Do you like stoning fish-men to death with big rocks? I know I do! But if you're like me, it's a private pleasure and no one must know. So you creep out at night, ducking behind cover, keeping low to the ground, slowly rotating your irregular bit of rock (sedimentary perhaps), finding the grip to put the perfect english on it, listening for the hop-hop sounds of the fish-man as you slowly peak out, glancing briefly to see that his dopey face is turned away revealing his moist, tender cranium...
What was I talking about? Oh, yeah, Eldritch. It's pretty good.
No, scratch that, Eldritch is a ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ miracle. Procedural generation and permadeath, the marks of the roguelike genre are two things that used to send me running like I'm trying to outrun my fat, juicy friend, who is also trying to outrun some squamous monster from the primordial deep. But somehow the dark wizards behind Eldritch managed to create the perfect combination of play to reach all the way deep into this previously forbidden zone of mine. Well, that got weird.
Anyway, what does Eldritch do so right? Well, it allows you to move in the least efficient way possible! Crouching low to the ground to move slow and silent, sliding from a run, peeking around corners while still counting as being behind the corner, jumping and pulling yourself onto ledges you can't quite clear (i.e. mantling). Those up on their gaming history might recognize these as the controls for the early Thief games and any game that has them and implements them correctly gives me a stiffy. Next, the game traps you in a nightmarish loop from which you can never escape... something, something, profit? When you die, resurrecting is only a click away, ensuring that you can get right back into the fray armed with new knowledge that may save your dumb ♥♥♥ next time. The game also takes a bit of the edge off the permadeath by allowing you to store artifacts (the game's currency and fuel for your magic) in banks that will carry over if you die.
And the in-game map is brilliant. Really? I'm trying to sell you a game based on its in-game map? Yes, I am bloody-well trying to sell you a game based on an in-game map! The procedural generation works nicely, never feeling like you're being led nowhere. Every square on the map has something to reward your exploration and the map I just touted comunicates it to you brilliantly. The map doesn't show you fine details, but simply breaks the dungeon into a leveled grid, marking off which squares you've been to and if they contain a major feature. You couldn't ask for a better companion in seeking out forbidden items spewing particle effects for you to get your sticky human hands on. Finally, the main game is just the right length. Doing a patient stealthy run, you can easily finish in about three/four hours. You'll definitely feel incentive to be careful once you make progress, but every death will make you feel like you're one more corpse in the pile you can climb to victory rather than feeling like you've just graduated college only to light yourself on fire.
And that's just the main game. Eldritch also includes two complete scenarios that lesser games would call DLC and charge you for. One simulates a cocaine and dynamite fueled rampage through an asylum to bust souls out of the walls and escape to safety before a cosmic horror chases you down and eats you. This mode will teach you that berserker raging your way through your problems is a perfectly valid solution in Eldritch, even if the stealth is so strong you just want to smear tanning butter on its pecs. Also included is a long endurance dungeon to test your stealth skills with tough foes, few resources, and no trips back to safety for a breather like are found periodically in the main game.
As for the overall aesthetic and treatment of HP Lovecraft's work? This game was made with love. Love for unfathomable abominations from beyond the stars that just want to dissect your brain and stick it in a jar. As Lovecraft fans know, old Howard P. spent a lot of time dealing with the intangibles of cosmic horror where terror comes from not being able to percieve or understand vast entities to which you are little more than the dirt beneath their heels. He also wrote schlocky adventure stories about explorers fighting monsters and zombies and ♥♥♥♥. Eldritch pulls off the balance nicely. Most of the enemies you face will be out of Lovecraft's more tangible gallery, but even with the Minecrafty graphics and squishy fish-men, the indestructible monsters like the Shoggoth and Yog Sothoth feel amorphous and dangerous. You won't spend too long looking at them because you'll be running the ♥♥♥♥ away. The bigger "cosmic" side is represented in the minimal story told only at the beginning and end with text boxes. You can't represent that sort of thing visually and Eldritch knows well enough not to try, but rest assured it's there and you will confront it along with your seeming immortality. And on the note of knowing what you can't do visually, Eldritch makes up for it with it's awesome sound design. The Minecraft look might be a little too goofy to be horrifying, but damn if the sounds don't manage to freak my ♥♥♥♥ out.
There are few indie games that I think are worth their normal asking price. I'll admit, I got this game on sale for five bucks and won't blame you if you do the same. But after having played it thoroughly, fifteen may well have been fair. Though as a fan of Thief and HP Lovecraft, it's almost like this was tailor-made for me. Bottom line: if you like stealth games, get Eldritch; if you like HP Lovecraft, get Eldritch; if you're really into roguelikes, I have no idea. Maybe this is too soft for a dedicated fan of roguelikes, but if nothing else it might be the gateway drug for somebody (me) who is put off by them.