A Land of Beauty
Just to get this out of the way from the outset – all of the images in this review have been taken from in-game footage. These are not cutscene stills or cleaned up screenshots that were sent to us from the developer. I personally captured all of these images myself. That being said, I’d like to cram as many pics in this review as possible, because when it comes to visuals, The Land of Pain deserves all the recognition it can get. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful work of art. This is hands down the most visually stunning game that I’ve ever laid eyes on, and what’s even more amazing is that it’s coming from an indie developer! Not a development team. One single indie developer!
As we all know, graphics don’t make a game. I personally need solid gameplay mechanics and a well fleshed-out story to keep my interests peaked. Well, The Land of Pain will keep most invested with it’s Lovecraftian inspired horror story and downright gorgeous visuals, but the gameplay may turn off some who are looking for more of an action-packed experience. The Land of Pain can be best described as part walking simulator, part stealth, and part survival horror. That may sound good on paper, but not all of the mechanics work as well as they should.
What Have I Gotten Myself Into?
First I’d like to talk about the best aspect of the game, which is simply walking around and taking everything in. It begins just as it should; by introducing the player to the magnificent world they’re about to explore. There is no lifebar or inventory system to worry about. It’s just you and the forest. Take a look around and you will see that everything in the environment has been crafted with painstaking attention to detail.
The journey opens up in one of the most detailed forests I’ve ever seen in a video game. Lively, vibrant beams of sunlight can be seen slipping through aged tree branches above, seemingly dancing along the graveled trail, in sync with the clouds moving across the sky. Numerous hues of orange and yellow can be seen for miles on end as the leaves are just beginning to change color. I can almost feel the chill in the air, but the soft warm glow of fall reminds me that I’m not yet required to don a cumbersome winter coat. A quick glance of my journal tells me that I’m here to unwind and become one with nature, which is easy to do considering everything looks so real.
The walk through the woods is a long one, but it gave me just the right amount of time to take in all of the beauty that surrounded me. According to the journal, my father’s cabin is located at the end of the trail, and this is where I’ll be staying for the night. Along the path I could hear birds chirping, see leaves falling, and I was able to take in grand overlooks that offered me an impressive view of mountains in the distance. Eventually I was able to see the outline of the cabin, and before I knew it I was opening the old creaky door and beginning to settle in.
Under the Mask
Upon entering the structure, I immediately noticed that the inside of the cabin looked quite different than the lush forest that I’ve just traversed through. Strangely enough, the amount of detail that has went into the outdoor visuals have not made the transition to the indoor environments. Furniture and other objects seem to be lacking detail, and this unfortunately continued throughout the whole game, but only during indoor sections. This was especially noticeable in the industrial areas that are introduced in the latter parts of the story. I found these transitions to be quite jarring. One minute I was soaking in the glorious details of thick foliage and the next I’m wondering why a stove looks completely flat, lacking even the slightest amount of depth. Eventually I was able to look past this, but it took me out of the experience during the early stages of the game.
After getting over the difference in visuals I went ahead and lit the fireplace for some warmth. Only one more thing needed to be done before hitting the sack and that was to fetch some fresh water via the well that’s located deeper in the forest. Due to a lack of a map or compass it took me a few minutes to locate the water source, but eventually I was able to get what I needed and began my trek back towards the cabin. The sun is setting with each and every step but I was still able make it back before it became completely dark. This is where things got a bit crazy.
Upon my arrival I was shocked to see what appeared to be an enormous metallic ball about the size of a house sitting right in the middle of a field. Curiously, I walked toward it, and obviously my next step was to touch it. My mind blanks and everything goes black. As with most video games, I woke up to find myself in a sticky situation. I was now locked in a cage, it is dark, and I’m in the middle of a forest that seems similar to the one I was just walking around in, but somehow different.
