H.P. Lovecraft is the godfather of weird fiction. It’s not surprising that there are so many games based on his stories and lore. Taking direct inspiration from that lore is the eponymous Lovecraft's Untold Stories, a roguelite action-RPG by Russian studio Blini Games. It kind of reminds me of the original Alone in the Dark trilogy, which I played in the late 1990s. Like Alone in the Dark, Untold Stories has the same concept of a cultist or investigator in a haunted house, fighting monsters and solving puzzles. The premise remains intriguing, even over twenty years later as technology has come a long way since the polygon graphics of Alone in the Dark.
This is an Early Access game, though the developers say they plan to launch the full release in three to four months, which is unusual for Early Access games. The full release won’t be the end of it, as they also plan to keep adding content along the way. Right now it includes two playable characters (one of which you have to unlock), but they plan to add others. It also includes five procedural levels and one boss.
Visuals and Atmosphere
The 16-bit graphics are very nice, with a great use of lighting and shadow. The atmosphere is particularly dark and sombre, which fits the Lovecraftian tone of the story. You begin by selecting the character, which has its own backstory and, I assume, will be different for each character. The game begins in the streets outside the house, and you’ll have to find your way inside the house through a bit of a maze that also works as a tutorial level.
Once you’re inside the house you move from one room to the next, exploring and looting the closets and tables. You’ll meet different kinds of monsters or cultists, and some take different strategies to kill. There are also statues and relics in some rooms that offer clues and make references to Lovecraft and the Cthulhu mythos. If you’ve read some of his stories you can see the connections, but apart from that there isn’t much to it.
Every Bullet Counts
The controls are rather unorthodox, but they work fine with the mechanics. It has full controller support, but I haven’t tried it, as I prefer mouse and keyboard. There is no mouse input. You use WASD to move, and use the arrow keys to shotgun enemies and objects. If an enemy comes up from above, you press the up key; if it comes down from below, you press the down key. You have infinite ammo, but the shotgun only has two shells to fire, then your character reloads it. You can roll away from enemies, but that takes stamina, which soon depletes, so you have to be careful not to spam-roll.
Lacking in Narrative Depth
As you unveil clues and explore rooms, you may lose sanity, which impairs your character. I would be more interested if deeper narrative interactions were tied to sanity. Right now the game lets you know when you lose sanity, usually after you inspect a relic. There is no way to keep track of it, but the developer has plans to add a sanity bar, which will probably work similarly to the stamina bar. There could also be more puzzles connected with the relics and statues to engage the player apart from the Lovecraftian references.
The gameplay is engaging and challenging enough, though balancing would be welcome in the initial stages. Some will have more trouble with the controls than others. This is a roguelite after all, so dying and starting over should be expected if you plan on picking it up. You can only save when you get to a room called the Strange Place, where you can also store items that you can recover, should you die.
According to the developer, the full release will include 12 main procedural levels and five special levels “to face the Great Old Ones” of the Cthulhu mythos. There will be more than 50 different monsters, and more than 30 weapons. The playable characters will include the detective, already available, and also the thief, the professor, the witch and the ghoul. Each character will have their own different stats and skills. Min-maxing should be tricky, as it will be tied up with sanity.
Lovecraft's Untold Stories is a promising roguelite action-RPG with an assertive identity and sufficiently engaging gameplay. Early Access will make it possible to chisel off its flaws and highlight its best qualities. Right now it should be easy for new players to establish a good relationship with the developers so that the game can satisfy their demands. I look forward to the full release in a few months and will deliver a proper review at that point.
Richard covered Lovecraft's Untold Stories on PC through Steam using a code provided by the developer.