Posted: September 28, 2014
I loved my first playthrough - it was eerie, tense, fresh, and fun. I hoarded coins, I explored every nook, and I took in every giant texel of the environment. I dealt with the enemies carefully, and triumphantly beat the first stage. I was in love.
Then I died and respawned. At that point, I realized that the elements I'd loved so much were not appealing upon replay. I understood how the monsters operated, I knew what the sound cues meant, I had figured out how many bullets I needed, and how far away from monsters I could be before they noticed me. I'd "gotten" the game in under half an hour of gameplay, and afterwards the whole veneer of tension and horror fell away, revealing a game that's still tough and can be fun, but has none of the thrill that I experienced before I could predict its every move.
Worse, the enemies have no apparent otherworldliness other than their appearance. When I think of horrifying things, I imagine creatures or forces which aren't predictable. These threats are very predictable - they don't vanish around corners, they don't change the environment without your consent, they don't even do much with their wandering/patrolling routes. To make this game effective, it needs to keep you from fully understanding the enemy - but it doesn't. It's the same one-track-minded stateful AI that's plagued games for 20+ years. Even the more interesting enemies (like the statue) follow very strict rules. The game falls into the tedium being too predictable, and offering punishments to the player for not predicting it - when this could have been a game that broke the mold.
The game is also not well served by being permadeath. Permadeath only works when you give the player some reason to replay. Maybe you let them play different classes, or pick different abilities, or try out new unlocks they got last playthrough, give them a new goal to chase, or even just give them a persistent gold storage that they can buy useful items from. This game doesn't do any of that. The store is limp and useless, and a replay just feels like rehashing what you've already accomplished - rather than picking up again with determination.
Ultimately the game is competently made, it has good generation, some fun textures, a neat premise, and a good opening. It's technologically solid and ticks all the boxes for a good game. But the gameplay melts in your hands - the longer you examine it, the less solid the it feels.