Navigate the horrors of your own mind with only monsters to keep you company.
PC Release: Early Access
By Ian Coppock
Over the years, I’ve become so desensitized by mindless horror games that I don’t get scared if I have a means of self-defense. I played about 20 minutes of The Evil Within and set it down when I noticed the monsters could be slain. Remove the threat, and you remove the tension. Remove the tension, and you remove the horror. However, a recent discovery on Steam has prompted me to re-examine this hardliner policy with an open heart. A rapidly beating heart. One that approaches the subject of horror with much trepidation after having played Unloved.
Originally a mod for Doom II: Hell on Earth, Unloved has been re-released as a standalone title on Steam. Currently a work in progress, the game is a gory first-person shooter that successfully manages to stay scary despite equipping you with means of self-defense. Unloved sees you assume the role of some nameless psychopath, who must wander a series of procedurally generated corridors in hopes of escaping a nightmare. Your guns and your flashlight are your primary tools against the darkness.
The premise is, like with many horror games, based on speculation. Your character is given no stated identity beyond his ability with a gun. Your goal in each round of the game is to successfully power up a series of machines, find some magic rocks, and use all of this to open an elevator that takes you down to the next level. Down, as in deep down into HELL. There’s not much of a story to be had outside of this premise, but I’m too much of an adrenaline junkie to care.
Unloved‘s Doom heritage would’ve been apparent to me even if I’d somehow not read of it on its Steam page. Like a lot of the old-school iD shooters, Unloved is presented as a maze of rooms and hallways with keys at their ends. Fighting hordes of monsters is only half the battle; you have to use your trinkets and runes to open up new areas for further exploration. Finding these doors, and the monsters that guard them, is another animal. You’ll find weapons and ammo in ready supply around the map, but I quickly discovered that this does not guarantee your feeling of superiority.
The monsters in Unloved are unpleasant. Thus far we have a rogue’s gallery of obese flesh-mounds with cleavers for hands, skinny twitching things, and zombie cowboys armed with revolvers. I do the enemies no flattery with these descriptions, but rest assured, they’re much scarier in-game. Their behavior ranges from solitary stalking to waves upon waves hitting you every few minutes. In this regard the game is similar to Left 4 Dead, with lots of enemy variation in behavior to keep things interesting.
Unloved‘s gameplay doesn’t contain anything that shooter fans haven’t already encountered. Load your gun, point your gun, pull the trigger, and watch stylized blood spurt out of whatever misshapen monster is lurching closest to you. Health and armor pickups are scattered around the level at about the same frequency as ammo, though these pickups are not in synch with the waves of monsters, so manage your resources carefully. You can also find “trinkets” little bobbles that augment your stats and give you a sharper edge against your foes.
From what I can tell, the standalone version of Unloved is being built in the Unity engine. I don’t seem to have had great luck with visuals in this round of Short Horror Week. Thus far in the game’s development the textures are pretty muddled and the visuals are bare-bones. In-game objects are skeletal in their detail and held about two seconds of my interest before I move on. Hopefully these features will receive some touch-ups as we go, but I can safely confirm that the spectacular splatters of blood and gore have received much more attention.
So does Unloved manage to be scary despite the guns and the deluge of predictable enemies? The answer is yes, and it’s more because of level design than any gameplay choices. As I’ve said several times now, Unloved‘s levels are generated as you go, and always into the shape of a nauseating maze. It’s not always clear if you’ve already been this way or if this is a new area. If it’s the latter, you can bet that something is lurching around the corner, but since you can’t remember, you can’t know. This also proves to be a point of steep frustration, as there’s no fun to be had retreading the same areas over and over, but the map in your top-right corner will usually help keep you on track.
To expound on my claim that the monsters are predictable… the monsters are predictable. The chubby ones with the knives literally line up to kiss your shotgun, and the zombie cowboys that hover just out of view go down in one shot. The worst enemies are the twitchy bastards that Fus Ro Dah you with blasts of magic. They’re solitary, they’re less predictable, and their magic hurts. A lot.
So what do all of these features that I’m blabbering about amount to? They amount to a horror-shooter that will keep your fingers taut and your asscheeks clenched no matter how much ammo you have in the chamber. They amount to a game that will see you wandering the same lonely mazes to be beset upon by demons at any given moment. They amount to a tense treasure hunt where your resource management will determine your success far more than your sense of direction. One round of this game is only 20-30 minutes, but what a 20-30 minutes it is.
In other words, Unloved amounts to a novel experience. You may be able to kill the monsters, but you’ll still shriek like a little girl when they pop up an inch from your nose. Right now the game is in Early Access, and I completely understand the reservations of those who avoid Early Access, but I recommend keeping an eye on this title as it continues to grow. Grab a buddy for the game’s co-op mode if you’re too scared to go it alone, or wait as more guns, monsters and objectives get added to Unloved. Either way, I’ve been enjoying running around a maze like a headless chicken only to shit my pants when I round the corner on a monster party. Horror fans everywhere can appreciate that.
Right? Or are we all just goddamn crazy?
You can buy Unloved here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at email@example.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.