Lust For Darkness
It’s odd that games involving both sex and horror often invoke the name of Lovecraft to try and sell them to audiences. While the author was certainly fascinated by the occult, he was more puritanical about intimacy. Yet the two themes are often intertwined in media, and some achieve more success than others. Lust for Darkness does not.
The story places you in the shoes of Jonathan Moon, whose missing-presumed-dead wife Amanda (a lady you’ll see in the prologue) drops him a note a year later, inviting him to a mansion. Nothing weird about that at all — but instead of calling the police, he decides to investigate on his own and what follows is a mixture of Eyes Wide Shut crossed with Amnesia: The Dark Descent, but on a far, far smaller budget.
Gameplay, such as it is, will be familiar to anyone who has played a walking simulator before. The key difference between Lust for Darkness and contemporaries such as What Remains of Edith Finch or Gone Home lie in the execution. Here, you are shepherded from place to place without any subtlety as objectives like “Answer the phone” and “Get the car keys” flash up, stripping away any joy of exploration. Puzzles involve finding the object you need to trigger the next objective, and the environments — where most of the interactive items are a few steps away in the same room — are filled with reused assets and more shiny reflective surfaces than you’d find at a furniture polish convention. It looks reasonably pretty, but it feels as hollow as the spoken dialogue. A couple of moving piece puzzles entertained briefly, but they all followed a similar theme and were over too quickly.
As for the sex, well, if you’re looking for titillation then you’ll be disappointed. That isn’t to say the scenes which deal with the lascivious nature of the mansion are awful. On the contrary, they’re surprisingly tasteful. However, like so much of Lust for Darkness, the motivation for all of the orgiastic goings on is never properly revealed. For a game that wields sex as a marketing weapon, phallic statues, vulvic doorways and drawers full of dildos strike a tone of pubescent immaturity, and their inclusion here feels like a smokescreen for a dull, unfinished horror story.
On that note, even the horror will leave you feeling cheated. Horror relies on many facets to keep viewers on edge: clever direction, excellent writing, realistic motivations and reactions, and a logic true to the world in which the protagonist is thrust into. Horror in video games needs all of this, plus stellar voice acting and a reason for wanting to take control of a character. Lust for Darkness offers you none of this. Jonathan talks like he’s advertising a Harley Davidson, and any immersion you may feel when playing is often shattered the moment he opens his mouth. The writing, too, fails both thematically and grammatically. While the central premise of a weird sex cult conjuring up a portal to another dimension could have been interesting, it is completely squandered by the villain’s absence of reason for doing so. The game aims to shock with themes of rape, forced abortion and imprisonment, but then offers no definitive justification for any of these acts.
Other than an effective jump scare early on in the mansion, most of the elements you would associate with good horror games are absent. The linear path the game funnels you down ensures that there’s only really ever one direction to head and in doing so, all fear of coming to harm is negated. You’re more likely to see a game over screen by being spotted by a denizen of the mansion or falling off a hard-to-spot ledge on a chasm than by any gruesome means. The alternative dimension drips with tentacles, roots and green and purple viscera, but none of it offers anything but a slightly different environment to run through. You’ll be chased by a monster a couple of times around a cavern until it gives up five seconds later, but you will never feel terrified because you have no investment in Jonathan’s survival. Even keeping Jonathan sane, a mechanic no doubt heavily inspired by Amnesia, amounts to nothing more than taking his cultist’s mask off and waiting a bit until the room returns to focus.
In many respects the real horror lies in the narrative and the plot threads that are never explained. Written text collectibles which expand on the backstory are filled with typos and confuse more than they explain, since many of the characters mentioned are barely touched upon in the main game and ultimately you’re left with far more questions than answers. Why was Amanda kidnapped? What purpose can a child have in opening up a new realm? Why are members of the cult mysteriously killed off at random intervals? And who the hell thought that “Lusst’ghaa” was a great name for an alien world?
Lust for Darkness touches upon a number of interesting ideas, and enough Kickstarter backers must have agreed that the team at Movie Games Lunarium had a concept worth exploring. The music and sound design are a highlight, desperately trying to create an atmosphere that the visuals and voice acting simply cannot deliver on, while the simple mechanics and puzzles will fail to challenge you throughout the short two to three hours you’re playing. It’s more like a horror peepshow than a game, one which offers the briefest taste of two different genres and then slams down the shutters before you feel like you’ve got your money’s worth.
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