Ultra-Indie Spotlight Sunday: Remnants of R’lyeh

Imagine, if you will, a nameless man who finds himself in a sunken city. One full of terrifying deep-sea creatures and armed with only a brine-encrusted blunt weapon. You might assume I was talking about Bioshock, a staple of the Xbox generation horror experiences. But, I ask, what if it was Lovecraftian? Remnants of R’lyeh is a demo for a project by developer Darktree Game Studio. Playing as the lone survivor of a fish-people and eldritch god attack, you must survive the deep dark depths of the drink in the hopes of escaping the city of Cthulhu alive.

Conceptual Meta-Wank:

One thing that’s tough for indie horror developers to incorporate into their games is some good old-fashioned verticality. Indeed, especially with first-person shooters, it’s hard to seamlessly add in a whole new dimension when it comes to building a map that players can easily navigate around. Perhaps it’s because we as humans aren’t used to going more than an extra inch or two higher while standing on our toes to get something from the top cabinet. We haven’t evolved to seamlessly comprehend anything beyond left, right, forward, and backward. 

Maybe that’s just for me. But Remnants of R’lyeh has done some pretty impressive things with verticality—namely, giving your character the ability to float up and down at will using a buoyancy device. Unlike the traditional SCUBA device, this appears to be in the style of the little-cup-with-propeller-on-the-bottom that Bowser Jr. likes to fly around in. Starting the player off in a vertical shaft shrouded in darkness, you can gently float to your heart’s content, right into something that will scare you shitless. Ride down a tunnel and see the glowing eyeballs of some unknown horror. Investigate that shadow way above you to discover it’s actually the corpse of a shark-squid hybrid (at least, I hope it’s just a corpse). Be mindful that at any time, something could come from any direction and constantly be double triple quadruple checking behind you, your behind now being five times its normal size. 

Non-Wanky Game Recap:

The gameplay for Remnants of R’lyeh is that of a traditional first-person survival horror, though now you have the ability to slowly rise and fall, for a while. Half of the demo is submerged, the rest takes place on solid land. You have a painfully slow swinging rusty lamp as a weapon, and as you progress, you’ll get a rusty crossbow, rusty revolver, and high-tech fish person M16A1, not even exaggerating. And although ammo is none too plentiful, you will have many opportunities to use it. 

What Works:

Just about everything Creeping slowly through often confusing caverns (not the kind with madness-inducing geometry, thankfully), you get a great experience of a first-person survival horror under the sea. It’s got wide and open spaces underwater that are simultaneously claustrophobic. The creatures are interesting and horrific. The art is great and the sound creates a harrowing atmosphere. It’s all just so good.

What Doesn’t:

The demo is divided into two parts; the first is underwater, the second above. The former is an amazing deep-sea horror experience. It’s Subnautica but even more terrifying. The latter half of the Remnants of R’lyeh demo is on the surface, where the game really becomes Bioshock-y. Run around shooting fish-men, solving puzzles, you know the deal. The enemies are about what you’d expect—a lot tentacle-faced cultist who slowly walks in your direction, reminiscent of Resident Evil 4. Guns that are done very well, but nothing special. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, I did find it a bit lackluster compared to the underwater part. I’m hoping the demo is just showing both halves of the content, but certainly, I enjoyed the submerged portion more.

How To Fix It:

Keeping in mind that Remnants of R’lyeh is a demo, and many more changes will likely come before release, I have a few suggestions. I certainly would not do away with the surface part entirely. I would, however, rearrange the order of events to keep the player stuck underwater for a lot longer. You can escape the underwater part of the demo fairly quickly. Adding some more areas to explore with the Bowser buoyancy cup and maybe even some solid ground areas to explore while trapped in the deep would make for a much more compelling experience. 

Wanky Musings:

Remnants of R’lyeh is not exactly doing anything innovative, but what it does works very well. An overtly Lovecraftian game with enemies that are creepy instead of goofy is always a good sign, and taking inspiration from Bioshock and other survival horror classics makes me look forward to the game’s release. And of course, the underwater exploration and combat is done great and feels very fresh and interesting, and I hope the final product has a lot more.