Montague’s Mount: Episode One review
The debut installment of Montague’s Mount is very pretty and atmospheric, but the lack of plot, puzzles or scares so far should have you waiting until the next episode before you decide whether to climb on.
You wake up alone on an island beach, with no memory of who you are or how you got there. Having been there, done that many times before, you know it's time to set off to explore the island, hoping to figure out why the once-inhabited island was deserted and regain your memories in the process. Mainly what you'll discover in the first of three parts of Montague’s Mount, however, is a beautiful looking, free-roaming adventure with a lack of any real story, puzzles, or even much in the way of scares to support the bleak, atmospheric presentation.
Usually when a main character has no memory, there are journals to read or flashbacks to slowly put the pieces of the past together. There are plenty of books lying around here, but strangely none of them are readable, and there are no flashbacks. The only details to help tell the story so far are some pictures of people that supposedly look familiar and a vision of a small boy who always seems to disappear as soon as you get close. Before the credits roll, the protagonist remembers a small part of what happened seemingly out of nowhere, since there are no real clues for you to piece together yourself. There are still two more episodes to come that will hopefully fill in the large gaps that remain, but it would have been nice to feel at least a certain sense of accomplishment from my efforts so far.
Although the game is billed as a horror thriller, there is very little to be scared of so far. There is no sense of fear or dread, nothing stalking you on the island. The visions the main character sees frighten him, but as the player you'll have no context until the end for understanding his fear. Apparently based on a true story, the bit of plot you do discover is somewhat unsettling, but this first episode is far more random exploration than horror.
Montague’s Mount is supposed to be a first-person adventure, but the protagonist’s head could be seen bobbing in and out at the bottom of the screen, and apparently I'm not alone in seeing this graphical oddity. You move with the keyboard while the mouse controls the camera. There are assigned keys for bringing up a compass (used for one of the puzzles) and inventory, where only five items can be carried at a time. Right-clicking describes items, while left-clicking performs actions. The pointer at rest is shaped like an eye, which can be confusing for those of us used to that cursor being used for examining objects. Hotspots are very small and are often hard to find, blending into the background and debris so well that even with a menu option for “object highlighting” it is still possible to miss a lot of them. The highlighter makes objects glint, but it's so subtle it can easily be overlooked. As you play, the screen occasionally goes black and features a quote, which ruins any immersion of the moment.
There are not many puzzles in the first episode, and what few there are do not fit well in context. Most of the tasks involve basic inventory obstacles such as finding a key, which are very easy so long as you can find the hotspots required. But some puzzles involve multiple steps that make no logistical sense, like the absurdly convoluted means of figuring out how to lower a bridge through numerous external sources. There are also at least six dexterity challenges where a light in a circle goes round and round, and you have to click a certain place four times in a row as the light moves faster and faster with each click. If you click wrong, you start back at the beginning, and the game never really tells you where you’re supposed to click. These sequences were very frustrating just to start a generator, with no particular reason ever offered for why you're trying to click a circling light.
The game has achievements for such things as walking a certain number of kilometers or looking at a predetermined number of objects, which is a nice idea in an adventure game but feels weird since you have to do most of these things to finish the game anyway. There is no way to manually save the game, which instead uses checkpoints after solving puzzles. This is annoying when you go long times between puzzles and have to stop in between. One time after I'd quit and reloaded a checkpoint, a bug caused my whole inventory to disappear, forcing me to restart from a checkpoint a half hour earlier.
The graphics in Montague’s Mount are by far the best part. The game is displayed mostly in dreary greys, which goes along with the mindset of the main character. Storms come and go, and when it rains the color seems to drain from the scene. Thunder cracks and lightning flashes across the sky, the trees blow violently in the wind and windows bang open and shut in the buildings. Occasionally the camera gets smattered with rain drops and blinks like an eyelid. When the storm ebbs away some color comes back, though the palette is still extremely muted. A single green tree, an orange buoy in the water, and a tattered Irish flag stand out from the largely monochromatic backgrounds. Seagulls sweep back and forth in the sky while shadows from the trees flicker on the ground. The designers have done a good job of varying the landscapes, making the multiple beaches, abandoned buildings, and forest scenes look different enough to not feel like the same few scenes recycled.
The main character provides the only voice in the game and he does a good job, although the voice actor is Scottish and everything in the game points to the protagonist being Irish (such as knowing Gaelic and being on an Irish island). In fact, when describing objects only Gaelic subtitles are used, with English in parentheses. He does unexpectedly drop the f-bomb on a few occasions, which suits the character's personality and heightened stress level but is worth noting if profanity is an issue for you.
The ambient soundscape is well done, from the phantom child laughing and your own coughing in the background to the sound of running water and of course the storm raging around you. The music varies from calming piano to drums in the forest and guitar music which matches whatever is happening at that moment. Just noticeable in the background is a constant whining that doesn’t sound like it should be there, but it is not too distracting.
The first episode of Montague’s Mount gave me about five hours of play time, but a large chunk of that was spent finding hotspots and trying to beat the dexterity tasks. The game gives you just enough narrative breadcrumbs to be curious about another episode, and if more, better integrated puzzles are added, this series could prove to be very enjoyable. Standing alone for the time being, however, the opening installment is little more than a grim but pretty face, as the lack of story and scares, along with a reliance on annoying puzzles and hidden hotspots make the experience feel so much less than it could have been.