Posted on Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013 at 9:00 AM by Joseph Butler-Hartley
Ladies and gentlemen, this week I reviewed Montague’s Mount, a first-person puzzler and the most miserable game ever made, now available on GOG.
When I say this game is miserable, I mean that through-out its relatively brief run-time, there isn’t a glimpse of happiness or hope to be glanced between the slippery rocks and howling winds of the abandoned island the game takes place on. Montague’s Mount begins with the player-character, a limping, lonely, land-locked fisherman, waking on the beach of possibly the grimmest Irish island in the Atlantic. After acquiring a walking stick, the player then has to explore the island and piece together what happened to a place that had clearly once been a home to many people.
The first aspect of the game that hits you is the atmosphere. As you limp along with your walking stick, you’ll notice the slate gray sky bearing down on you. You’ll notice items strewn across the ground that were clearly once treasured by somebody long gone. You’ll notice the beautifully haunting soundtrack, lulling you into an intense, whimsical melancholy. At times early on, the game’s atmosphere is so effective it’s almost choking.
The setting is delightfully unique. I’m not sure how many games are set on a gloomy Irish island, but I’m willing to bet I can count them on one hand. Such a grounded setting makes the game feel more real, and the loss the island has suffered more piercing. I felt a very real sense of familiarity as I traversed the island.
With what has been already highlighted about Montague’s Mount in mind, the game begins with so much promise. I was instantly drawn in by the incomparable environment and glum ambience. It’s a shame then that the actual gameplay completely failed to live up to the setting and presentation. The puzzles are inventory based, and normally involve the player using an item found to interact with something in order to make progress. This would be fine and dandy as a means to carry the story, but necessary items are often fairly small and very easily missed. Get used to the phrase ‘I seem to be missing an item’, because you’ll be seeing it a lot. Despite the strength of the atmosphere, I grew very bored very quickly, as most of my time playing the game seemed to be spent angrily stomping back through the island looking for a wooden spinner or sundial that I apparently needed.
The actual puzzles feel a little uninspired. It never feels like anything you’re doing is actually making any progress in terms of story, instead it simply feels like the game is saying “you can progress the story once you go and translate that morse code, or once you find a wooden plank”. Some games you sit down to play for ten minutes and come up for air six hours later with no idea of where the time went. However, with Montague’s Mount, you play ten minutes and it feels like it’s been six hours.
The gameplay is interspersed with quotes from literature and intense story sections, and I enjoyed these bits, but for all of the pretension, the story is ultimately lost, drowned by irritating inventory puzzles. There is a decent Silent Hill-esque story in here somewhere, crying out to be appreciated, but I found myself completely disinterested by the end of the game because I was so bored by the gameplay.
The voice acting didn’t help. For the first section the main character was silent and I really felt the lack of any signs of human life gave the game a particularly chilling feel; then he opened his mouth and ruined it. The voice actor exaggerated his lines to the point of meaningless in the style of an am-dram Shakespearean actor. His delivery wasn’t believable and for some parts in the game, it ruined what might have been effective, emotional moments. How many fishermen do you know who talk like Thomas Hardy 24/7?
The disappointing gameplay and annoying voice acting, coupled with the odd bug that made my character slide around the rocky paths like an ice skater resulted in me not really enjoying Montague’s Mount, which is a shame because after the first twenty minutes I was certain I was going to love it. I think the story would have been better delivered as a Dear Esther style interactive story, rather than having a well-written narrative dragged down by completely generic, tedious gameplay. Still, at least it innovated in terms of setting, which is more than a lot of games can say. It also made me so depressed that I had to go eat some Jamaican ginger cake to cheer myself up.
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