Montague’s Mount is a psychological horror game from Irish developer Matthew Clifton, AKA Polypusher Studios. It is the first game to be released by the independent developer, and I had a chance to play through a brief section of it that is is still in an unfinished state.
It is entirely first person, putting players in control of a man who finds himself washed up on the beach of an isolated and mysterious island. Unable to remember anything about himself, players must guide him around the bleak and lonely island to try and uncover its secrets and find a way to escape.
Set for release on October 9, the game will be available on PC, Mac, and Linux. It’s currently sitting in Steam’s Greenlight programme, and is already set to be published on GOG and Get Games. It will also support the Oculus Rift peripheral.
From the outset it is clear that the game is going to be driven by atmosphere, story, and character rather than gameplay. There are puzzles to solve to progress and the island has to be actively explored, but the mechanics of this are simple – you can walk, you can examine, and you can interact.
Walking is the first hurdle. Everyone remembers those moments in games when they are forced to walk at a snail’s pace. Often this is used to generate tension, and can work quite well as a technique. Montague’s Mount wants to be generating tension and it does that very well, although through the beautiful but eerie music and it’s graphic style rather than its insistence on walking everywhere. There is a context for it but it is irritatingly slow. A run may not be appropriate here, but a mood killing plod isn’t either. It hurts the rest of the game to move so slowly, and makes traversing back and forth when solving puzzles quite boring.
The puzzles themselves don’t just stick to the usual find an object use an object pattern, but there were points even in the brief demo where I was left wondering what it was I was actually supposed to be doing. There is precious little hand holding in Montague’s Mount, which would be a good thing if it wasn’t such an arduous task to walk from one area to another looking for clues.
Heading back to the music, it is the highlight of the experience as it currently stands. From the get go it is beautiful, with a haunting, beautiful opening piano theme that pulls you with it as you explore the bleak world of the island. It is mournful, simple, and creates an atmosphere that any game like this must have to succeed.
It sets the tone of the game and when the opening voice over comes in things look even better. A male voice, Irish, sets up the main character as a man who knows nothing about himself, where he is, or how he came to be there. The performance is emotive and feels like it’s coming from a real person, not a cipher of a video game character. The actor behind it is Derek Riddell, who voiced Lowell in The Last Story, and has also appeared in numerous TV shows including Ugly Betty.
There isn’t much narration present, which is a little disappointing given that the brief moments where the voice work returns are the ones that are the creepiest, chronicling the character’s growing sense of unease as the bleak world begins to take its toll on him. A little explanatory or reactionary work would be great to see too – hopefully the full release will make greater use of its protagonist to add depth to the story and ratchet up the atmosphere.
Sound effects add another layer of eeriness, playing it simple but effective. Birds cawing, wind howling, pelting rain and a thumping heart-beat are all put to good use, although the footstep sound needs a bit of variation to prevent madness (or perhaps that’s the point) and the guy clearly needs a Strepsil – stop coughing!
Graphically the game works well for the most part, and is impressive for an indie title. The film grain effect sits nicely with the story, and the dim lighting, spare use of colour and changing weather all play into a very strong set up. The grimness and the dark are a little wearing given how slowly you have to move through the game, and are yet another reason to hope that the narration becomes more frequent or that character movement speeds up.
There are quotes dropped throughout the game and its publicity material that have made it clear that mental illness is going to play a big part in Montague’s Mount, and given the isolated setting and dead bodies everywhere, there is plenty of meat on the bones of a tale that is said to be based on a true story. There are also a lot of religious stones and shrines to be seen littered around the landscape, with crosses over shallow graves and candles lit in places where no living person seems to be. All of the item descriptions and place markers appear first in Irish Gaelic. Clearly Montague’s Mount is a game seeped in the history and culture of its home country, with something of a supernatural or spiritual edge to the tale it has to tell.
Montague’s Mount has some clear issues in its current state, both in the game mechanics and in a few presentational ticks that stop things from running smoothly – to be expected from a preview build. It sounds ridiculous but an increase in walking pace would work magic for this game, as it is the slowness that puts other parts of it under a more intense spotlight. Hopefully this will be ironed out by October 9. There is a strong story hiding in here, with a well built atmosphere and some unique qualities laying a decent foundation for a potential indie hit. Whether it will break out and gain the publicity of the similar Dear Esther is a question for the future. You can help decide by heading over to the game’s page on Steam’s Greenlight programme.