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The Shore Is Terrible And Here's Why

by Hunter Wilson about a year ago in horror
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A Disjointed, Boring Mess That's Not Worth The Price

The Shore was a much-anticipated(in certain circles) Lovecraftian horror game that I first heard mention of on Itch.io back in early 2020. My early glimpses of it back then made it seem like a walking simulator, like Dear Esther meets Dagon, more or less. It looked really cool. Unfortunately, it turned out to be really bad.

The Shore opens with the player character, Andrew, waking up on a beach, wondering where his daughter is. So it looks like the point of the game is to find your daughter, right? Wrong. About two narrations later(maybe two minutes depending on how fast you walk) it’s revealed through internal monologue that your daughter died of sickness. The object of the game now appears to be: find out where you are, why the only other people around are skeletons or mummies, and find a way to escape.

The first twenty or so minutes of the game are its strongest. The starting area consists of a lighthouse and the few paths surrounding it. It looks good, like a barren New England coastline. The music does a great job of setting the mood; forlorn, bleak. One of the two things that were pretty good-to-great throughout the game, sound and visual design. As I made my way from the beach to the lighthouse, Andrew would occasionally chime in with an internal monologue, wondering about the specifics of his situation and reading the bottled messages found in the water. It’s a slow, deliberate start to the game, much like Dear Esther or What Remains of Edith Finch. At one point, I stumbled upon a very poorly rendered skeleton and Andrew mused that he’d heard of a fisherman who vanished at sea, and now he’s been found. This is basically the only bit of worldbuilding in the entire game, the only hint that maybe The Shore is more than just a poorly-stitched together museum of Lovecraft’s Greatest Hits.

To expand on that, The Shore isn’t really much of a game. It’s just… snapshots. After the lighthouse area, the game abandons any pretense of being an interesting narrative and instead follows a formula: teleport somewhere, solve puzzle, maybe get chased by some weird abomination. At some point, you get an artifact that lets you shoot a purple beam at monsters to defend yourself, and that’s about where the game really starts to fall apart, because it is NOT a shooter, and doesn’t play like one. You’re chased by monsters, you can shoot them with the pyramid(and you’ll have to, because the monsters are about twice as fast as you), but then every chase section just has you sprinting backwards while holding the mouse button, unable to take in the environment or see where you’re going. On top of not being fun, that means that the honestly very creative environments go almost fully wasted because you have to rush through them as fast as you can. And yes, in this walking simulator, you can die. Which I guess makes it a survival horror instead.

Unfortunately, The Shore is not a good survival horror game. There’s no tension to the enemy encounters, no sneaking around them. You teleport to their area, and as soon as they spawn, they chase you. This was especially noticeable in a midgame encounter with a Cthuloid creature; the game explicitly tells you to try to avoid catching its attention, but the thing spawns in already aggro’d to your position. You are railroaded into these halfbaked enemy encounters and because there’s no other option, it’s hard to really be scared. Instead, it’s just really annoying. There’s not really any indication of your weapon’s range, nor do the enemies take visible damage. You just click on them and eventually they pop. Literally. With a popping noise. And it’s less pop and more just despawn. There are no death animations for the monsters.

While enemy encounters make up probably the majority of why I did not like this game, there were a couple of other factors. The puzzles are nothing special, none of them are hard, but they’re padded out in such a way that a cynical person might accuse the devs of trying to make sure that the consumers run out Steam’s refund clock. Why might someone think that? Well, that brings me to the other major factor of why I did not like this game. It’s $24.99. That’s right. A game you can beat in under two hours costs twenty five dollars. A mess of a mediocre game claiming to be a narrative adventure with barely any depth to it costs more than,say, Night in the Woods(19.99), Doom 2016(19.99), or The Sinking City(16.00), all three of which deal with narrative, combat, and Lovecraftian horror, respectively, much better than The Shore. Take that price tag down to ten bucks, or even maybe fifteen, and maybe you get your money’s worth, but twenty-five? That’s way too much to ask for what I got.

But enough of the bad, because this game does do a few things really well.

The one part of the game that I thought really captured what Lovecraft was all about in terms of cosmic weirdness was near the start of the game. After leaving the lighthouse, you head into a pit and through the first of many portals to another part of the island, where you’re met with a gigantic pillar out in the water. You solve a quick puzzle(in that all you have to do is interact with four discs, it still takes a few minutes to travel to them) and the pillar stands up on four legs and walks away. Absolutely, unironically, my favorite part of the game. What is this pillar? I don’t know. Why did it get up and walk away? No idea. Will any of this be explained, ever? Absolutely not, die mad about it. I LOVE it.

While the monsters are not effective or scary due to the gameplay, they look great. It is very clear to me that a lot of work went into the creature design, with my favorites being what I took to be Children of Shub-Niggurath that you encounter shortly after getting your weapon. They look like a mix of severe Cronenberg body-horror and an Exeggutor. Later on, you see more tentacled beings that look quadripedal octopuses shuffling around, and later still a strange, insectoid thing with sharp legs and arms to stab with.

And it’s not just the enemies that look good. Cthulhu, in his two short scenes, is physically very imposing, and also thicc as hell. Right before he rises from the sea, three of his acolytes talk to you for a bit, and while the conversation is forgettable, the acolytes themselves look like an incredible combination of alien, icthyoid, and human. Early on, there’s a massive tardigrade just chilling out in the ocean. I don’t know what it is or why it’s there, but it helped add a sense of something bigger than the player early on.

A lot of love went into the environments, especially the opening lighthouse segment and the Outer Gods segments. It’s a shame more time wasn’t spent there instead of in tight, dark, faux-Gigeresque corridors, honestly. In outer space where you see Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth, and the gang, you feel small and insignificant for a moment, until you’re forced back into the story of the game where all the machinations of the Old Ones, Elder Gods, Outer Gods, and, if the presence of Shoggoths is any indication, Elder Things revolve solely around you.

I mentioned the sound earlier, and I want to briefly revisit it because I think the score deserves special mention. The composer really popped off on it from start to finish. The high point was in Dagon’s scene. After he’s freed, the music shifts into something that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Godzilla film as he stands, roars, has his moment of majestic awe, and then… hops on the pillar from earlier and rides off into the sunset, oh my God, I loved that part, it was so fucking weird.

That’s about it. Not much more I can really say about the game. It’s a mediocre slog through Lovecraft’s Greatest Hits, with every good thing about it dragged down by the poor gameplay, boring puzzles, the outrageous price tag, or all three. It’s a real shame, I really wanted to love this game and I don’t.

But on a hopeful note, I intentionally left off on writing this review for about a week because I noticed the developer kept releasing more patches that fixed a lot of the day one issues and bugs. I sincerely hope they keep working to improve the game because at its core, there was a good idea and I think with a lot of work they can make The Shore into something really good, maybe even something worth twenty five dollars. But until then, I honestly cannot recommend this game. Play Call of Cthulhu, The Sinking City, or Amnesia instead.

horror

About the author

Hunter Wilson

Actor, writer, occasional dumbass.

Twitter: @melhwarin

Instagram: @myslyvi

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