Quick Look: Arkham Horror – Mother’s Embrace (French Review available HERE)
Publisher : Asmodee Digital
Player count : 1
Type of game : Narrative ambiance oriented VideoGame
Lifespan : 20ish hours
Great Old One : Shub-Niggurath
Age : 12+
The year is 1926, and a professor of astronomy is found dead in her mansion, the apparent victim of a heinous murder. Players must pick from 12 of the most iconic protagonists from the Arkham Horror universe, each with a unique skill set, and assemble a team of investigators to uncover the secrets behind this mysterious death.
As investigators face off against Lovecraftian horrors, they will descend deeper into the depths of madness, affecting their level of sanity and causing traumas that will impact the course of their investigation. Along with facing curious science, living nightmares and a sinister cult, players will combat an array of enemies in turn-based combat, all while attempting to retain their sanity. Developed by Artefacts Studio and featuring an original story, Arkham Horror: Mother’s Embrace plunges players into the engrossing pulp world of 1920s America to combat unseen supernatural and psychological horrors true to the Lovecraftian spirit.
Care about your sanity and make the right choices…the Ancient Ones are preparing their return. Madness begins when reality departs.
To tell you about the game I must first address the question that needs answering : “Is this a boardgame adaptation or a video game ?”
By looking at boardgame adaptations made by Asmodee digital and other well know franchised games I own, I find that they all are ports of boardgames with the addition of a IA, except for GloomHaven (which is in Beta and does not include the campaign yet).
Taking the Asmodee digital games available on steam, one would find that they all are perfect ports of existing board games, sometimes with new art, sound effects are shiny in game effects.
However, this one is not. As the steam page says, it is a game “based on the Arkham horror boardgames” but it is a video game and is in no way a board game perfect port as one might think.
This being addressed, I will treat it like a video game which is an odd but appreciated contribution in the Asmodee Digital library.
In Arham Horror – Mother’s Embrace you will direct a crew of 1 to 3 investigators through 9 chapters taking place in different new-Orleans settings. Your purpose is to solve the mystery surrounding the death of your recently deceased friend, professor Willema Tillinghast and defeat the horror that lurks in the new-Orleans shadow that you might encounter on the way.
This narrative game (more about the story later), uses an overhead fixed camera that rotates freely and is not linked to your character.In each chapter, you will oscillate between two type of phases, investigation phase and combat phase.
During the investigation phase, you will use your investigator to search the place, from a house to a city or a swamp; you will need to look out for clues in every little corner. While searching for clues, you will also be finding equipment to use in battle and heal yourself. Your enemies during these phases are the Myth ticking clock and your own sanity, which are both decreasing based on the decisions you take while looking in specific places.
Combat phases are turn based and really resemble Warhamer 40k tactical ports, if it was encased on a small map with three units. The battles are well orchestrated and give some extra rhythm and tension to the game. However, they bring nothing new to the Videogame sphere.
Arkham horror-mother’s embrace tells an original story set in Lovecraft’s mythology. Without spoilers, the narrative is really well orchestrated and the tension builds up chapter after chapter with the unveiling of the horrors that lead to the situation you and your friends find yourself in. It is the story that is the centre (and master) piece of this videogame. The lore is coming mostly for the “Ultimate Experiment” (Iä! Iä! Shub-Niggurath) and revolves mostly but not only on the mother goat.
The inclusion of the reflection of the ghost of your recently diseased friend as a spectator and narrator is also a brilliant idea and might be what I loved most about this game.
/!\ /!\ /!\ /!\ /!\ /!\ Spoiler Section Ahead /!\ /!\ /!\ /!\ /!\ /!\
Warning, you are entering a spoiler section! By reading this, you will not be able to have the full experiment by yourself but you will understand why it is so delightful and if you are on the edge of buying, you might want to read what I loved most.
You have been warned!
Willema Tillinghast is the bad guy of the story and she wants to be Shub-Niggurath. That is the spoiler. Now that this has been addressed I can freely explain to you what a marvellous job the storyteller made with this videogame. You need to pay attention at the tone the professor is taking chapter after chapter before the big reveal, its evolving.
The professor Tillinghast will tell you that the enemies (the herd of Algaedi) are good friends of hers and they have the same painting as her, which is when my doubts started. Even then, she seems like a nice lady when she tells you not to go see the only good guy you’ll meet (Alfonse Lanuit) because you shouldn’t trust him. And you know that when someone you trust for no reason tells you that the only true good person you meet is to be distrusted, you might need to review your whole judgment, because in video games, you are about to be backstabbed.
It might also be a detail to some, but I was really pleased to find a note from the alive professor Tillinghast, explaining why she had invited you to her house on the day you started your investigation, eventually leading to her demise. It is important to me, because, otherwise, the whole game makes no sense, if she had not invited you, you would not have looked at all those things you would not have found any clues and she would be forever victorious. So yes, closure is important in video games and I thank the developer for that.
