The Corruption Within Review
Have you ever pondered your life choices on a rainy day, before realising you could just go for an adventure game with low-res pixel art? First-person, yes, it has to be in first-person. But new, you’ve played all the classics. Oh, and make sure it’s set in Victorian England because you fancy some spooky stoicism with your clicking. This is The Corruption Within, a game with a lot to like in its lovely art and atmospheric audio, but hamstrung by some core faults in its design.
You’re a Victorian gentleman on a camping holiday with your wife and kids. Before long, they go missing, and this is the catalyst for mystery in The Corruption Within. You investigate the nearby area and, seeing lights in the night, head towards what turns out to be a mansion to investigate. But all is not well. The mansion is inhabited by the archetypal Victorian family: servants, groundskeepers, and snobby nobles who aren’t quite right.
The mansion and surrounding area are rendered in a gorgeous surreal-like pixel art style that enhances the game’s creepy setting. The drab, grey-blue hues of darkness are punctuated by the warm glow of fireplaces and bright reflections of the moonlight off bodies of water in the distance. One particular room of the mansion has an animated flickering fireplace that also has an animated reflection in the room’s varnished floorboards. They’ve clearly paid attention to the little details in the art and it shows.
The sound design in The Corruption Within is equally great. There is a lovely classical, orchestral soundtrack that accompanies your exploration, and the pieces of music played change on a whim based on where you are or what you encounter, which adds an extra level of atmosphere on top of the graphics. Enter somewhere you shouldn’t be and the tempo picks up; just browse a safe room and you get easy-listening tunes. Again, there is an attention to detail that extends to the game’s minutiae. The deep thud of a grandfather clock as you pass through its room, for instance.
Since the game is played from the first-person perspective, you navigate by arrows in the corner of the screen (or WASD). Interacting with the world is done by the standard left-click to interact and right-click to examine. Another key opens your inventory, and that’s that in terms of controls. Using items involves opening your inventory, clicking the item you want, and then clicking where in the world you want to use it. Strangely, you can’t examine items in your inventory. You can’t combine items either, which limits the types of puzzles on offer.
Since you can’t combine items, this makes the puzzle solutions that require items largely simplistic or frustrating with artificial boundaries. Numerous times, I found all the necessary items to complete a puzzle, but your character will tell you he has no reason to do that right now. You can even use all your items in preparation, but the game won’t let you complete the puzzle until it deems you’ve progressed enough in the story. One example had me spying something of clear interest in the background, using all the correct items to get to that object, only to be met with my mercurial character telling me he wasn’t going to do that right now, even though he just said it was of interest. This failure in design yanks you straight out of any immersion you had, and it would make more sense to only make the relevant items able to be picked up when they can be used.
Unfortunately, another downside in design is the need to interact with objects in the environment two or three times before they spill their contents. Clicking a chair the first couple of times will give you some detailed exposition, but the third time you will suddenly find something hidden there, for example. This led to a frustrating experience where I spent an hour — in a game that takes two hours to complete — scouring the game’s locations over and over for the single item I needed because I hadn’t clicked a drawer the required number of times. Item-based puzzles aside, there are a few clever ones that require you to push buttons in the right sequence. These are more old school in temperament, and you’ll be asked to remember or write down clues in order to work out the order.
Another issue I found was the barebones UI. There’s no way to keep track of objectives or repeat dialogue. Once it’s been said, it goes away. If you save and come back another day, it’s easy to forget where you were or what you should be doing. Though The Corruption Within isn’t a long game, it’s strange that there are oversights like this in gameplay when the art and sound take great care when it comes to attention to detail.
The Corruption Within does, however, do characters and writing well. Characters are fleshed out and have their own backgrounds, motivations, and quirks, making the experience a thoughtful character drama. A downtrodden servant will slip up in speech and reveal their working-class origins, a member of the family will reveal their worries after you gain their trust, and one woman speaks only in rhymes.
Talking with characters will enter you into a close-up conversation screen with text (no voice acting), allowing you to observe them in all their beautifully detailed artistic glory. You can select what to say by clicking the pertinent dialogue choice on-screen, which is based on what you’ve found out so far. Dialogue options are there to be exhausted rather than actually being a choice that affects the story, but each one fills in backstory and may provide information on what to do next. There are, however, a handful of key decisions to be made with certain objects or situations you encounter along the way. When this happens, you are given a number of options to select from. What you choose to do doesn’t change the story per se, but does affect the epilogue text screen, which details what happens after the game’s events.
Overall, The Corruption Within is a strange beast. It has great art and audio, good writing that brings its characters to life with considered backstories, and a compelling setting. But its major flaw is in its gameplay. Frustrating design decisions abound in the core areas of puzzles and UI, and it makes the game hard to recommend to anyone but the most dedicated adventure fans who are willing to overlook basic issues. The Corruption Within isn’t a terrible game; its gameplay just doesn’t live up to the promise of the rest of it.
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