So, what the hell just happened? A healthy portion of the story is told through notes and journals that are scattered throughout abandoned homes and other empty buildings, but other items of interest will clue you in on what’s going on, and ultimately inform you on how you ended up in a cage in the middle of these mysterious woods. I ended up with a few questions at the end my my playthrough, but that’s to be expected. This is a story that has a satisfying ending, but still warrants some imagination. That’s as far as I’m going to go because I don’t’ want to give anything away, but I can say that most will feel fulfilled at the game’s end.
Enter the Survival Horror
You’ll be straight up defenseless throughout the campaign. There are no guns or tools (for defense, anyway). The only item that you will acquire is a lantern for obvious reasons. You are on your own and it is terrifying. This works for the most part, but I had to tilt my head after watching my character toss away a perfectly good melee weapon after they used it to smash a part of the environment to gain access to a new area. Again, I’m trying not to give anything away, but I would have been tightly clutching anything that I could use to protect myself!
Luckily, you won’t have to rely on weapons much because your character isn’t stupid. If he hears something growling deep in a tunnel and you attempt to make him crawl inside, he’ll refuse and flatout tell you that he’s not going to. I found this frustrating, but refreshing in a way. Most games would either allow you to crawl in and die, or take the easy way out by making the hole inaccessible, but having the character refuse makes complete sense. I felt more in tune with him because of this. Unfortunately for him, not all enemies are hiding in holes or behind closed doors.
You Thought It Was Going to Be Easy?
Much of the gameplay consists searching for keys to locked doors or locating a tool to unblock a path, but eventually you’ll come across the game’s one and only enemy. This shadowy figure only appears a handful of times throughout the story and is always accompanied by dooming music to alert the player of its presence. This enemy is a one-hit kill, so considering that there aren’t any weapons in the game to protect yourself, stealth is your only option.
Unfortunately, this is where the game falters. It’s incredibly hard to sneak past this thing since it warps and appears out of nowhere; giving the player no chance to actually avoid it. I’ve lost count how many times that I’ve died just to reload the game, take two steps, and die again. A pop up mentions that snuffing out the lantern will help when sneaking past this thing, but I didn’t find this to help at all. The only way I was able to get through these encounters was to run as quickly as I could until the music stopped. It wouldn’t work all of the time, but I’d eventually get lucky and the shadow wouldn’t catch me. I understand that giving this creature the ability to warp increases the tension, but since this is a stealth scenario it makes it completely unfair to the player.
Another section of that game that led to some frustration was the mine area that the player must travel through at the midpoint of the game. Unlike the lush visuals of the forests, the mines are drab and dull. They too consisted of plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, although I couldn’t tell you if an area was any different than the other since it all looked the same. In the 5 hours it took me to complete the campaign, it is safe to say that about 30 minutes of that was spent walking around in circles throughout the mines. This portion of the game also requires you to do a bit of platforming, but jumping is easier said than done. Now these aren’t big jumps mind you, and there are only two, but I did die a couple of times trying to time my button presses.
I Love to Craft
Thankfully, the stealth sections and the mines are just two small parts of the gameplay experience, but considering that The Land of Pain isn’t a long game, they are worth mentioning. The real reward comes toward the end of the game when it all starts to come together. Layer by layer the story unfolds, and the payoff is exactly where it should be. That being said, I want more. Give me a sequel or a prequel. I’m vested in this world and I need more information!
Although The Land of Pain’s gameplay does contain some questionable mechanics, I still absolutely loved the experience. The story is compelling, frightening, and best of all, satisfying. It feels weird saying this, but the visuals really make this game better than it should be. If you want to show off how beautiful a game can be to a non-gamer, simply hand them the controller and let them take in the incredible atmosphere, but be sure to snatch the controller back if the shadow figure makes an appearance! If you can get past the stealth sections of the game, you’re in for an incredible journey that you’ll never forget.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC; Publisher: Alessandro Guzzo ; Developer: Alessandro Guzzo; Players: 1 ; Released: September 13, 2017 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $11.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of The Land of Pain given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.