to the other world manifest on the form of glowing doorways present within the “real world.” Once in the other world, the player can see a twisted version of reality much like the Upside Down from the popular show Stranger Things. Altering objects or pieces of the environment in each reality will directly affect the other’s reality, an example of this is when the player tries to access the car door only to find that it is wedged shut, once finding said car in the alternate dimension it becomes apparent that the car is actually covered in thick vines.

Those Who Remain

As previously mentioned, the glowing enemies that lurk in the shadows will attack the player for getting too close but plenty of other haunting creatures exist that can creep up on Edward. During the demo, the player also encountered one of the other six enemy types that we nicknamed the “spotlight demon,” a grotesque monster made up of misshapen limbs held together by car parts and pieces of roadside equipment. As opposed to the regular enemies, the spotlight demon can walk around in the light and features a headlight for a face which, should the player wonder in front of, will trigger the monster to chase down Edward. Each design for the enemies comes with a unique backstory that is just as harrowing as the monster itself. In the case of the spotlight demon, the reason for car parts mixed with human limbs is due to a horrific car accident where those unlucky casualties are locked in perpetual terror. These amazing yet troubling designs were created by Boris Raguza and create a sense of pity for the creatures despite their deadly intent to hunt the player.

As well as regular enemy types, the player will also face several boss encounters requiring evasion in the form of stealth or fleeing from the imposing doom. The use of stealth is important for survival which brings on the only complaint so far with the project which is the lack of a crouch mechanic. Camel 101 has stated that a crouch feature could be added if players demand it, and much could change before the game’s release. While Those Who Remain requires some tweaking, the current build is playable from start to finish, however, the puzzles are subject to change before release.

During each playthrough, the player will be required to make difficult decisions that will ultimately affect the games ending. Camel 101 describes the endings as “good, bad, and much worse” meaning players will need to pay particularly close attention to each choice and risk suffering the consequences.

Despite such a small team working across the globe on the project, Those Who Remain is shaping up to be an indie classic for the horror genre. The title will release in 2019 for PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One.

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Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King is a Baffling Combination of Journey and Dark Souls

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Mixing genres is a fairly common practice in video games. For some titles, the combination works well, such as Crypt of the Necrodancer‘s rhythmic dungeon crawling or Double Cross‘s use of light detective work between 2D platforming sections. Others do not fare so well, such as the out-of-place stealth sections in the Zelda-like Beyond Good and Evil, or the infamous jack-of-all-trades, master of none that Spore turned out to be. Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King, unfortunately, falls into the latter category. Trying to combine the floaty exploration of Journey with the brutal combat of Dark Souls, the resulting mixture is a frustrating mess that will not please fans of either game. The first title by French independent developer Redlock Studio, this Early Access game requires a lot of work before it reaches the compelling gameplay experience it is aiming for.

The game begins with the protagonist waking up in Limbo, with no memory of who they are or how they got there. A tiny creature named Yaak takes pity on the player, suggesting that maybe the king Hypnos can help. The problem, however, is that Hypnos is the titular Forgotten King—a godlike figure, who mysteriously disappeared after creating the world. In his absence, demons have taken over the realms. On a journey to reclaim their identity, the protagonist just might be able to save the world along the way to finding the forgotten king.

The frustration begins as soon as the player gains control of the protagonist. Movement in  Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King is floaty and imprecise. This annoyance might be minor in a platformer, but the inclusion of the punishing combat of a Souls-like makes it beyond frustrating. Enemy encounters are dangerous in this style of game, with the need to dodge, parry, and circle around combatants to avoid death. However, the controls simply do not have the precision needed for the task. When the game requires frame-perfect timing to parry an enemy’s attack but features a character that moves like molasses, more often than not the player will take a hit. Apart from the initial listless humanoids of Limbo, enemies are much faster and stronger than the protagonist, quickly taking down an unprepared player. The balance is so uneven that the first boss, a hulking creature with an enormous greatsword, feels like a fairer fight than the rooms full of small enemies since his attacks are slower and more clearly telegraphed. Often, the better choice is just to run past the enemies all together.

Should the player manage to defeat some enemies, they will gain essence, which is used in levelling up. Levelling up can only be done in Limbo, often requiring a fair bit of backtracking. Players can improve their vitality, stamina, strength, or mystic, but no explanation is given on what those statistics actually do. Putting one point into strength will result in the character doing one point of extra damage, but since even the smallest enemies have hundreds of health points, a lot of level ups would be required before the player would see any real benefit. 

The platforming aspect of the game fares little better. The player is given no indication of where they have to go or what they have to do, just the general imperative of finding the king. The Frontier D’Imbolt, the first real level in the game, has plains spread out in all directions, encouraging exploration. However, the map is also full of instant death; lava, spiky plants, ledges to be avoided, and, of course, aggressive enemies, making exploration much less inviting. The floaty controls cause problems here, too, with over-shooting a target platform a constant issue. This annoyance could be resolved somewhat with giving the character a shadow to see where they will land. The viewpoint will also randomly change from 3D to 2D, with no real change in gameplay. The change seems to be purely for aesthetics, which does not seem reason enough for including annoying running-towards-the-camera gameplay.

Aesthetics, in general, is a strong point for Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King, with interesting character design and a muted colour palette. The enemies have a cool ghostly appearance, all transparent with hard planes. The blockiness of the world has an appealing look but sometimes presents gameplay issues, with a lack of clarity on which blocks can be stood upon and which cannot. Music is a highlight throughout the experience, soft and atmospheric throughout the levels but clashing into something harsh and unfamiliar for the boss fights.

As an Early Access title, bugs are to be expected at this stage of development, and Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King has plenty to offer. Despite being set to English, Yaak would occasionally slip into French, along with tooltips and the occasional item description. The English translation in general needs some more work, with quite a few typos and some weird wording, like ‘Strenght’ in the character status screen and ‘Slained’ when defeating the boss Hob. Enemies have buggy AI, sometimes freezing in place if the player wanders slightly too far away. Some instant death obstacles seem misplaced, with death spikes jutting out of a random wall. Most devastating was the game failing to acknowledge that the boss was defeated, with the gate he was guarding refusing to open. Perhaps defeating him again would make the gate work, but few players would be inclined to do so after a tough battle. 

Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King has the potential to become an interesting game but is simply not fun to play in its current state. The incompatibility of Journey and Dark Souls is the core of the game’s problem: it needs to lean more heavily on one concept or the other—make the levels more peaceful playgrounds for exploration, or tighten up the combat experience to reach that satisfying balance of hard but fair. Trying to have both leaves the game in this strange middle ground where no one is satisfied.

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