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Chronicle of Innsmouth: Mountains of Madness (PC) artwork

Chronicle of Innsmouth: Mountains of Madness (PC) review

"I had a pun tagline picked out for this Lovecraft game, but it was an old one."

For the unaware, Innsmouth is a pretty crumby place to live. Private detective, Lone Carter, certainly didnít seem to enjoy his stay during 2017 point & click adventure, The Chronicles of Innsmouth, but I couldnít tell you for sure. I missed that particular game. Mountains of Madness is either a prequel or a sequel (or maybe both; what importance is our perception of time in the face of cosmic horror?), but immediately offers you a recap of what you may have missed. Lone was hired to try and retrieve the wayward brother of a Miskatonic university lecturer, but found much more than he was searching for. The brother didnít make it out alive and nor, seemingly, did Lone. His last few memories show him chased through an underground labyrinth by an impossible swarm of tendrils. He does not win the race. Missing limbs and broken beyond repair, the last we should see of Lone is how he drags himself out of the cave complex to quietly bleed out on an abandoned shore.

Thatís not what happens. Lone awakes in far from perfect shape, but the arm and leg that had been torn from him seemed to be in considerably better condition than they should be. They were no longer absent, for one. With significantly more questions than answers, Loneís immediate attention focuses on escaping the isolated shore and, ultimately, getting the hell out of Innsmouth. If he hopes answers await in the town of Arkham, heís going to be disappointed.

Perhaps youíve been clued in by the gameís name, but the main thrust of the plot is powered by H.P. Lovecraftís story ďThe Mountains of Madness''. But the tale of an Antarctic expedition gone horribly wrong doesnít immediately become Loneís concern. Laudably, developers Pyschodev arenít particularly interested in just unearthing Lovercraftian tales wholesale and transplanting them into an adventure game facsimile, but they take inspirations from across several tales and stitch them together to make a story of their own. Lone Carter certainly never came from H.P.ís pen, but existing fans will find plenty of names and places to recognise, borrowed from several different tales, existing either as sly Easter eggs, or used to help drive the macabre story forward.

Mountains of Madness: The Game takes the scenic route before you get to the content directly supplied by ďMountains of MadnessĒ; the novel. Loneís failed investigation and the Arctic expedition are both linked by Miskatonic university, but thereís plenty of morbid discoveries to make before seeking out considerably more hostile climates. There seems to be some kind force, impatiently nudging the investigation along, trying to manoeuvre all the pieces into place. Loneís guided towards the horrific murder of a student in the nearby slums, a quartered corpse left hanging from the rafters, a rough diagram sketched beneath in its own clogging blood. Witness leads run cold, some people having simply vanished, others confined to the madhouse. The local bookstore owner needs a list of collectable short stories stolen from his arch rival before heíll provide much needed information. It canít all be courting insanity and wading through gore, I suppose.

The problem there is it doesnít always go back to close any of the new threads it manufactures. The murder scene is just as quickly dropped as it is mysteriously introduced. Characters are introduced, sometimes rapid fire, only to be noticeably absent for the rest of the tale. Iím not suggesting that every background character should have a starring role, and Iím probably washing over a few cameos lost on someone who hasnít played the first game, like myself, but the middle section of the game seems especially motivated to hurry you along. Maybe it just wants to get to the bloody mountains it's been hinting about forever.

Sure enough, youíll eventually arrive in the campsite of the doomed expedition. Not many will be surprised to learn it hasnít been going especially well. They stand on the brink of a history-changing discovery, a pre-prehistoric cavern has been discovered, constructed by unnatural means. There, preserved perfectly in ice, impossible specimens that might completely throw everything humankind has learnt into chaos. Perhaps some things should forever stay buried.

Now to reveal my clever double-meaning; the final stretch of Mountains of Madness is by far its weakest. It momentarily forgets its point and click foundations to allow you to explore the very last section of the caverns from a weird overhead perspective, tasking you to seek out numerous caverns you need to decode to master the gameís final puzzle. Unless you have a significantly better memory than mine, this means a lot of painful backtracking once the nature of the puzzle is revealed, which is a genre norm not often artificially bloated by real-time travel time. Usually, you can just click on the edge of the screen a few times to get back to where you need to go. I suspect the game wanted you to feel like you were directly exploring the wonders of this lost world, forgotten for millennia, which would have probably worked great if said wonders were more than a collection of identical-looking sandy buildings arranged in weird shapes. But be brave; the unsatisfying non-ending is near.

If Iíve come down hard on Mountain of Madnessí closing moments (and, reading that back, I absolutely have!), itís only because of how much I enjoyed the rest of the game. The opening third is especially strong, weaving the mundane with the macabre in such a way to make Loneís quest seem fantastical. Itís when the gameís noir setting feels the most realised without sacrificing the horrific elements the tale is founded upon. I donít think that lets up and, because it's an omnibus of Lovecraft horror tales rather than just a base retelling of one youíre probably at least partially acquainted with already, some of these things you wonít see coming. But some of them you will. Itís pretty hard to miss a shoggoth, after all.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (March 27, 2021)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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bwv_639 posted March 29, 2021:

But... endings don't have a duty to be satisfying. They have a duty to be honest. I'd rate endings on that, and on their beauty (trying not to see their beauty as their power to give me "satisfaction").

I haven't played the game, and know nothing of its ending, still.
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EmP posted March 30, 2021:

I didn't get well into it, because spoiling an ending is frowned upon, but it's a damp non-ending of sorts. I don't expect my Lovecraft games to end in gumdrop smiles unless it's because you've gone mad, but I do expect them to end on something. I suspect it's because this game is a prequel/sequel to another game I've not played which gives things more meaning. Maybe some day I'll find out.

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