This is the end of the spoiler section, some of you might even consider by the title of the game and the baby’s room of the first chapter that this is not even a spoiler but for others it might be a spoiler until the last chapter, who knows.
☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ End of spoiler section ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺
Unfortunately, it is the story that makes the game.
Let us first talk about the game’s difficulty. Two bad things can happen to you, you might lose sanity or you might die during a battle.
Each of your investigators has six sanity levels, marked by possible traumas; I guess that when one of your investigators has been traumatized six times you lose the game. It is a wild guess, because while playing the whole game the worst I have had was an investigator that had been traumatized twice. This means that I still had a lot of margin.
You only lose the game if your entire investigator team dies during the same battle, an investigator dying during one battle will be back on its feet with a few life points and a minor penalty after the fight. TBH, during the entire game, which must be like 50 fights long, I only had three investigators killed in a fight, each time on an enemy critical hit.
Once again, it is a story driven game, this means that, for story purpose you’ll want to search everything to find hidden clues, lore or jokes. The side effect is that while doing so you will find tons and tons of fighting equipment for the battles. I mostly used guns and never ever came close to running out of ammo, even when hit by the event “ammo’s are missing”.
Which brings the overall difficulty level to me as “quite easy”, which for a narrative game isn’t really a bad thing but needed to be addressed, if what you are looking for is some challenges.
This being said there is a chapter I needed to restart 3 times, due to my clumsiness and a bug in the game. So let us talk about the game’s biggest problem: Collision management.
The game has a big collision management during exploration phases. Which is most likely to manifest harmlessly when an investigator passes through an open door (not the doorway, the door), a chair or a table. However, in one particular level there is a bookshelf hiding a doorway (that’s not a spoiler, that’s just standard Lovecraftian bookshelf).
While in front of the doorway, you may look at the bookshelf and search for clues and I did, three times (yes I’m dumb sometimes) and what happened is that my investigators just passed through the bookshelf in the adjacent room while at the same time displaying the test “there is something odd with this bookshelf”.
While on the other side of the bookshelf, I was unable to go back, I decided to continue onwards and see what would happened. I had in fact just skipped a good third of the chapter. I went on, found the last lost item and won the last fight 2 against 3 but I was never able to complete the chapter, because, I hadn’t completed all the primary objectives. No probs, just go back … oops I can’t, the doorway is blocked and there is no other way out this place … So I reloaded the chapter from the beginning, because of course, passing the bookshelf is an auto-save point and I couldn’t reload any earlier points.
Nevertheless, this is only half my frustration concerning collision management. Because now that you know there are problems, and most of them are harmless, you might live with that without problems but … Why Can’t I pass through the other investigator then ?
Or why aren’t they moving away on their own when I’m trying to quit this small chamber I just looted? While in investigation phase, you only control one of the characters, similar to any recent lego game you might have played. Which is fine by me, the characters you are not controlling are following you around. They are quite stubborn however and you will need to push them slowly like if they were anvils to go back on your foot step and leave small rooms where you can’t all fit, because they just love standing in the doorways.
You will also quickly understand that to do so, you’ll either need a controller or to use the keyboard, as movement and selection using the mouse are helpful but not the way the game was intended to be played. I would like to thank the developer to include different keyboard positioning possibility in the game, but I would like to let them next time include this menu in the game options and not only in the title screen option menu.
Concerning the graphics, it felt to me somewhere between GTA 4 and Resident Evil 4 or a really low res Skyrim, which sadly are not really new games. On the other hand, it allows older/less powerful PCs to run the game without (too much) difficulties, but having tried the game on an old PC (9years old, might be considered extremely old in fact ☺ ) it feels un-optimized. As a comparison, it is smoother to play Skyrim in really low res on that PC than to move the camera in Arkham Horror – Mother’s Embrace, especially the swamp level, due to all the trees “wind” animations.
The first imaged displayed above is taken with the highest possible graphics and the bookshelf one with the lowest graphics possible.
The overall ambiance of the game is amazing, special mention to the music and sounds of the game that makes it immersive and is just stressful enough, as Lovecraft’s stories are (yes I have some books) without being awfully horrific as silent hills music’s are for example.
The color pattern reflecting the differences in all chapters and the level of decadence going on was also adequately chosen. Letting the player feel the increasing madness of the investigator.
The stress in the investigator voices and reflection they are constantly making to one another as the story progresses just increases the tension like a thriller movie would.
The overall ambiance is just enough that each time someone knocked on my door while I was playing, I’d just felt afraid while at the same time never feeling tense 5 minutes after I would have stopped playing. Always being able to go right to bed after a play session without dreaming of any monstrosity. That is just the horror immersion level I need! Great job guys! Iä! Iä! Shub-Niggurath
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QuelqunQui (literally Someone who in French) is an eclectic who can’t stop doing more than one thing at a time.. Quelqunqui is a harpsichordist and gamer at heart that doesn’t abide by rules he doesn’t believe in. When not playing he’s traveling the world for the Belgian Air force.