Montague's Mount is a difficult game to review: It has so much potential, but falls short on certain aspects of gameplay, which makes it difficult sometimes to appreciate and has alienated many players. If there's anything to be taken away from this review, its that patience above all else, is the most important skill the player will have to possess.
Like many others, I bought and played this game for two simple reasons: I absolutely enjoyed "Dear Esther", and I got given a 80% off coupon, making the game extremely cheap. To be honest, had it not been for the coupon magically landing in my steam account, I would not have heard of this game at all, which reflects rather poorly this game's advertising campaign.
I find that many other reviewers have been quick to slate the game and brush it under the carpet as a failed project, but I can't shake the feeling that they have been overly harsh with their judgment: The game isn't as complete and polished as it ought to be, and to be honest, some of the points I will highlight later have proven to be extremely frustrating indeed, as they were deliberately implemented. However, you should find the patience to stick with it and try and scratch below the surface, you may find yourself to be pleasantly surprised.
The Story & Setting:
The story of Montague's Mount could be described as a melancholic journey where the player attempts to piece together the events that have transpired to himself, his family and the inhabitants of the small Irish community scattered across a small, wind and rain battered island in the Atlantic sea. The plot development closely follows the same mechanics of Dear Esther, by making the player interact with notes, objects and monologues from the main character.
The pacing of the narrative is quite regular at the start, but feels rather rushed by the end, which slightly derails the flow of the story. Unlike Dear Esther, not much information about the island and its inhabitants is provided to the player. The same can be said in regards to the causes of the events which have unfolded prior to the protagonist’s joinery, which was slightly disappointing. I travelled around this island and was constantly under the impression that something ancient and potentially malevolent transpired there in ancient time (many "sacred stone" and pillars can be seen dotted around the island) and maybe a diary entry or two about these, would provide extra depth into the setting of the story.
The translation of all objects in Gaelic is a very nice touch, and the small cultural references that can be found here and there add to the beautiful atmosphere to the game. Anyone which has lived extensively on the British Isles (particularly in small communities, highlands and moors) such as myself, will be quick to relate to how capricious the weather can get and this is very well depicted, as an unrelenting, atrocious weather system which constantly batters the island and the player. The music score is fantastic (a real credit to Andrea Baroni) and melds perfectly with the environment. The dreariness of the island and constant stress amplified by the incessant rain compounds a feeling of constant desperation. On the other hand, the extreme colour desaturation and "grainy" effect are overkill and more often than not, get in the way of gameplay (luckily, these can be easily disabled). The lighting and visuals are nowhere near as good as Dear Esther’s and many bugs and poor effects in regards to lighting and shadows become quickly apparent. These are also damaging to the player's immersion into the environment. I can only put this down to lack of experience in game design and I am sure it can be easily fixed. My only other complaint is that the story ends rather abruptly, leaving many questions unanswered. Ambiguous endings are acceptable; Dear Esther pulls it off extremely well, but here I felt like I was left hanging. Maybe they plan an expansion? It's unclear...
Finally the horror aspect of the game could have easily been dropped. The atmosphere of the island gives enough of an impact without the "Ghost boy" moments, which I'm sorry to say, where rather appalling and failed completely to fit in to the environment.
The gameplay is divided into pacing around the island searching for clues, and puzzle solving activities. Pacing is very slow and the reasoning for this I assume, is that your character is injured/sick and can only hobble around (walking stick). This will most likely exasperate the impatient player, as walking around is pretty much all you do in this game, and I myself often grumbled at the idea of having to go backwards, because of the time and effort to get around... However, I can appreciate the reason why this has been put in place; it adds to the feeling of desperation and allowance for gentle pacing around the environment, giving you time (or possibly forcing you) to take in the sights and in this sense, I don't see it as an issue.
The puzzles add an extra dimension to the game which Dear Esther lacked, but they have been the source of major complaints in many of the reviews - Many citing their difficulty and lack of logic.
I fully disagree, and it once again boils down to a question of patience. I didn't find these puzzles particularly challenging, if one takes the time to think about them. On several occasions I found myself stuck, not because of the puzzle's logic but because of poor level design an visuals (such as the semaphore diagram being impossible to decipher due to VERY poor lighting and resolution). This does kill the gameplay...
- Great Atmosphere
- More interactive than Dear Esther
- Good Voice acting
- Beautiful music
- Constant sense of desperation
- The aparenaces of "Ghost Boy"
- The MANY bugs (fell into the ocean at one point)
- The abrupt ending
- Lack of background information about the island
- Poor visual effects: Lighting and desaturation
For the price I bought this game for, I feel it was definitely worth it. Anyone who enjoyed Dear Eshter will enjoy this, and the story will compel you to get to the end, despite the game's bugs and shortcomings. My recommendation is that developers should correct the bugs, increase the plot, improve upon the ending and sort out the visual.
Then... This game will be a true masterpiece.