When I heard that there was a co-op horror game on the market, I jumped at the opportunity. I was intrigued by the idea of a frightening experience tied together with cooperative gameplay. This is what Crucible Falls: Together Forever, by BakeNeko Games Limited, offered. Two players, trapped in the cryptic restrictions of a serial killer, work together to face the ordeals presented to them. Little did I know that the toughest ordeal was tolerating the mountain of flaws and issues within this game.
Crucible Falls sounds like a fantastic idea. It's a creative merger between two well-known genres. In a sense, this is the essence of the game. It's a great idea, but nothing more. Everything that the game offers is poorly constructed, convoluted, or just downright irritating. While the game does offer the occasional gold nugget of creativity, it's quickly lost within the shadow cast by a mountain of problematic design decisions.
The game begins with a cut scene that sets up the reason for the game. You are a couple that has been captured by a local serial killer and have been dropped into an unknown property. You have two hours to coordinate with your partner to find a way out before "he comes." The first area had one person (me) on a small lot, with a well and a building surrounded by a fence. The other person is trapped at the bottom of the well. The puzzles in this area proved to be mildly illogical, with difficulties ranging from "literally written in glowing letters on a boulder" to "look it up, because you won't' figure this one out."
When not losing patience at the poorly presented puzzles, you're being led astray by unnecessary red herrings. There are doors with interactive keypads that cannot be opened and are never used. There are numbers marked on buttons, even though the only aspect that matters is the colors of said buttons. The worst offender is the alien cube. While the game is stylized like a modern forest/lakeside area, in a small industrial zone, one player will come across a bizarre glowing cube. The alien artifact can be rotated left and right, changing colors upon interaction. To the side of the cube is a paper presumably providing a hint toward solving this strange cube. The game quite intentionally places you in the path of this cube, and it intends for you to be curious about it.
After wasting a significant amount of time trying to solve this cube puzzle, I discovered that there is no solving the cube. it purely served as a distraction from the button panel down the stairs. You cannot interact with the panel until you get the key that accesses the cube, nor are you given any encouragement to observe the panel again afterward. If you don't solve the riddle quickly enough, your companion drowns. The extra rush presented in the situation reinforced the feeling that I needed to focus on the cube, instead of roaming around touching everything again to see if it changed. Several rules for enjoyable game design are broken in one of their earliest puzzles.
From that point on, my co-op partner and I were presented with a number of puzzles that all fit Crucible Falls' "good idea" mantra. While they were often clever in concept, there was always something flawed about it. One was too vague in their instruction, forcing the players into the trial-and-error method of experimentation. This was additionally frustrating since both players died whenever a mistake was made. Another was both creative and made good use of the game's cooperative aspect. But one player was stricken with poorly designed audio, hearing a cacophonous collection of shouts from a literal man-on-fire while the other actually solves the puzzle.
Now I know what you're thinking. This sounds like it needs more platforming elements. What? You didn't say that? Well someone must have said it. Because after being guided through a number of dark catwalks full of invisible monsters, you have to jump from broken railing to railing, to reach the precariously placed exit by jumping down. If you mess up and fall, you die. If you die, you start again from the very bottom. With perhaps the exception of Mirrors Edge, there is no place in a first-person perspective game for platforming elements. And the rage induced from having to repeat this area at least 5 times (not including the times the invisible monsters would get me) is a perfect example of this.
Once you trek through the puzzles, you and your partner are finally united for one final level. With a blood red sky, and a ghost asking you to burn their bones, the players have to run away from a 10-foot tall serial killer that emerges from a demonic archway. Running around in a forest setting, the players must press a large glowing button on the ground to open a fence leading to safety. If there was any moment where the game officially jumps the shark, it's here. The forest setting is of a noticeably lesser quality than the beginning area. It is entirely void of anything interesting, and what was there stuck out like cotton candy in a blacksmith's workshop.
You could also argue that continuity was lost when you had to pick out the right items from a room full of random objects, in a stone-laden dungeon illuminated by candelabras. Or maybe when you had to guide your partner past invisible monster that only you could see through security cameras. The game's official website says it is "set in a semi-fictional horror universe." So you'll have to forgive me if I wasn't expecting these settings. I'm not sure it could even be called horror since a majority of the time was spent puzzle solving, with only a couple of "scary" things happening. At no point did I ever feel a sense of horror.
There continue to be many other smaller problems throughout the game. Low poly object clashing with presumably downloaded assets, textures not lining up properly, and confusing UI, for example. Since I've opted for a sci-fi story for this year's National Novel Writing Month, I'll be leaving these nuances be.
At it's best, Crucible Falls is an amalgamation of good, yet unrefined, ideas. At its worst, it's a directionless collection of premade assets that fall apart the further you go. The game runs, and I could connect with my co-op partner well enough. So it's not exactly unplayable. I wouldn't by any means recommend this game, either. This is the developers first official game, so I try to be more understanding. Yet even with its bottom-line price tag, I felt remorse for having spent my own time playing this game. Three hours of my life were stolen from me. While I can't get those hours back, perhaps I can at least save you from the same fate.
If my word isnt enough, you can actually watch our official GamerzUnite playthrough of the game. This was the play through that helped me form my thoughts for this review, but with all the boring bits cut out. You can watch it below.