Ecstatica (PC) review
"Unless you tread with absolute care, you'll be assaulted by a crazed werewolf, almost immediately. If your defenses are shaky, he will beat you to death then and there, in the first minute of your game. And I mean, he'll pummel you."
Ecstatica is an old relic of a survival horror game on the PC, and it's genuinely frightening. But not in gaming's traditional sense. There are no mind-blowing rendered sequences of zombies crashing through windows to make your heart gallop. If anything, Ecstatica's ellipsoid graphics--remarkable for their time--make the game look funny, and not even cartoon-cool like Vectorman, but actually silly. So no, this game is not about scares. Ecstatica's specialty is dread.
Sheer bad luck saw you happen upon the hellish town of Tirich, which is in the gnarled grasp of a witch and her demonic hold over a dreaming girl, and you'll need every ounce of good luck to survive your stay. You have either your poor navigation skills or your empty water canteen to blame for your current predicament. In any case, you won't play for long before you begin feeling that aforementioned palpable dread set in--of painful, ineluctable death.
Unless you tread with absolute care, you'll be assaulted by a crazed werewolf almost immediately. If your defenses are shaky, he will beat you to death then and there, in the first minute of your game. And I mean, he'll pummel you. Should you manage to get some shots in, he'll take your best and respond with two of his own in kind. It's your Glass Joe versus his Mike Tyson; your only hope will be to get a jab in, and instantly duck his inevitable counterpunch before trying to stick him with another feeble, decidedly defensive hook.
If you have mad skills and manage to pull this off on the number pad, something amazing will happen. Amazing for this type of game, released this long ago: the werewolf will appear to lick his paw (literally licking his wounds!) and back off, somewhat surprised, his ego somewhat stung at your effrontery. But he will never turn his back on you, and will often lunge at you again, making you prove your first successful defense of your life wasn't a fluke.
You've earned some respite, so now would be the time to hightail it into a nearby barn to seek refuge. The game will allow you to rest here, and recover from your various life-threatening injuries. Take a moment to soak in all the sights this bizarre purgatory has to offer. You'll see a little girl skipping along outside, impossibly happy, treading oddly ominously in narrow spaces between rickety houses. She seems not to notice the spider nearby, which is as large as a Honda Civic. Nor does she notice the crawling, pleading, bleeding man on the ground. She keeps right on skipping.
What you can't see from your vantage point, are the three little pigs that lay in wait to trip you up from within cracks in the ground, and the Minotaurs that loom large as they stalk their own private killing fields on the outskirts of the village. Besides death, weirdness is clearly Ecstatica's most prevalent ingredient. You will turn into a frog, contemplate before stone obelisks, and meet the Lady of the Lake. This game is a nightmare world of utter incongruity; only punishment remains consistent.
There are some clumsy puzzles in Ecstatica (the main one is simple ingredient collecting), which aren't numerous or difficult, but the circumstances in which you must solve them usually is. And really that sums up the entire experience: the game is very short and simple, and could be solved at one sitting rather easily--were it not for fear of constant beatings. In fact, Ecstatica would likely be a vapid, flimsy experience--by no means a great game. But something saves it from being, just another flawed, forgettable title.
There is much ado made about the nudity (naked ellipsoids with big… ellipsoid breasts--sign me up!), and other controversy such as being able to kill a priest, and select a rather sexist depiction of a woman as your playable character--but those things aren't Ecstatica's 'special something.' It's the way Ecstatica punishes you with impunity. The way it bludgeons.
It's the dread that makes it memorable.
Staff review by Marc Golding (February 19, 2007)
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