Whatever you’ve been taught about cults, they are a lot of fun, but it all depends on which one you want to go for. Take the cult in Source of Madness Early Access, for example, and it’s far from shits and giggles. Spoiler alert: madness isn’t a sign of serenity.
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On a rare occasion where I’d both brushed my teeth and had a wash, I found myself sporting my cans when playing the game, having done some capturing earlier. There’s no doubt about it – the intensity of sound can make a huge difference, and from the first rumbles of thunder in the intro, I was having an eargasm.
But that’s not it – the visuals in Source of Madness Early Access were incredible. The way the Generalist’s fabrics swayed through each movement was like watching the waves in Witcher 3, and getting you wet. From the water, silly. First impressions of Carry Castle and Thunderful games’ title was superb.
Source of Madness Early Access Preview
After some pussyfooting about, I started to note the art style more. Everything is 2D but expertly builds upon each design – character and setting – layer upon layer to give the illusion of depth. In those opening minutes, I thought it was 2.5D, but it’s the smoke and mirrors of the stunning artwork.
In no time at all, you’re introduced to combat – essentially a twin-stick shooter. Your cultist will be able to equip a binding in each hand, armour, and additional benefits such as floating crystals that attack enemies and magic shields. Holding the right stick in the direction you wish to attack uses the right hand while pressing the left trigger will use your secondary power.
Those starter spells sounded fabulous, like a knowing nod to the choir-like chirps seen in First Samurai, but it didn’t take long to realise that they were a bit… well, shit. Stepping out into the big wide world after traversing the expansive cathedral base meant it was time to test it all out.
Abracadabra And Slash
Outside in the Loam Lands is where it’s at. There’s an intoxicating menace in the air, and it’s here you notice the Lovecraft references, erring on the grotesque and mock names of the Shoggoth. You’ll approach the environment as any side scroller – typical movement, jump/double jump and an evasive dash.
When you hear the gargles of the monsters in Source of Madness Early Access, that’s when you take a step back and start picking them off one by one. Well, at first. For almost 15 minutes of gameplay, I didn’t take any damage due to this cowardly hit and run tactic. It wasn’t intentional to avoid damage, but the lacklustre combat and tricky stick attacks were the only way to target an enemy.
For about 40 minutes, I applied this tactic, exploring as much area as possible, collecting coins for upgrades from the ominous merchants Roy and Roger (Roy Rogers?), obtaining blood for future upgrades, and looting Lust From Beyond type portals for treasure chests. Then, with 5 health points lasting about 5 minutes, I was dead.
Death Is A Prime Number
Each time you die, you choose a new cultist. Source of Madness Early Access is set in the present day (despite the setting), so when they cop it, you’ll see an obituary and a Book of the Dead memorial you can look at in your base to see all those fallen comrades.
You’ll start afresh with the same rubbish weapons and gear unless you upgrade. Unlike Dark Souls and similar, you retain all the blood you collect from each run; you lose your gear. With this blood, you can upgrade the starting health, abilities, and equipment you can either start with or loot in a run.
Alas, you only have one starting class, the Generalist, but you can locate these slabs that, when activated, unlock a new cultist – the first I found being the Pyromancer. Right: this is where the game changed dramatically.
Light My Fire
In fear of sounding like an arsonist in waiting, I love fire. In games, that is. The Pyromancer is a bit rubbish when it comes to health, but gradually (with the blood), you can unlock new spells and equipment. After the third run I can unlocked this almighty flame that decimated everything in sight.
No longer doing the hit and run technique, I’d now found these ever-powerful spells that made exploration… easier. That doesn’t mean easy, just that the experience was better than the starting rings you get. Note that these can be upgraded and have an ultimate power, and by then, combat is so much more enjoyable.
But we all have our traits, and I love melee combat. Though these weapons are predominantly magic, you can equip close-quarter gear that is really satisfying when you get up close, riding some behemoth and taking them apart limb-by-limb. The combat side of Source of Madness Early Access was a rollercoaster of ‘this is cool’ to meh, but as you invest your time and energy into it, the rewards – and challenges pay off.
Cut And Paste
Coming back to the art style, I have to say that the artwork is fantastic. The first impressions were great, but I got a little indifferent through gameplay and was on the fence about how it was animated. Enemies will launch into the air and land on you, with limbs flying about 360º.
In some ways, it looks like a Terry Gilliam animation, but with unfortunate comic results. Then when you see body parts still actively moving on the floor supposedly inanimate, it took off the shine. Still, patience is a virtue, and I once again appreciated the style. It reminds me of bunraku – a sort of shadow puppet aesthetic, and you could imagine tiny wires propping these creatures up to animate them.
But what I think is best about Source of Madness Early Access is the atmosphere. It’s intense, disturbing and has a sinister lure to it. Fans of Blasphemous will enjoy this. While there aren’t buckets of blood flowing all over the place, body parts are – but it’s ok – they’re monsters.
There’s no ambiguity of the cultist’s beliefs, leaving you to get on with the game but believing in their predicament (and being somewhat uncomfortable with it too). There’s an uncertainty of going outside when there are such horrors out there – especially when the world is procedurally generated, and the monsters have AI learning…